Tips from the eNotes Intern: Getting Over the Post-Winter Break Blues

Here at eNotes, our intern evidently doesn’t pull any punches. Following are the straight up facts about the post-winter break blues (aka ‘WAA’) and how to overcome them with this six step program, straight from your fellow student’s mouth:

WINTER BREAK IS OVER.

Ouch. That sort of hurt, didn’t it? I do apologize, I just thought saying it out loud might make it easier to comprehend. For many of us, our winter holidays are coming to an end. If you’re like me, you are now trying to piece together memories of what life was like before vacation, and it’s a very sad business. You have adapted to days filled with holiday celebrations, friends, family, the couch, copious amounts of cookies, home-cooked meals, the couch, your bed, blankets, and more couch time. Now, I don’t know about you, but adapting to that lifestyle took me all of three seconds. So why is it so hard to snap back into the “student” life we’ve been leading for practically all our years? The way I see it, there are three phases most of us go through.

  1. The Wallowing Phase
  2. The Acceptance Phase
  3. The Adapting Phase

Let’s make an acronym out of it: “WAA.” WAA is the process by which the average student adjusts to reality after enduring a highly enjoyable, relaxing vacation. The first phase (Wallowing) is characterized by irritability, anxiousness, complaining, heightened laziness (the laziest you’ve ever been), and prolonged sleeping. The second phase (Acceptance) is characterized by, well, acceptance. You know that you have to go back to school and normal life, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now, I didn’t say you were necessarily happy about the situation, but you’ve become accustomed to the idea. The final phase (Adapting) is where you take steps to get used your student lifestyle again. Now, as a student who has seen many winter break transitions, I am a master of the WAA, especially phase 3. I thought I’d give you a few tips for getting back into the swing of things. They’re real, they’re awesome, and they’re coming at you in list format:

  1. Make a list or two: Time management is one of the most beneficial skills you can learn. Sometimes, keeping track of things is really difficult. There’s a pretty decent chance you’re a little flustered right now, seeing as you’ve been thrown right into the craziness of school all over again. With so many things to take care of (assignment due dates from here until June, exams, quizzes, projects, and all the aspects of your daily, personal lives as well), you’re quite right to be a little flustered. How are you going to get it all done and when? Whenever I feel this way, I make lists. Lists and lists and lists. They really work, and all it takes is a piece of paper and a pen (you can use some sort of iPhone app if you would like to, but I prefer the old-school format). Here’s what you do: write down a list of all the things you have to do. Just get it all out of your head and onto the paper. You can leave it just like that, if you’d like, or you can organize it further by due date, class, or some amalgamation of the two. Then when you complete a task, guess what? You get to cross it off. Believe me, it feels awesome. Not only can you see everything you have to accomplish very clearly in front of you, but you can also really feel and see yourself getting things done. So make a list, it can’t hurt!
  2. Create a routine and do your best to stick to it: Routines are really helpful for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they give you a clear idea of what your day or week is going to look like. You can become accustomed to the pattern so that certain things you don’t necessarily enjoy very much (say, exercising or studying for example) can be accomplished with much more ease. There’s a certain invisible accountability you feel to the routine. You can’t let it down! And once it becomes habit, it’s easy as pie. Routines also help with time management. Having a relatively set schedule makes it easier to know when you will have free time to accomplish certain tasks. You’ll feel charged and on track, ready to take on the day.
  3. Set realistic educational goals: Now I’m not saying you have to make a commitment to study eight hours a night. We have to be realistic. You could, for instance, give yourself the goal of finishing a term paper a week in advance, so you will have more time to study for finals at the end of the term. You might achieve that by doing little segments of the paper throughout the semester, or by blocking certain chunks of time for uninterrupted work on your paper. Any kind of goal, no matter how small, can really help propel you along this academic rollercoaster. Graduation, degrees—those can all seem very far off. If you can give yourself a goal that seems closer in proximity and feels more attainable, you will undeniably feel more motivated in the academic setting, and in your life in general.
  4. Be active: Yes, your bed is comfortable. Yes, your favorite TV drama is on. Yes, Facebook might as well be your desktop background. It’s nearly impossible to avoid all these things, especially when coming back from a vacation. It’s almost as if we’re being sucked in. One of the best ways to beat the winter break spell, then, is to fight back. We don’t always realize how lethargic we’ve become. Fighting lethargy and doing some exercise or even partaking in hobbies—anything to get you moving—will increase your energy. I mean, endorphins, right? You’ll be a happier camper if you’re up and about and moving around. The activity feeds off itself and you will find yourself doing more and more without thinking about it. You’ll stop counting the steps it takes to get from your bed to the refrigerator and instead use your legs willingly and excitedly. You’ll feel more alive, and subsequently, feel like you can take on the entire world. Yes, the world is your oyster.
  5. Remember why you’re really in school: Hey, be excited! You’ve been given this opportunity to learn at the hands of different professors and teachers, and you are getting something out of it. Even if you can’t appreciate it now, you know that deep down you really want to be here, and that you’re acquiring something invaluable by participating. You are getting an education that is going to help you create the future you want, whatever that may be. That is something to feel grateful for.
  6. Take a deep breath: Just do it. It will always help. Inhale, then exhale, slowly. Now smile, and go to class. You’re probably already late.

