It’s important to spend some time thinking about your study spaces (both virtual and physical) and how you will best interact with them. Thinking about the environment that suits you best when it comes to study – whether it’s a traditional quiet library, a noisy café or something else entirely – and how you may be able to recreate this while at home, work or on the go will help maximise productivity and ensure you’re comfortable and happy while working.
We’ve all seen artfully shot images of perfect minimalist workspaces that look so neat and inviting, but in reality, very few people work like this (if you do, please let us know how you do it?!). Before spending lots of money and time trying to recreate these ideals it’s worth taking the time to identify what’s most important to you.
In this section we consider the three S’s for setting up your working environment, your Spaces, Styles and Surroundings and give some tips to help you identify what will work best for you.
To find out what matters most to you, try drawing a map of your ideal workspace. Take 3 coloured pens, 1 blank piece of paper and 6 minutes. Sketch your ideal workspace, changing pen every two minutes. Be strict with the time and don’t think about it too much in advance (and don’t worry, no one’s going to have to see the pictures). Looking at the result can help you identify which things are most important to you (the things you drew first) and which are nice to have. How can you adapt the space you have to get as close to this picture?
Perhaps you prefer a more focused, silent and individual style of working. This is a popular style of working that we’ve observed being used on the upstairs floor of the library, especially during exam term.
It can be hard to recreate this environment at home where all your personal comforts and distractions are often within reach – surely it’s time to nip to the fridge again, right?
Try scheduling the do not disturb feature on your phone for an hour to ensure you only get the notifications from people who really matter to you.
If you like silence, unexpected noise from a family member or housemate can be an unwanted distraction and derail that fantastic idea you just had. Try putting on some over-ear headphones without sound playing to help deaden noise and signal to others not to disturb you.
Collaborating with your classmates is an important part of life at CJBS. There are a lot of tools to help you hold virtual meetings. Finding a time to meet can also be made easier with tools like Doodle.
If you are looking for copyright free images to inspire you, have a look at these websites (no charge):
From the physical space around you to the digital space you will be working and collaborating in, no two people have identical preferences. Spending some time thinking about what makes you most productive in your immediate environment.
Whether it’s to increase productivity or to make sure you don’t get back ache and eye strain it’s important to get the space around you where you will be working most set up in the right way.
Comfortable seating (a beanbag or your sofa) can be great for reading and short-term laptop use but for longer spells working online a chair at a table or desk might be more appropriate.
Look at this short video from the Health and Safety Executive for tips on setting up your chair desk and screen the right way.
If you’re finding yourself spending all day working on your laptop, some simple additions can make it much more comfortable for longer term working. Consider an external keyboard and mouse and raising your laptop up on a pile of books to create a more comfortable setting.
Remember it’s not all about the tech – when we’ve researched how you study, we know a large proportion of you use some form of handwritten or printed material. There’s no one right way to work, so spend some time getting all the kit you need and checking it works
It’s as important to consider your digital space as it is your physical space. Making sure your files are easy to find, you know how the software you will need to use works and you can access all the sites you’ll need is important. Rather than waiting until you need to use them, spend some time testing and playing with the different tools that you’ll use.
Whether that’s making sure your Office 365 passwords are saved or you know how to explicitly login to Raven to make accessing library resources easier, setting this up before you have a deadline approaching can save a lot of hassle.
Think about backing up your files safely and having a file-name strategy to ensure you can find all the content you need and won’t have to shed too many tears if your laptop crashes just before you hit the submit button.
As well as helping write your essays referencing tools such as Zotero can be a great place to store an online library of all your reading that it’s easy to refer back to at any time.
How you work or need to work for a particular project or task is just as important as immediate space around you. The style can change depending on the task you need to accomplish. We’ve outlined some common styles we’ve seen being used by observing and conducting research with students using our space in the School.
We often see groups coming into the space and setting up together around a table then working in silence on their own projects. The crowd pressure and inspiration you see from others being productive can help focus your mind to the task in hand and help prevent reaching for distractions.
Recreating this at home can be hard but using a backing track, such as these office sounds or library ambience YouTube clips, can help recreate the scene in your mind. Alternatively use Teams, Zoom or Google Meet to arrange a group individual study session.
Find you all get distracted and start watching Netflix? Try gamifying the session – first person to break has to send biscuits to the others! Or, if you’re really struggling, why not book a member of our team to sit in with you for an hour and shhh you if you start to talk- yes, you can really do this!
Group work and collaboration during time of physical distancing means a much greater reliance on the use of online tools. When we see groups meeting for planned or spontaneous group working around the School it is often around a large table where they can use the central space as a sharing point and using flip-charts to brainstorm ideas.
Having to work together while alone in your own environments brings new challenges, and unlike meeting in real life, no two people are going to be experiencing the meeting in exactly the same way – whether that’s a result of different technologies, wi-fi connection strengths or local distractions.
To help make sure everyone’s able to take part and contribute it is important that you know and have taken time to explore the accessibility options available in all the platforms you’re using. For example, turning on live auto-captioning in a Teams call or while using PowerPoint can help everyone whether that’s due to having some form of hearing loss, a poor network connection or you’re participating on a small screen.
Consider recording group meetings, but make sure everyone has given permission before you do. This means that it’s easy to recap later any points where your connection dropped out and avoids the need to repeat parts of your discussion that may have been missed.
If you are meeting to discuss content then it will help to make sure any readings, reports or work has been circulated in advance of your call so everyone has had plenty of time to download and read it. Consider using a shared drive to collaboratively work on documents while you talk or use the Whiteboard within a Teams meeting to brainstorm ideas.
While the distractions of working in the comfort of your own home can have benefits, they are not always conducive to getting work done or being able to switch off when you’ve finished for the day.
If you are able to designate a different room to work in that is great, but even reserving a particular chair to work in or facing in a certain direction can help your mind switch between a work and non-work mindset.
If you don’t have a lot of space for your own displaying different pictures or adjusting the position of some of your furniture while completing different tasks can help differentiate between different types of work.
Do you work better in a modern office setting or the environment of a historic building? Or would you prefer to be outside all the time? Try displaying some images around where you work to create the right environment for you and give your eyes somewhere to rest away from your screen. If you don’t have your own images look at sites like Unsplash that have all the images you could want from beautiful landscape to historic libraries or city offices – and all under CC0 licences which means you can get them printed without permission.
In the library, Ange and Andrew have a window that’s away from their desks that they stare out of to get inspiration and ideas – the team are always afraid when they see them doing this! Having somewhere you can step away to – even if it’s just turning your laptop away from where you’re sitting – can help you see things from a fresh perspective and avoid getting stuck on a single track.