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6 Ways to Be Productive While Studying

Life as a med student is a blur of tests and clinicals with many nights of bleary-eyed studying in less-than-ideal spaces. The whole combination of classes and clinical shifts has its toll on the body.Having a dedicated study space is important to supporting focus and preventing fatigue. It’s also important to have a space that your friends, family or roommates see as your private space, so that they imagine a “do not disturb” sign and let you work in peace. Before anything, you need to find your special nook.
Once you’ve finally got that hard-won personal study space, use these tips to make it super-conducive to effective studying.
#1 Lights, Books, Study!
The first step to designing your study space is the right lighting. Do you prefer soft light, or a brighter light? You don’t want to be squinting and hunched over your Gray’s Anatomy desperately trying to read the text. Remember that sunlight is the best fatigue preventer, and natural light improves work performance. Sunlight can even keep you from becoming prematurely nearsighted! I know it’s not always possible to study in natural light but when you can, pick a study space that will afford some.
Either way, make sure your study space is well-lit. Alternatively you can go sit in the park on sunny days. If you have to settle for artificial light, make sure that you use indirect lighting. This type of lighting is best to avoid eye strain and maximize productivity. If you’re on the computer, make sure you position your screen and your furniture in a way that prevents glare. Distribute lighting evenly to avoid casting shadows. You won’t be very productive, neither in your studying nor in your labs, if you have trouble seeing your reading and tire out your eyes.
#2 Make Room
Do you find yourself starting to clean your room or do other unrelated chores, right in the middle of your study session? Clutter is confusing and distracting. From a Feng-Shui perspective, it even blocks energy, or chi, from flowing properly, and this results in stagnant pools of negativity.
So keep your energy flowing, by making your study space well-organized and simple. It seems like commonsense, but many of us are guilty of procrastinating on the housework. Before you start studying, put things away and tidy up wires. Make sure you have any items you need before you get started.
Most importantly, make room for your books and devices. Don’t fall into the trap of being uncomfortable and distracted by your surroundings.
#3 Choose the Right Furniture
Being comfortable is key to getting any task done. Choose furniture that is supportive and ergonomically appropriate. Did you know that working at a standing desk, for instance, could help relieve your lower back pain? To keep your body happy, you can alternate between standing and sitting. If you are lying on a couch with a book/tablet, turn on your back and elevate your legs a little bit to improve blood circulation. It helps you relax and takes off some of the pressure accumulated during the day.
Have a dedicated studying space you only use for that task alone. If you want to take some time off, stand up and go someplace else to make use of your break. Hardwire your brain to associate that part of your home (or the library) with productivity and work. The moment you enter that space, your consciousness will be trained to automatically switch into study/work mode. Creating this association between your study place and studying itself will help you enter a deep state of focus faster than ever before.
#4 Block Out Distractions
Distractions come in many forms, and we all need to come up with inventive ways to block them out. Living in dorms takes away most of your privacy, but even if this is not the case peace doesn’t come easy. You wouldn’t want your noisy roommates, parents, or siblings coming into the room and interrupting your thinking flow every 5 minutes.
Equally, most of us find it hard to do anything efficiently while watching TV. Technology adds a new level of disruption to our lives. Turn off your phone and instant messaging until you’re done. Let friends and family know you’re going to be out of touch for a bit. Ask not to be disturbed. Don’t surf the net while studying, either. You might even want to employ some white noise or music to make you a bit more comfortable. Be careful though; some studies such as one by the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff in the UK, have shown that even music can have a negative impact on studying.
The bottom line is concentration is key to retaining all that knowledge you’re working hard to learn. Need some helpful apps to keep those electronic devices from getting the best of you? If you’re a Mac user, try Self Control to block websites that often take you off course. If you’re too social, you can use Cold Turkey to block social media and games while you’re studying. Concentrate for Macs allows you to customize what programs are launched and/or blocked. It even sets your Skype or iChat status to away.
#5 Address Your Needs
Has your stomach ever growled during the middle of a test? Have you ever been too hot or cold to think about much else? You may be busy but don’t forget to eat. Keep a supply of snacks in your study space just in case you find yourself working up an appetite.
A very useful tip that may save you a lot of time: when you have meal breaks eat only as much as it needs to get you 80% full. If you have a big meal not only you get sleepy (as we all know), but your body would devote more energy to digesting than to brain power. It has been proven that your productivity peaks when you’re slightly hungry (but not starving).
Make sure the area you choose to study in is well ventilated and heated/cooled. If need be, bring in a space heater, fan or blanket to make yourself more comfortable. When your basic needs are addressed, it’s much easier to focus on the task at hand.
#6 Take a Break
We’ve all had our marathon last minute cram sessions, but how effective are they really? The truth is that you can’t stay alert if you work for too long. It’s important to take a break. As a study at the University of Illinios at Urbana-Champaign concluded, taking breaks from your studying will actually improve your concentration. Don’t expect you can just sit there until it’s done. Plan to work for an hour, get up and come back later.
And here’s another reason to get up — did you know that sitting for more than three hours can shorten your lifespan? So, take a few minutes to do something else, stretch out and get the blood flowing. You can schedule regular exercise between blocks of studying, and enjoy the benefits, which include improved memory and thinking skills according to Harvard Medical School. When you’re taking a moment away from the books, you may also want to grab super snack like blueberries, nuts or seeds. For some more brain food ideas, check out WebMD.
Wrapping It Up
Take a minute to reflect on your study environment. Is it the best, most effective space it could be? Think about the snacks you might need and the distractions that need to be blocked out. Plan to break up your studying and keep your mind and body healthy with some exercise. If your study space seems to be hurting your grades, re-evaluate and renovate to be more productive and effective!
Remember–following one tip will be helpful, but following them all is part of your recipe for success.
Now it’s your turn. Tell us where you study or how you block out distractions. Don’t forget to visit AIMS for information on furthering your medical career!