One of These Days, None of These Days: Why We Procrastinate

The Science of Procrastination and How to Manage It

Sorry everyone, I meant to post this last week…

Sound familiar? If you’re a human being (and I’m betting you are) you’ll have procrastinated at some point in your life. More likely, you’ll have procrastinated a lot in your life.

But why is that? What is there in our genetic makeup that causes all of us to struggle with procrastination?

The duo behind AsapSCIENCE answers that very question. Thankfully, they do so in the form of a YouTube video, which means you can procrastinate your procrastination by watching a video on how not to procrastinate… Ah, the delicious irony.

Though the psychological causes are still debated, there’s a human tendency to over or underestimate the value of a reward based on its temporal proximity. This is often referred to as “temporal discounting.”

Basically, temporal discounting is a fancy explanation behind why you’d rather watch that cute video of a Costa Rican sloth orphanage NOW and write that important research paper LATER.

And it gets worse the further away your deadline is. Have a deadline at the end of the term, or even the school year? As it turns out, your weirdly-wired brain currently considers that exam or project of less important for being due further into the future.

Human motivation is highly influenced by how imminent a reward is perceived to be, meaning the further away a reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as “present bias” or “hyperbolic discounting.”

This is why students cram; you don’t realize the value of a high grade until you come close enough to the time that grade will be evaluated. And more often than not, procrastinators will have acted too late to achieve the grade they really want.

So there’s the science of why. Now, how to keep your procrastination in check…

1. How can you counteract present bias? Well, if the root of procrastination lies in the distance you are from your eventual deadline, why not bring that deadline closer? Setting smaller deadlines for yourself that line the way to your ultimate deadline is a good method to avoid last minute scrambling.

2. Immediate reward vs. future reward–so, a reward that’s far off in time doesn’t hold the same weight as some immediate satisfaction.  The best way to prevent the immediate reward being satisfied by Facebook or YouTube is to grant yourself another kind of reward. This could be a snack, a study break, or 15 minutes of browsing time. The important thing is that it has to be immediate. Telling yourself you’ll enjoy sweetmeats and other luxuries after you receive the grade you want is nice, but it won’t stop you from procrastinating before then.

3. Related to the above, you might want to try the Pomodoro technique. This involves the use of a kitchen timer, set at 25 minutes, to improve your stamina for studying over time. You spend a little bit of time on, a little off, and in the process you gain the ability to judge the amount of time and effort you’ll have to put into each assigned task, thus allowing you to manage your future time more effectively.

4. And if all of that still can’t peel you away from distractions, well just uninstall the internet. Seriously. Working writers do this all the time. There are even downloadable programs for it, like Concentrate and StayFocused (both for Chrome) and Leechblock (for Firefox). If you need the Internet to study, don’t panic; you can use these programs to temporarily block yourself from the sites most offensive to your study time (because there’s no way you’re using Facebook and Pinterest to study).

Furthermore, if you can practice the art of avoiding procrast… Oh hey, look, another cat video!


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