Chapter 3: Time & Space

Study Spaces

Locating effective study spaces

Take a walk around campus and identify at least three places you could study and do your homework. One of those places needs to be a specific place in the Leroy V. Good Library at the Brighton Campus or the Learning Commons on the Downtown Campus. Be prepared to share a photo and/or description of your three places, including what kind of student(s) might enjoy that space and if it’s an effective environment for pairs, groups, and/or individuals. Feel free to include some advantages or disadvantages of studying there as well as anything else you think your classmates would benefit from knowing.

If you are exclusively an online student, locate some places in your local community, such as the public library.

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I think it’s important to get your surroundings as well as yourself into a positive state.  –Heidi Klum, fashion model and television host

The Impact of Your Surroundings While Studying

If a researcher walked up to you right now and asked you to identify your favorite place to study, what would your immediate response be? Would it be your home? Perhaps your sunny kitchen? Maybe your dorm room or bedroom, or another relaxed space you call your own? Or, maybe it would be a busy café in the heart of town. What are your preferences for your physical surroundings when you study? What are the attributes of your most conducive study environment?

In the following video, Mark Montgomery, an educational consultant, and college admissions expert, reminds students that while their image of college may be about socializing, they will ideally spend a good portion of their time studying. He shows some accommodating physical spaces at Seattle University.

Student Responses

College administrators, like the one in the video you just watched, may have their own ideas about what constitutes good study space. But what do students say? Below are comments from several students about their favorite “go-to” study spots:

Jared: I like to take my laptop into the Alley Café and use the wifi while I write papers and work on homework. It’s in a nice spot and there’s always people around. I need my caffeine and some noise around me so I don’t fall asleep. Recently I’ve been using the library. It’s quieter, but I meet other students there and we use the group study rooms. I like being around other people when I study.
Maya: I like to study on a picnic table in the garden outside my dorm. Sometimes I just park myself on the grass. But I tend to get distracted outside, so my second favorite place to study is the library. I used to hate libraries because I didn’t like how quiet they were, but then I realized I can actually get work done there. There’s a corner that I like with a comfy chair where I can read or take a nap. If I need to put the pedal to the metal, I sit at a table.
Shane: The main library is my go-to. If I need sources for a paper, the staff help me find articles with their online services. There is a wide selection of books, too, but if I can’t find something the staff will order it through a different school or library. Sometimes the space gets crowded, like during exam week, and it can be hard to find an open computer. But it’s comforting to see I’m not the only student doing a paper last-minute. The best place for relaxing or writing is the third floor. I like looking out the windows at the scenery.

It’s not surprising to find that there are some recurring student favorites when it comes to good study environments. The following locations are all-time winners:

  • A library
  • A bookstore
  • A park
  • A classroom
  • A study partner’s house
  • A community center
  • A tutoring center

Factors influencing study spaces

Photo of a modern workspace, with curved computer desks along one wall, movable red cushions and tables, and wide windows

Many factors impinge upon or promote the effectiveness of a study space. In this activity, you identify and reflect on factors that are part of your regular study environment. Note what is important to you regarding where you study.

Your study environment
YES NO
Music: Background music is generally “easy” on the ear and can enhance study productivity, as well as drown out other distractions. Depends on your personal tolerance, though. Headphones negatively impact memory and information retention.
Background noise: Volume of noise and persistence can be major distractions. Try out other environments.
Smells: Any smell, delightful or otherwise, has the potential to pull your attention away from your work. You may want to change your spot.
Lighting: Good lighting is essential. Without good lighting, you may strain or squint, get a headache, or tire. Be aware of the lighting conditions.
Temperature and humidity: If either is too extreme, it can make you uncomfortable and get in the way of effective studying.
Facebook, email, smart phone: Distractions come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. What draws your attention away from the task at hand? Remove all distractions.
Comfort—too much or too little: Too much of a good thing can be counterproductive. Best to study at a desk in a good chair, sitting up straight, rather than in bed, lying down. Be aware of how you feel.
Associations with other activities: Make sure that you associate the environment you’re in with schoolwork, study, and concentration. Try new spaces if the associations are not supportive.
The clock: You may wish to set time goals for your studies. But avoid being ruled by the clock. Be clear about what you intend to accomplish and how much time you want to devote.
Other people: Depending on who the people are, they can help or distract. Study groups can be very helpful, but housemates all around can be distracting. Know your limits and your weaknesses.
Feng shui: This is the art of placement in your physical environment. Nurture your thoughts, emotions, and senses with good organization of furniture. Avoid feeling cramped. Create a clean, neat workspace.

Does this exercise give you any ideas for ways in which you might change where you study? How might you alter your physical environment to better support your schoolwork?

