Photo of a desk with natural light coming in from a window and plants sitting on the desk

Setting Up Your Study Space for Success

November 26, 2020
Author: Dr. Lindsay McCunn and Taylor Shorting

Tips for Productive Living and Learning at Home

During the COVID-19 pandemic, homes have begun to serve as multi-purpose areas—especially for students. Our living settings have quickly morphed into other forms of essential spaces like gyms, libraries, and offices. This has given us the opportunity to re-evaluate our living environments. The field of environmental psychology gives us insight into optimizing our homes to meet our needs.

Dr. Lindsay McCunn, a VIU Psychology Professor, and Taylor Shorting, a Research Assistant in the Environmental Psychology Research Lab at VIU, have a few tips to help you create a productive and comfortable learning space.

Striking a balance between social interaction and privacy

Depending on the format of an online course, learning from home can offer opportunities to collaborate with our peers. Students may also be sharing a home environment with others, resulting in different opportunities to socialize. However, it is important to establish a balance between social exposure and our need for privacy. Making clear distinctions between the parts of a home that offer the chance to interact with others and the areas that offer respite from being near others may help us feel more in control of this balance. When a sense of choice is established over the extent to which we move in and out of opportunities for socialization and retreat, our well-being needs are more likely to be satisfied. We may even feel more productive in both our work and our interpersonal relationships.

Exposure to nature

A growing number of studies indicate multiple benefits to mental and physical well-being when people view nature and organic patterns that include curves and natural imagery, such as vines, leaves, and flowers. Situating your desk or workspace near a window with a view of plants, trees, mountains, or the ocean in the distance may help restore your attention when you’re cognitively fatigued. If a view of nature isn’t available, simulated nature scenes, such as looking at photos or videos of nature online, listening to natural sounds, like water or birdsong, or placing nature-themed artwork near to where you work are all helpful options that you can incorporate into home study spaces.

Personal space

People need different levels of personal space and their preferences can change depending on their mood, age, and what they are doing at a particular time. If you live with others and wish to create an effective home workspace, think about your personal preferences when it comes to how close you want to sit near others. Naturally, some people are more (or less) territorial. If you live with other people, it’s worthwhile to have a conversation with them about your expectations and boundaries around personal space.

Indoor environmental quality

Environmental stimuli can change the ways you think, feel, and behave. When setting up a place to learn at home, it can help to orient a workspace in ways that offer a combination of artificial lighting (either overhead lighting or task lighting) and natural daylighting. Other aspects, such as air quality, thermal comfort, and acoustics can contribute to perceptions of well-being and productivity. If you’re a good “screener”—someone able to filter out distractions like talking and background music—then you may be comfortable working near other people, or near a TV or radio. This allows some social interaction during working hours. However, if you’re more of a “non-screener,” it may be beneficial to study in a secluded area with fewer distractions.

For more information about the field of environmental psychology, please contact Dr. Lindsay McCunn at

desk with plant

Lindsay McCunn is a VIU Psychology Professor, who specializes in environmental psychology — a relatively new sub-field of psychology that examines the transactions between individuals and their physical settings. Taylor Shorting is a Research Assistant in the Environmental Psychology Research Lab

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