The 21st Century Isolator

By: Emily Bottegal

the isolator.jpg

I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and came across this picture of a man wearing the “Isolator” to help him concentrate and avoid distractions.  I giggled a little to myself wondering how uncomfortable and heavy that would be to wear, yet how productive that would be for so many of our students. I have heard the gamut of how students study best- “on my bed with the TV on”, “sitting on the floor using a stuffed animal as a chair”, and “in my living room with my roommates playing video games.  The sound helps me concentrate.” If those are such successful ways to study and get work done, why did Hugo Gernsback invent this sensory isolation tool in 1925?  

The thing is, we don’t need to wear heavy helmets like the Isolator to improve our concentration or help us focus.  Students should have an organized place to study in their homes that is designated just for homework and studying. Below are some great tips to create that effective study space in your house.


Pick A Room

Like house hunting, your study room is all about location, location, location.  Find a space in your house that is distraction free. For example, don’t set up a space next to the kitchen if that is the busiest room in the house.  If your basement is always chilly and the water heater is always making weird sounds, don’t force yourself to use that spare room. Find a place that you like and will enjoy going to, even if you don’t love to do schoolwork.  Study spaces can come in all sizes. I had a student once create a study room in a nook under the staircase. She lined the space with shelves, a whiteboard, table lamp, and a productive desk to hold school supplies. It was her quiet space, and it worked.  She went there to get her homework done and study for tests. It was a phone-free zone, rid of distractions and outside temptation.

If you are a person who gets distracted easily, the kitchen or dining room may be a good study spot if it’s quiet.  Mom or dad can keep their eyes on you and help redirect you and keep you accountable for getting your work done. Remember, you are not glued to your chair!  A larger space like a kitchen or dining room also allows you the space to physically get up and move around, especially when you are working on a longer project or assignment.  Sometimes you may need a change in scenery to keep your brain fresh, so take a break and move to another great study spot in the house.


Be Prepared to Sit Down

I remember in college I had the ultimate avoidance tactic.  I could not sit down at my desk until the whole house was clean.  Sounds fine, except I had 4 other roommates that were not the neatest.  So what could have taken only a few minutes to pick things up around the house, took hours of hard scrubbing and vacuuming.  The trick to studying is to get into the mindset and have a clear game plan. If you approach your homework with a negative “ugh this stinks” attitude, your work outcome is going to be affected.  Allow yourself to be mentally prepared. Make a list of your assignments and estimate how much time each task will take you. Don’t rush your work- if you think your Geometry homework is going to take you 45minutes, don’t try to squeeze it into a 20minute block.  Game plan what work you can get done in that 20minute block before dinner; maybe reading a chapter of your book, completing your Biology worksheet, or even using that time to create a game plan and put your assignments in order, chunking together similar work, or rotating between really difficult assignments with easier assignments.  Also, make sure you think about what materials you are going to need (textbook, computer) and/or study supplies (colored pens, notecards, highlighters, scissors, etc) so you don’t need to get up and find them later. Make sure everything is in your study space before you sit down and open a book.


Rid Distractions

The Isolator had great features.  It helped the person block out sound and vision to focus on the task at hand.  Our distractions nowadays are everywhere- video games, cell phones, Netflix, tablets, social media, dogs, even cleaning our rooms.  Remove those distractions from your study space so you can keep yourself focus on your work. I have never heard a student tell me they successfully watched just one episode on Netflix and then refocused on their studying.  It rarely happens. Don’t test yourself by bringing those distractions into your study space. Leave your phone in another room on airplane mode. Turn off social media notifications on your computer and sign out of phone notifications.  There are great apps to help you stay focused when on your computer.

  • Forest

  • Freedom

  • StayFocused

Spend your time and effort on your work and not trying to avoid your distractions.  If you focus and get your work done efficiently, you can use that free time to play your video games, play on your cell phone, or watch Netflix.   Plus, having a simple study space with a clean desk and little clutter (i/e cell phones or old papers) actually helps you focus better.


Have Everything “Charged”

I once had a student walk into a math exam, open his calculator, and soon realize the batteries were dead.  Another student lost a letter grade on an English essay because his printer was out of toner and he had to turn it in late.  Moral of the story, set yourself up for success. 

Your study room should have all the necessities you need to be productive: pencils, sharpeners, pens, highlighters, notecards, working outlets (chargers and extension cord if needed), a comfortable chair, textbooks, calculator, extra paper, printer ink, 3-hole puncher, and a whiteboard or corkboard.  Have everything organized on your desk and in your room before sitting down and opening your homework or computer. Give everything a designated space- even unsharpened pencils can be a distraction! Know right where to go to access your tools. When I worked in a school, I labeled each container so students knew where to go to get an extra pencil or find scratch paper.



Water is a great resource to keep close to get homework and studying done.  Bring your glass or water bottle into your study space with you to keep you hydrated and allow you to stay focused.  Plus, water is healthy!  

Snacks are a different story.  I once ate an entire tub of hummus during a 2-hour take home exam, and couldn’t look at hummus for five years after that night.  If you know you are going to get hungry, choose a healthy snack and control the portion. If you find yourself still hungry, or getting hangry, refill your snack bowl during a break.  Setting limits will help ensure you don’t eat a container of dip and find yourself falling asleep. A water refill or snack search is also be a good reason to physically get up from your table or study space and get some movement in your body and brain.  Just make sure it’s a quick, timed, and controlled break!


History in Pictures [@historyphotographed]. (2019, September 5). {Photograph of The Isolator}. Retrieved from