Read more at 10 Ways to Improve Your Study from Western Governors University.

Finding Your Space

Many students have busy and active home lives and often have trouble finding their own space dedicated to working and studying. Be creative. Try to find even a small space in your living area with a table, chair, and good lighting. It can be helpful to let others know that when you are in your study space, it is your time to focus and get assignments done. Some students find it helpful to have encouraging quotes or inspiring images in view. Do what you can to make the space your own and a place where you can work productively.

Study spaces at MCC

Downtown Campus Collaborative Learning Space

Collaboratories at MCC’s Downtown Campus offer open spaces with whiteboards and LCD monitors that encourage students to work together.

 

newly-renovated study space provides students a bright, cheery place to plug in a laptop

 

 

Conveniently located adjacent to the Brighton Campus library, this newly-renovated study space provides students a bright, cheery place to plug in a laptop, enjoy a snack or cup of coffee and tackle homework or out-of-class assignments.

Downtown Learning Commons

 

Study rooms along the perimeter of the Downtown Learning Commons provide students with a dedicated space in which to gather, help each other study or make headway on group projects.

Anne M. Kress Learning Commons

 

 

Get tutoring help, do research or meet your study group in the Anne M. Kress Learning Commons – a complex that includes a learning center and library.

Where do you plan to study?

Getting Your Mind Ready for Studying

Multitasking

Multitasking, doing several things at the same time, has become a common word for describing what many of us do every day in the modern world. Our busy lifestyles and our ever-present devices suggest that many of us have become multitasking experts. But is it possible to do several things at the same time? Can we actually check Facebook, watch television, read a textbook, and write a paper at roughly the same time . . . productively?

Switching Tasks = Losing Productivity

Evidence suggests that multitasking is not, in fact, possible. Psychology research shows that we can attend to only one cognitive task at a time.[1] What we call multitasking is actually just switching back and forth between tasks quickly. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but we lose time with each switch. The loss may only be one-tenth of a second, but the time adds up.

Researchers have found that multitasking increases the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, and the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline.[2] These hormone-level increases can cause the brain to literally overheat, which leads to foggy mental processing. Multitasking also taxes the prefrontal cortex, which integrates information.

Smartphones, email, social networking, Instagram, and Twitter make multitasking seem both necessary and possible, but they all require switching in and out of a line of thinking. With these technologies, we face constant information overload and distraction. However, our capacity for problem-solving decreases with the number of tasks we try to perform at the same time, so multitasking while studying for a final exam might not be a good idea.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. -Thedore Roosevelt

Becoming More Productive

There are some ways we can become more productive with our time and energy despite our tendency to multitask:

  1. Try “batch processing”: Have set times during the day for checking and responding to emails.
  2. Use concentrated time: Block off time for working on just one task. You may need to turn off your phone.
  3. Do what’s most important first: Make goals for the day and accomplish them. The sense of achievement can help you resist anxiety-driven multitasking.

What are your thoughts on multitasking? How does it affect your productivity? The following video, from the University of British Columbia, features students talking about multitasking. Does it exist? Is it effective? Listen in, or view the full discussion.

Flow Zone

The state of flow, also known as being in the zone, occurs when people become so completely immersed in an activity that they lose track of time because they are laser-focused on what they are doing. Artists, writers, and athletes often experience being in the flow zone while painting or drawing, writing or revising, or playing the sport they love. Musicians, dancers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs have reported experiencing flow, but anyone can enter the flow zone while engaging in just about any activity.

Learning new skills and exploring interesting ideas that challenge us are great ways to maximize flow. Students can get into the flow zone when they are studying, working on projects, debating ideas, applying new skills, or just about any time they focus intently on the task at hand. Practicing for a set amount of time in a space conducive to the activity, such as studying in a quiet space free from distractions, increases the likelihood of entering the flow zone.

“Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges,” positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains. “If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

To learn more about ten components of the flow zone, see the article, “What is a Flow State?

Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro study technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo. It is a very straightforward strategy that involves breaking down large tasks into more manageable chunks. All you need is a timer. Set your timer for 25 minutes and work on your task. Once 25 minutes have passed, take a five-minute break. Each work session of 25 minutes is called a Pomodoro. Once you have completed 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break for 20-30 minutes. Decide the exact time of your break based on the length of time you need to feel refreshed and ready to work again. The breaks throughout give you plenty of time to get up and stretch, refill your coffee, or do whatever else you need to do, so you can work productively during each Pomodoro session.

What are your initial thoughts about this technique? To what big project could you apply the Pomodoro technique? What would you use for your timer? Where would you work on the project?


  1. "The True Cost Of Multi-Tasking." Psychology Today. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  2. Levitin, Daniel J. "Why the Modern World Is Bad for Your Brain." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

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