This guest post was written by Andrianes Pinantoan. Andrianes is currently studying a TAFE course to be a freelance writer. When not working, he can be found with a camera in hand. You can find him on Google+.

Back when I was in secondary school in Singapore, the usual place students went to study was McDonald’s. 2 years after I graduated from secondary school, a roommate of mine told me that “the place to study in” was the airport. You might think that as long as you qare studying, it doesn’t matter where you do it, but your learning environment actually plays a huge role in your learning efficiency and effectiveness.

So how do our learning environments affect our study? According to environmental psychologist Jacqueline Vischer, there are three elements in your external space that can affect your productivity: physical, functional and psychological. Let’s start with the basics:



Physical: Physical elements include noise, lighting and temperature levels.  We all know that these elements must be comfortable for us to function well.  But comfort, as it turns out, is just step one. For example, study spaces today are designed to be an “open space” – and because most students are comfortable in it, most designers never took a second look. Yet open spaces promote one of the most destructive forces in learning productivity: noise.

Noise causes fatigue and may reduce productivity by up to 66%. Even *low* intensity noises have been shown to decrease willpower and discipline – even if they didn’t perceive stress from the noise.

That’s the problem with noise. You’ll immediately shelter your eyes if there’s glare, but noises’ effects are almost always subconscious.

One of the best investments I’ve ever made is buying earplugs. The ones I own are called the Heartech Silentears. Put them on and the world disappears around you. If you have no choice but to study in a crowded environment, put a pair of these on and you’ll feel the difference. If you do have a choice, however, always look for somewhere quiet. No matter how great an earplug is, it will never be perfect. So make sure you remove the source of the noise whenever possible.


Functional - The next element of the environment is functionality.  According to Vischer, functional comfort “links users’ environmental assessments of their environment to the requirements of the tasks they are performing.”  In other words, the environment must support study-related tasks and activities.

However, the effect of functionality is more than just practicality. The ability to turn on a fan, close a door or manipulate the environment in other ways increases not just your physical, but also your psychological comfort. That’s because it gives you the perception of control.  This perception of control, in turn, creates a feeling of territoriality and a sense of individualized ownership of that space.

So why does ownership of your study space matters? Well, it’s the difference between having a teacher breathe down your neck while you study and studying with your friends. Or between studying in a place where a group of girls/guys are checking you out or studying alone.

You’re less “on guard” in one place than the other – which in turn allows you to place more focus on the actual work.

To maximize your productivity, make sure your environment has everything you need within your reach before you start studying. This includes all your study materials and tools, a jar of water, a remote control for the air conditioner, etc. Also, try personalizing the space you study in. I have a straight-A friend who’d place a small “sengoku” figurine in the corner of his table anywhere he studied. When I asked him why, he said that figurine made him feel “safer”. His comment sparked this research and I believe by “decorating” his study space, he increased his perceived ownership of the study space and thus felt “safer”.


Psychological - The third element of the environment is how it affects your psychology, or in this case, your focus. Focus is crucial if you want to increase your study efficiency. The goal is to create what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called “flow”.

“Flow” is that state of intense focus you get when you are so concentrated on a particular task that you often lose track of time. Creating a state of flow is not an easy process, especially for studying, but the basic first step is to eliminate all distractions.

“Distractions”, in this case, are more than just what you can immediately spot – like the loud music your brother is playing or friends your roommate brings over. Distractions also come in subtler ways. Dr BJ Fogg of Stanford called it, “triggers”.

The next time you are studying with a group of friends, observe how many times they check their inbox or Facebook stream in the space of 10 minutes – even if there is nothing new. They don’t check these things for fun, but the fact that their mobile is there for the checking triggers them to do it. And that’s true of instant messaging like MSN, Skype, or SMS and any other way people can reach you.

Repeat this with me: out of sight, out of mind. The first thing you need to do when it comes to triggers is to remove clutter. Your studying desk needs to be completely empty before you fill it with textbooks.

If you need a computer to study, use RescueTime. Ever heard of the saying “you can’t improve what you don’t track”? Well, that’s true with your learning productivity too. The free version of RescueTime helps you track where you spend time on, on your computer, on the web and on your mobile – and you can then review how much you really spend studying out of 8 hour “study marathon”. And if you’re serious about productivity, you can pay a small fee to have RescueTime block apps for you.

Speaking of blocking, install AdBlock to block all ads while surfing the web. These days it’s rare that a study session ends without a visit to the web for research. I also like to use a dedicated laptop solely for studying. If you can’t afford that, then spend some time clearing digital clutter. Place all desktop shortcuts into a folder that sits on your desktop and remove icons in the start menu (if you use Windows).

And last, dedicate one browser for your studies. All browsers out there track which websites you visit most and display them as shortcuts – and you don’t want Facebook to be there when you’re thinking of procrastinating.


[Image courtesy of Flickr user zsrlibrary. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]