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The Ultimate Desk Setup for a Skint Online Learner, From One

I’m a first year university student during a pandemic, which only means one thing: online learning. I have been working from my laptop since September, so that’s seven months of learning purely at my own desk. Zoom tutorials, pre-recorded lectures, virtual socials, and Teams meetings galore! This means that I’ve near-perfected my desk setup. Here are the four most important factors to get that perfect setup.

Have enough screen space.

I started the academic year with a used 10-inch screen Mini MacBook Air. I bought one in this size so it’d be easy to carry in my bag when walking between lectures (what use that’s been this year). If you saw it, you’d definitely think it was not ideal for online learning, it’s just so small. Trying to fit a document on the left five inches, and a landscape lecture video on the right five inches was a real challenge. So, after Christmas, I bought myself a monitor. Second-hand it cost about £50, and it has completely changed the game for me. Having sufficient room to have multiple spreadsheets, documents, Google pages and a Zoom call open at the same time has been a real lifesaver. It’s also super easy to just connect a cable between the laptop and monitor and run them simultaneously. So, this is my first tip: get a big laptop or, even better, an extra screen.

Save your back by having your laptop at eye-height.

As I said, my current setup is a laptop and a monitor, which I often have on at the same time. My laptop is my Zoom and note-writing screen, and my monitor is for everything else. I don’t leave my laptop just on the desk, but use a stand that lifts the screen nearly eight inches up. I also have my monitor on a chunky book. This all helps to save my back, shoulders, neck and sanity. I used to have to go to the osteopath for lower back issues and pay for shoulder massages during exam seasons – I always had these lingering pains but never managed to make the connection to my posture. But since I moved all my screens up to eye height (physiotherapists say you should never be able to see over your screen) I have almost had no issues at all. This was truly a life changer for my physical health. For a highly rated option, check out the AWAVO laptop stand, or if you’re on a budget try the JUMPKEET stand for £11.99.

Make your space happy and motivational.

Try to fill the surrounding space with things that make you motivated. Inspirational quotes are a great way to remind yourself why you’re working so hard. You could use post-its, note cards, or get creative yourself. My favourite phrase in my desk space is “self care is sometimes just ticking off the last thing on your to-do list”. Also, make sure to have some nice photos of family and friends. If you’re going to be spending so much time in the same space, make it somewhere that fills you with ambition, self-love, enthusiasm, and happiness. 

For more decoration ideas, check out Olivia’s article on desk organisation and decoration.

Get the right kit.

As well as the bits and pieces that I’ve previously mentioned, getting your kit right will really help with your comfort when you’re working at your desk, and it might even boost your motivation. Try:

  1. Using a mouse instead of a trackpad.

  2. Having decent light shining from behind your laptop for Zoom calls.

  3. Getting a comfortable, supportive chair.

  4. Using a desk that is the right height for you and is in a pleasant part of your room (I like under the window). Try repositioning it if you’re not sure about where to put it: this can make all the difference.


These suggestions are ideals, and you definitely don’t need to do them all. If you can’t afford some of the setup suggestions, always try going ‘used’ to save the planet and your bank balance, by looking on Facebook marketplace or Ebay. Hopefully my advice helps you to stay comfortable and enthusiastic for these final months of exams and online learning. 

Cecily is a first-year geography student at Durham University with a passion for sustainability. She has a wide (and random) range of interests and passions so, as a contributor to Her Campus Durham, writes about almost anything: skincare, time management and productivity, body positivity, vegan food, and music (coming from a family of musicians). As a student starting university in a global pandemic, Cecily also knows all about trying (and sometimes failing) to be positive in difficult situations, self-care and relaxation, taking up lockdown running, and friendships via Zoom. Cecily is often found belting out Hamilton tunes, arguing about gender equality and climate change, and cooking vegan deliciousness.
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