Despite the popular belief that University students spend more time socialising than studying, the average student should in fact have around 35-40 hours of work to complete a week. Whilst it is true that on average only 13 of these hours are contact hours that require physical attendance, there is an additional expectation of around 25 hours of personal reading, research and preparation per week. This figure excludes the time taken to write essays and reports throughout the semester. The nature of this academic life therefore means that we inevitably end up spending a large proportion of our time sitting at a desk writing, typing or reading.
The first and most obvious problem with this sedentary lifestyle that comes to mind is boredom. There are few people with the motivation and determination to sit for up to 8 hours a day and work (productively) without distraction. Whilst it can be tempting to ‘power through’ and try and work for as long as possible to get the job done faster it has been proven that by allowing yourself small breaks every 90 minutes to 2 hours, your overall efficiency rate will improve drastically and a higher quality of concentration is maintained between breaks.
If you’re working from home, try writing a list of household tasks that require you to get up and move to be completed, and tick them off throughout the day during breaks from your work. This is also an ideal way to get through the load of housework you’ve been putting off meaning you have more precious free time for enjoying yourself. It’s far easier to take a 5-minute break from writing as essay to put a wash on than it would be from watching Netflix or socialising with your housemates.
Whilst it may be tempting to spend your academic break flicking through Instagram, it is important that these study breaks involve physical movement too. If you do want to give your brain an ‘academic rest’ by scrolling through social media, try doing this in conjunction to something active like going to make a cup of tea rather than just staying in your room. Regular movement makes it is easier to sit still and concentrate during the allotted work time, therefore making you more productive.
Another solution to improve the inevitable hours you will spend sat at a desk over your four years at university is to make the space you work in as aesthetically pleasing as possible. For many this will be personalising your desk with photographs and the classic three for £6 Ikea cactus collection. For others, this study space could be completely free of clutter that may encourage distraction. Once you have discovered your optimum work environment try to maintain this to make your time spent working as enjoyable as possible.
Whilst working for prolonged hours can be mentally challenging, it can also have physical effects that you may not notice initially, but that may have long term damaging effects on your health. For example, looking at a computer screen for too long or from the wrong angle or distance can cause strain on your eyes and neck leading to a deterioration in your quality of eyesight and muscular problems in your shoulders, neck and back.
There are some simple things to do to ensure that the impact of working at your desk is as physically comfortable as possible. Firstly, ensure your computer is at the correct height for your eyes, this can be done by piling up some thick textbooks if you don’t have a stand. Secondly, ensure that your chair is at a comfortable angle and height for you with an upright, sturdy back support. The position of your body will subconsciously tell your brain what mode to be in, reclined on the bed and you will be in relaxation mode, but sat up straight you’ll be raring to go.
To make your study hours as effective as possible, move around and stay active, carry out small tasks in these active study breaks and make sure that your desk space is both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. These tips can make the unavoidable hours sat behind a desk tick by that little bit faster.
Illustration: Rebecca Sheerin