How to Optimize Your Home for Being a Grad Student

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So you finally made it through your undergrad program and you walked across the stage for graduation and…wait, you’re going to grad school now? Let’s face it–you’ll be spending a lot of time at home now because research, reading, and hours at your computer will consume your life. You are in for one wild ride, but that doesn’t mean you have to make things harder than they need to be. If anything, comfort and effectiveness is something that remains in your control during these next few years. Depending on your current living situation (still live with parents, roommates, or a spouse and/or child, etc.), some rearranging of your living space that revolves around your studies may help alleviate some of the stress you are sure to endure.

First things first–your work station (otherwise known as your desk): Sure, you could sit on your bed or the couch with all your papers and books scattered about, but such a spot for studying will only induce the opposite: sleeping. Where you work and study for your graduate program should be a dedicated desk space (an actual desk, because using the kitchen table is probably going to annoy someone at some point and give you further stress). It’s probably too much to ask that your work station remain uncluttered, but you should at least have place for everything so there is never a need to go into panic mode over something simple like paper or where you put that flashdrive with your whole project on it.

The right kind of chair: This is where you are going to park yourself day after day for the next few years, so it better be functional. Your best bet is an ergonomic chair to keep you from slouching, developing back pain, and ultimately slipping off to “ZZZ” land. You will thank me later in life when you don’t throw your back out at an early age picking up something on the floor. An ergonomic chair will force you to straighten out your posture, which will also improve your attention to your tasks and your focus. This kind of chair isn’t designed for comfort, but to keep you productive. For everything else, that’s what coffee or tea is for.

Pick a location that fosters productivity in your home: This may be hard for some of you if you have a small apartment or are rarely by yourself, but an effort to locate yourself when studying in a quiet or otherwise non-distracting corner of the house will further increase your productivity and reduce anxiety from people and/or things interrupting your thoughts. You have two options here:
If you CAN locate yourself in quiet room, also try painting the walls (or at least the wall you face) a calming, natural color such as a light green, light blue, mauve or lavender, or even natural skin tones colors; you may think this is representative of a bedroom, and normally you’d be right, but the goal is to counteract your inherent stress from your studies to create an atmosphere of serenity to promote clear thoughts
If you CAN NOT locate yourself in a quiet room (due to spatial or room constraints), face your chair and desk against the most non-distracting wall you have and put in your earphones to try to block out ambient noises; if you’re one of those who study best with music, play something that supports your thought process, or at the very least soothing nature sounds
Always make sure you have plenty of light: Much like the normal lighting in your home, the light that illuminates your workspace should be white/tan, bright but not sharp or harsh. Soft light lamps will be sufficient when directed right over your work area and will also not blind you from reflecting off of the white textbook pages or papers. Speaking of reflections, soft lighting will also not create a horrible glare on your computer screen when typing that thesis paper.

Put your computer screen at eye level: This may take some measuring on your part depending on how tall you are, but something simple like a box or an adjustable table station (which is worth the money if you like to stand periodically when working), a raised screen will keep your spine straighter when sitting. Placing your screen in line with the natural resting position of your head and neck will greatly reduce physical stress on your body when sitting for long periods, which can often amplify your mental and emotional stress as well.

Get computer accessories that fit your style and contour of your body: Whether it’s an ergonomic keyboard or gel-supported mouse pad, make your work space fit you rather than vice versa. After all, you will be spending the majority of your time in this spot in this sitting position, so you might as well make it into your personal command center that fits you like a glove. If it keeps your body from feeling strained yet ready for productivity, do it because your desk at school will not be as forgiving.

Don’t let your work spread to other parts of the home: This is one of the hardest things to do when your brain has turned to mush after several hours of reading and studying, but just like in any other situation in life, it is just as important to separate your work area from your resting area. Trying to mix the two only creates a monster of messy living space and unnecessary stress. If you are a big believer in Feng Shui, letting your desk spill out into the kitchen or the living room really diminishes your positive energy, so just know when you are taking a break from studying…really take a break and recharge your batteries.

Lighten it up with something positive: As an option, you could also place something in your immediate vicinity that is either encouraging or otherwise positive that may restart your brain when you are overly stressed and need a reminder of what you were thinking when you decided to go to graduate school. It can be something profound like an inspirational quote hung on the wall or just a picture of friends and family off to the side of your jumble of papers and books. Whatever you choose, make sure it inspires you and instills you with more willpower to push through the last stretch of reading.

Everyone has their own ideas about how to best situate themselves for optimal efficiency in their work, and we want to know yours. What do you do with your surroundings to study better? Let us know on our Facebook page!