I am one of those people sensitive to the amount of chaos around. If things are tidy and clean I find myself in good humor, but if things get out of hand, I turn into a grumpy, muttering Grinch. I know life can be messy: clothes running around, wrestling my dear dog into taking a bath, guests coming to visit, the garden getting out of hand now that all the leaves are off the trees… You tell me. However, I try not to let Chaos desecrate my haven of mental peace: my desk.
Having my own desk with an organized system is one of my non-negotiable needs. This space allows me to switch on to “study time”. When I sit there, my goal is to get in a mindset of focused mental activity, and knowing myself, if there are things scattered around I will not be able to concentrate on the task. Even if I am not distracted by the mess itself, my mind wanders more easily to issues unrelated to my studies.
After two years studying with the International Programmes, I have noticed that my brain switches automatically to “learning mode” when I sit at my desk. The routine of devoting time and space to mental activity has worked wonders to let me enter a Nirvana of knowledge. For this reason, I spend a few minutes at the beginning of the course year to declutter my desk of old notes, essays and irrelevant books and substitute them with fresh notebooks (one day we will talk about me being a ‘notebook junkie’), empty trays for relevant essays and the books I will need at hand.
It may seem that the task of decluttering and refurbishing your studying space is one of those activities designed to fuel procrastination. Using the excuse of cleaning and tidying you may lose valuable study time. The way to avoid this is to not be too detailed and fastidious about the whole process. You may be tempted to fall into irrelevant sub-tasks, like carefully archiving and sorting last year’s notes and essays, but do not do it. Ask yourself if that sub-task is relevant to your current course year, or if it can wait until examinations are over.
To sort what decluttering tasks are relevant to this year just follow a simple principle of “now and here”. Now you need to store your past notes in an unobtrusive and fast fashion. Now you do not need to sort them alphabetically or classify them by modules and/or topics. Here (in your desk) you need this year’s set reading. Here you do not need all those essays you have been putting off to read because they were interesting but irrelevant to your studies. Decluttering and refurbishing your study space should be an activity designed to put anything relevant at hand and anything accessory far away, where it will not distract you.
As a rule of thumb the whole process should not take more than thirty minutes. If it takes more than that, either you are not adequately sorting your decluttering tasks or the mess is so big that you may find things the Flintstones would love to have in their living room. To prevent the desk from getting too out of hand, use the rest/free time (NOT the study time) to do little cleaning tasks, like putting all the books in a neat pile, gathering the scattered pens, organizing the essays in their trays, etc. If you devote two to three minutes at the end of a study session to put everything back in its place, next time you will find your desk ready to start with the set goals for the day.
Having a neat and comfortable desk is an important step to develop your own study routine. You do not need a big, expensive desk, only one that invites you to open the books and spend the hours on them. In my case, I find that the plainer everything around my desk is, the better, but this can vary from person to person. As I have mentioned before, self-knowledge is one of your vital tools to succeed in your studies.
Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg