For many people, home is the place we go when the school, college, or work day is done. It’s where we dump our bags, kick off our shoes, and fling ourselves onto the couch to recover from a long day of thinking, doing, and general productivity.

But now, more than ever before, our homes have become our classrooms, libraries, study dens, and offices, where we are expected to be productive.

So how do you study at home? How do you transform your place of “chill” into a place of productivity? And can you establish healthy boundaries between work and play so that you get the time off you need, without feeling guilty?

I’m so glad you asked because the team here at Brainscape has the answer for you right here, in this guide, with our best tips for studying at home!

Hi! We’re Brainscape

We’re the brains, minds, and hearts behind the world’s smartest study app. We’ve brought together some of the smartest people in a vast spectrum of subjects to compile a comprehensive collection of study guides and digital flashcards to help you rise to any academic challenge, from AP exams to professional certifications.

(Check out our Knowledge Genome for pre-made flashcards for any subject, and the Brainscape Academy for free study guides and advice.)

What sets Brainscape apart from any other study app is that its adaptive learning algorithm leverages decades of cognitive science research. And through the cognitive principles of spaced repetition, active recall, and metacognition, it can help you learn anything TWICE as efficiently as traditional study methods.

So, now that you know who we are and why we know a thing or two about the smartest ways to learn, let’s dive into our top mental strategies for studying from home!

9 Tips for studying at home

Tip # 1: Curate a distraction-free “study bubble”

Curate a study bubble

Probably the biggest challenge with studying at home is getting your brain to be productive when it associates its environment with play or rest. And so, your first home study strategy is to curate a distraction-free “study bubble”.

A “study bubble” is a tranquil study area away from distractions that facilitates focus and quality learning for hours at a time. It should have:

  • Everything you need to accomplish your learning goals, including textbooks, notebooks, stationery, a laptop, and devices for making flashcards;
  • Everything you need to be comfortable, such as water, a warm beverage, healthy snacks, tissues, or other things that make your space feel more comfortable, like a plant, lava lamp, essential oils, or Lo-Fi music (if that’s your jam); and
  • NOTHING you do not need so as to minimize clutter and distractions. I.e. if you aren’t using your device to make flashcards or take notes, leave it in another room! This is not the time to scroll social media, but you probably already knew that.

If your home is small and you share it with other noisy organisms—like a roommate or a needy dog—close the door and/or wear noise-canceling headphones. Of utmost importance is the peace and quiet you need to focus and learn.

With time, you will come to mentally associate your “study bubble” with productivity, which means that as soon as you sit down at your desk, your brain will kick into gear.

Pro Tip: If your home isn’t a conducive environment to learning, find a suitable study space at a local library, community center, college classroom, coffee shop, or even a friend’s or relative’s home. Then, curate a “study satchel” (I’m obsessed with alliteration) that packs all the learning materials, stationery, device chargers, snacks, and refreshments you need, which you can simply grab and go.

We have a lot more advice on curating a distraction-free “study bubble”, particularly for you procrastinators out there, in our guide: ‘How to focus better when studying’.

Tip # 2: Set a routine and stick to it

Setting a study routine

Equally as important as curating a decent study environment is deciding upon a study routine and sticking to it. Not only are routines proven to reduce stress levels, but they’re also pivotal to sustained productivity and habit-building.

At first, you’ll have to work hard at maintaining your routine by planning ahead, making conscious decisions to “show up” for your home study sessions, and sticking it out for their planned length.

However, with repetition, those daily conscious decisions, which can feel kinda hard at first, will become easier and easier as “automatic pilot” kicks in. And THIS is where the magic happens: where you begin to find yourself committing to doing the work without the inertia of getting started.

Sure, there’ll be days where you might not “feel like it” but because you’ve established that routine, you’ll do it anyway because that’s the habit you’ve set—like brushing your teeth even when you’re really tired.

So, decide on a study routine that works for your subject and your chronotype (more on that in-home study strategy # 4) and STICK TO IT. Check out this video for hacks on how to build and maintain habits …

Tip # 3: Get organized with a productivity app

The best productivity apps for studying

Mentally deciding upon a routine is only half the job done. Now you need to stick to it by planning your life to accommodate your learning goals and building the daily habits that are going to help you smash them.

If you love fresh stationery you can plot out your goals and milestones with pen and paper. Alternatively, pull yourself kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with any of a myriad of productivity apps that will help you break down, organize, visualize, and manage your daily, weekly, and monthly study goals.

