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Even though a new school year begins in a few months, it’s not clear yet if all colleges will return to their pre-pandemic normal. Whether you’re forced to take virtual classes or you can attend them in person, it’s still a good idea to have a proper home-study environment.
For starters, it’s important to have a dedicated work area -- definitely opt for a desk over the dining room table. If that’s not possible, at least attempt to separate your study area from the rest of the house to delineate work and play. If you have a laptop, for example, close it and move it out of the way when study time is over, or simply move from one room to another. Avoid studying in bed -- not only will that make it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand, but you might also have a hard time sleeping later on.
On top of that, it’s useful to keep your study area well-organized and clear of distractions. If you live in a busy household, try to find a room or space for yourself and let your housemates know when you need some quiet time. If you prefer a bit of background noise to drown out the outside world, opt for ambient music rather than the TV so that you can focus better on your work.
Aside from those tips, we also recommend the following essentials to help you improve your study from home experience.
Rain Design iLevel 2 stand
If you’re like most students these days, you probably use your laptop for your schoolwork. But using your laptop as-is on your desk or on your lap is not very good for your posture, which can lead to neck and arm pain in the long run. In general, you want to position the screen so that your eye level is 1 to 2 inches below the top of the display.
The best way to do that is with a laptop stand, and the one we recommend is the Rain Design iLevel 2. Thanks to its adjustable height, you can simply move the front slider to shift your laptop screen up or down. It holds notebooks large and small and its tilt design helps to keep things cool too. If you’d rather spend a little less and you don’t need the height to be adjustable, we recommend the AmazonBasics Laptop Stand as an alternative. It raises notebooks around six inches off the desk, and there’s a cable organizer which helps keep any wires tucked out of sight.
For a more DIY solution, you could also just stack your laptop on top of a pile of books. Just be sure you don’t need to actually refer to them on a regular basis.
If you’ve heeded our advice and put your laptop on a stand, then you’ll want to get an external keyboard too (typing on your laptop keyboard while it’s elevated defeats the ergonomic benefit of a stand). While there’s nothing wrong with wired keyboards, we much prefer the wireless variety as they let you move your keyboard around more easily. A favorite of ours is the Logitech K380 multi-device Bluetooth keyboard, which has very responsive and comfortable keys. It’s portable enough so you can slip it in your backpack, and you can also use it with up to three different devices. We especially love its lengthy battery life -- it can last close to two years with just a couple of AAA batteries.
To go along with your laptop stand and your external keyboard, we also recommend a compact wireless mouse. The MX Anywhere 2S is especially adept at working on nearly any surface -- its 4,000-dpi Darkfield sensor can even track on glass. It can also work across three different devices, even copying and pasting between them. The MX Anywhere 2S also has a nice curved and compact shape that will fit your hands comfortably. Last but not least, it has an impressive 70-day battery life, so it shouldn’t die on you mere hours before your assignment is due.
We’ve known for a while now that sitting for long periods of time is bad for your health, but not everyone can afford a dedicated standing desk. Fortunately, there are several options that transform any table into a standing desk. We like Fully’s Cora standing desk converter because it’s affordable and portable enough to move from room to room. We don’t generally recommend using your laptop as-is for ergonomic reasons -- see above -- but the Cora does have enough space for a laptop stand, small keyboard and mouse. It’s also easy to adjust, plus you can fold it up and tuck it away when not in use.
If you’re okay with using just your laptop while standing -- perhaps it’s only for a short while -- and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, then consider the StandStand. It has a super-simple construction that can be assembled and reassembled in seconds, and works in a pinch if you live in a small space. It folds up flat as well, so you can easily stow it out of sight.
Not everyone likes to stand while they work, and even if you do, you’ll still want to sit down once in a while. Unfortunately, most chairs aren’t really built for good back support and the ones that are, are often prohibitively expensive. A cheap workaround, however, is to add a lumbar support pillow to a chair you already have. We like the Love Home Memory Foam version because it’s made out of a cushy material that gives you plenty of lower back support. Plus, you can position and adjust it to fit nearly any chair.
If you often study at night, a good desk lamp will help alleviate eye strain (if you don’t already have one). And if you’re going to get a desk lamp anyway, why not get one that has built-in wireless charging as well? The TaoTronics LED desk lamp offers exactly that, with Qi-enabled wireless fast charging integrated into its base. It also has a USB charging port just in case your device isn’t Qi-compatible. The TaoTronics is also a pretty good lamp, with five brightness levels, color-temperature modes, a night-light mode and an arm that can rotate 180 degrees. It even has a memory feature that keeps the light at your preferred brightness and color modes.
Noise-cancelling headphones aren’t just a great option not just for music, but also for blocking out unwanted noise -- vital for a productive study session. For students with a limited budget, we recommend the Anker Soundcore Life Q20. At $60, it’s far cheaper than a lot of other noise-cancelling headphones (which typically run into triple digits) but still offers decent noise-canceling, solid sound quality and a comfortable fit. It might not offer features like EQ adjustment or ANC fine-tuning, but it’s a great option for the price.
One of the more popular productivity tricks of late is the Pomodoro Technique, so-named after the tomato timer that inventor Francesco Cirillo used when he developed the concept. The idea is to break down your projects into smaller, more manageable chunks, and then you can deal with each one over timed intervals (otherwise known “Pomodoros”) with breaks scheduled in between. So for example, you can set one Pomodoro for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. After four Pomodoros, you can allow yourself a longer, 15-minute break.
Obviously, much like Cirillo, you don’t need to use technology to utilize the Pomodoro Technique -- a kitchen timer and a notebook will do. But digital tools are a lot easier and don’t require as much discipline to maintain. Plus, there happens to be plenty of Pomodoro apps and websites out there already.
If you use Android, there’s a free Pomodoro app called Clockwork Tomato, which features clock and alarm customizations, an activity log, and the ability to save up to five preference sets. It has a pre-alarm feature of sorts that warns you when a Pomodoro is about to end, and you can change the time while a session is in progress.
Alternatively, there are several free web options available, such as Pomofocus.io. We like its minimalist interface, customizable design and the fact that work time and rest time are color coded differently. Plus, it works on both desktop and mobile.