Don’t you just love/hate the gap between one academic year and another? :)
In some ways the summer break feels too short. In other ways it seems far too long.
You relaxed. You got some cash from a summer job. You saw your mates back home.
But your work and your focus gets a bit rusty. You feel unpractised.
As soon as you return to university, you’re expected to get back to work and pick up where you left off.
It’s time to remotivate yourself.
But a new academic year also brings with it new challenges for your learning. Challenges that could stump you even further.
In my second year, I remember people’s unease and worry with the sudden uptake in expectations. Especially as many thought (and still do think) that first year doesn’t count. [Hint: It really does count…]
The new academic year not only meant we had to re-evaluate what we’d already learned, but also meant we had to push toward a higher level.
Not surprising, but a challenge on top of a challenge is…well, a challenge!
How do you recover from a summer away AND build on top of that too?
Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1. Little and often
It’s so easy to slip into an “I’ll do it later” mindset. Yes, there’s plenty of time, but that time rushes by fast.
Next thing you know, you’ve only got a day before that essay is due in. Or you’re just a few hours before a seminar where you are expected to engage in discussion.
There’s a better way. Start when you get it, but only a small amount.
Little and often means that you spend a few minutes each day working on the subject at hand and not overwhelming yourself with too much content.
You may only need 10 minutes a day, you may need half an hour. However long you need, it’s much better spaced out in chunks.
By committing to just a short amount of time, you may be spurred on to continue doing more once you feel a flow. Or you can give up after a bad session, safe in the knowledge that you actually have the next day. And the next. And the next! You weren’t in the mood today, but you’re not forced to carry on regardless.
So the longer you have, the more chance you’ll have for inspiration to hit. If that’s not a reason to start early and not leave everything for the last minute, I don’t know what is.
This is the same method I suggest for working on essays too. The more time you give yourself to do the coursework, the more likely you are to hand in a piece of work that is worthy of you.
2. Prepare in advance
Preparation shields you from surprises.
You usually get a timetable and reading lists and information on what to expect throughout the module or semester. When you look at this in advance, you can highlight common themes and the types of work that you’re expected to do.
With this information at hand, you’re not actively learning, but you’ve now got an idea of what you’ll need. Then you can focus on any areas you’re uncertain about.
Planning the coming weeks will also help you to find ways of making unenjoyable tasks more friendly and palatable. You may still draw a blank, but at least you’ve got more time to force yourself into a more inspired place. Good luck!
3. Schedule your free time
Use your timetables and to-do lists for EVERYTHING. Even free time and fun activities.
It sounds strange to schedule free time, but it helps you to focus on the pleasure of leisure.
Without this, you won’t make the most of your free time. It tends to just get lost.
I spoke to Bethany Wren, VP Academic Experience at University of Brighton Students’ Union. Bethany suggests that you should “rota in some ‘you’ time every day, even if it is an hour in the bath with a vanilla candle, this will keep you sane“.
By scheduling ALL your time, including when you just want to do absolutely nothing or when you’re happy to do something on a whim, that free time can be used with more purpose. Even if that purpose is just to relax.
And sometimes the purpose is to gain some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Bethany says:
“Remember your friends once a month. My friends and I had a meal out in Brighton – it reminded us that there was oxygen outside of the library but also that we were all feeling the same kind of stresses, and that was comforting.”
Your summer may have been quiet, lazy and carefree. So keep some of those summer memories and schedule those relaxing times when you’ve genuinely got nothing on. The next day may be back to work, but that can truly wait until tomorrow.
All you need now is a hammock.
4. Find something new to do
In my final year, I had a lot more on my plate. There as the small matter of a dissertation, I was living back on the student village with first years, and I was now a senior student.
But I still wanted to find new things to do.
For instance, I wanted to read a selection of Sunday newspapers to check out subjects that I’d never paid much attention to, and to get a taste of the different perspectives that come from a single story.
I would wake up early on Sunday morning. That way, practically every other student in the student village was sleeping, or had gone home for the weekend. I’d walk to the shop, buy a selection of papers, and wash my clothes in the invariably empty laundry.
As the washing machine spun around, I would sit back and read. A peaceful way to find out what’s going on in the world and expand my horizons without interrupting my other plans.
No need for sacrifices.
Okay, getting up early on a Sunday isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But by using the points above, it shouldn’t be hard to find what suits you. There’s always more time than you think.
And if you really are THAT strapped for time, maybe you DO need to make a sacrifice or two. That can be tough, but one you’ll thank yourself for in the long run.
I’m thankful for developing that new habit in my final year of engaging with new content. It’s helped me to build up good curation systems over the years.
5. Ask for help
One of Bethany Wren’s top survival tips for getting back on track at university is to always ask for help when you need it:
“Nobody is expecting you to do this by yourself and there are a lot of people out there who are ready to give you a helping hand, all you have to do is ASK. We [at Brighton] have our Support service, SUSS at the SU who you can contact via email any time. Equally, if there is a member of staff such as your personal tutor who you can talk to, do!”
Renewed motivation can only manifest when you get the right type of assistance. Without it, you only feel overwhelmed.
A.S.K. – Asking Secures Knowledge
Armed with these five tips, you should be well on your way to feeling remotivated.
And if you’re on a real hardcore productivity trip, I heartily recommend Graham Allcott’s books, “How to be a Productivity Ninja” and “How to be a Knowledge Ninja“.
No matter what your summer break was like, there’s more than enough scope to remotivate yourself and feel ready for anything as you hit campus once again.
What’s your main focus for this year?