Here at Brainscape, we’re obsessed with efficiency—which is kinda how we came to develop our app in the first place. So I asked our team members what their favorite productivity apps are and here are a handful of their personal favorites:

  • Trello: Online tool with a flexible and visual way to manage and organize projects.
  • Habitica: A gamified task manager for habit-building, with a to-do list.
  • Todoist: Keep track of tasks in one place, while setting and tracking goal progress.
  • Google Calendar: A time-management app that supports view modes such as weekly, monthly, and daily and has “time block” and “tasks” functions.

On this subject, did you know that with Brainscape, study organization is entirely automated? For starters, you can dismantle entire subjects by creating neatly-organized decks of flashcards of your own, or you can source whole collections of flashcards that have already been made by top students, educators, and even experts in our Knowledge Genome.

Then, whenever you open the app, it’ll pick up where you left off, saving you from having to figure out where you are and what you need to review. It also automatically syncs across all your devices, so you can switch between phone, computer, and tablet if you like.

Moreover, with every flashcard round you complete (and every time you navigate to your class dashboard), Brainscape will let you know your percentage mastery, which really helps you to track your progress.

See? Brainscape helps to keep your studies super organized!

Tip # 4: Leverage your chronotype to study at the right time (for you)

What's your chronotype?

You’ve heard of “morning larks” and “night owls”, right? Well, this is basically what is meant by chronotype: it’s your biological hardwiring that determines which times of day you feel sleepy and which times you feel alert and focused.

It sounds similar to circadian rhythms but while circadian rhythms can be “trained” by waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, your chronotype is a more permanent biological disposition. (Yes, it’s why, at certain times of the day, you feel like (and have the personality of) a sloth caught in a tropical downpour. )

And so, a key home study strategy is to:

For example, let’s say your basic chronotype is the lion. “Lions” describe people who are early to bed, early to rise; who are most productive before noon, becoming fairly useless in the afternoon, and collapsing into bed by 9 PM.

Given this cycle, you should set yourself the most complex or intensive learning tasks first thing in the morning. Then, when your energy and focus begins to dim, relax into less intensive study tasks, like passive reading and note-taking.

By cooperating with your chronotype, you’ll be working with your brain’s native hardwiring, rather than against it, which is not only an inefficient way of doing things but also hugely demotivating. Again, check out our article ‘Is waking up early bullsh*t’ to really understand and leverage the science behind chronotypes!

Tip # 5: Clear your to-do list before sitting down to study

Stressed out to-do list

“Oh crap, I forgot to pay the electricity bill…

“When did I last water my plants?

“Did I ever reply to that email my mom sent?

“I can't forget to call Bob about that thing …”

All of these thoughts have one thing in common: they’re enough to totally derail your focus. So, a useful home study strategy is to spend whatever time you need before your study session taking care of any home, social, or study admin that may otherwise distract you.

If something comes up after you’ve embarked upon a session, write it down rather than allow it to irritate you to the point where it breaks your focus. Get that nagging thought out of your head and onto paper so that you can continue studying without worrying about forgetting it.

Pro Tip: Finding things to keep you busy even though you’ve got lots of studying to do? Read: ‘Finding study motivation when you want to procrastinate

Tip # 6: Trick yourself into being productive

How to trick yourself into being productive

Okay, so you’ve created your study bubble, made a schedule, and cleared out your to-do list. It’s time to study and yet, you’d rather belly-flop into a pool from a 27-story building than open a textbook. It happens.

No matter how good your intentions—and how diligent a student you are—there will be those days when you just don’t feel like studying. Thankfully, however, there IS a way you can trick your brain into being productive!

Commit to only 15 minutes of studying. Seriously, that’s all. Set a timer, sit down, and start studying. No matter how lazy you feel, you can definitely squeeze 15 minutes of concentration out of your brain, right?

Perhaps by doing a few flashcard rounds in Brainscape.

Then, once your timer is up, you have a decision to make:

  • If you still REALLY don’t feel like studying, you can reset by doing something else that makes you feel good or contributes to “future you’s” success.  Try exercising, doing a creative hobby, or getting meal prep done and out of the way.
  • If, however, you’ve overcome your study inertia, and have drummed up a bit of momentum, keep going. You’ll be so surprised how often committing to only 15 minutes of studying translates into 45 minutes or even one or two hours of productivity!

This lends enormous credence to the saying that “getting started is half the job done.”

Tip # 7: Implement clear boundaries

Setting work and home boundaries

Until this point, we’ve spoken about ways you can optimize your study productivity at home, even though you’ve long associated that environment with rest and play.

Now, we need to address the reverse side of the coin. Because when there is no physical separation between home and work, people can develop a “toxic productivity” mindset, in which every moment of the day NOT spent achieving something feels wasted. This can lead to unfounded guilt, stress, anxiety, burnout, and even depression.

A good mental strategy for preventing this is to establish clear boundaries between work and play. How many hours should you spend per day studying? Commit to that and no more UNLESS the compelling force behind wanting to keep going is natural curiosity and enjoyment of your subject.

Just remember that no good ever comes out of doing something out of guilt or shame.

Equally as important as committing to your study sessions is taking breaks—hours, days, and weekends off where you focus on yourself and on connecting with loved ones, which brings us to our penultimate mental strategy for studying from home …

Pro Tip: Exercise is an excellent way to spend a break because it oxygenates your brain and improves focus and cognition. Read: ‘Optimize your brain health for effective studying

Tip # 8: Make time for social connection

Importance of social connection

One of the greatest pitfalls of remote learning and work is that we tend to become isolated from one another, and this lack of social connection can really take its toll upon one’s mental health. So, an important home study strategy is to spend time with other human beings! Specifically, others who:

  • You actually like and who make you feel good about yourself;
  • Add positive energy to your life, rather than being energy leeches;
  • You WANT to see and not because you feel obligated to; and
  • Won’t talk incessantly about the subject you’re studying, like anxious fellow students.

(By the way, if you find someone who meets the first few criteria, hold onto them for life.)

That time spent together is going to fill your “love tank”, inspiring you to return to the books with a renewed vigor (provided you aren’t meeting them at a bar for beers and tequila).

“Oh, but I don’t even have time to go for coffee with a friend! I’ve just got too much studying to do!”

If you can’t even spare one hour to meet a friend for coffee you’re either:
1. Overdoing it, which isn’t an efficient way to study since your brain can only manage so much new information per day OR
2. You’ve left everything to the last minute and now you’re cramming, which is also a bad thing.

If this sounds like you, our advice is to (1) cease immediately or risk burnout and (2) read this emergency guide on how to cram for a test, if you must. But also: do better next time.

Tip # 9: Take care of your physical health

Funny yoga pictures

Our final tip sounds obvious and yet every year, millions of students wonder why they flunked their exams when they:

  • Are horrifically sleep deprived,
  • Routinely rely on coffee and Red Bull for hydration
  • Haven’t eaten anything green since they last visited their parents (which was at the beginning of the semester),
  • Don’t make time for exercise, and
  • Are generally stressed and anxious.

Your brain is a flesh-and-blood organ that requires adequate sleep, hydration, nutrition, and oxygen in order to function properly, which translates into improved concentration, focus, cognition, and memory. Pretty essential things for learning, right?

Cutting out exercise, studying late, and eating fast food may be saving you time in the short term, but the resultant wobbly focus, low energy, and shattered memory just mean you’ll take twice as long to retain what you’re learning. Not too smart, is that?

So, start studying early so that you have time to look after your body with daily exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, hydration, and stress management. Check out our seminal article on how to optimize your brain health for even more guidance.

Pro Tip: Get out into nature! Trees release phytochemicals that stimulate dopamine release in our brains. That’s right: walking through a forest is scientifically proven to make you happier and relieve stress. #winning

A summary of how to study from home

How to study from home

So there are nine powerful mental strategies for studying from home:

  • Curate a distraction free “study bubble”, which will help you get into (and stay in) the study zone quicker and for longer;
  • Set a routine and stick to it so that you build strong daily study habits;
  • Get organized with a productivity app (that'll help you plan out your learning goals, saving you from having to think too hard every time you sit down to study);
  • Leverage your chronotype to study at the right time for your biological hardwiring;
  • Clear your do-to list before studying so that you aren’t distracted or tempted to procrastinate;
  • Trick yourself into being productive by committing to only 15 minutes, which feels easy, and then running with the momentum you establish during that time;
  • Implement clear boundaries between work (study) and play (rest) to prevent yourself from falling victim to a “toxic productivity” mindset;
  • Make time for social connection to keep your spirits up; and
  • Take care of your physical health so that you can benefit from a healthy brain when preparing for your exams.

If you use these mental strategies when studying from home—and use Brainscape to study more efficiently—you can and you will rise to whatever academic challenge you’ve set for yourself!