College winter breaks can seem very long. It’s tempting to spend the month relaxing and visiting with friends, but I guarantee you’ll feel better returning to school if you spend some of this time preparing for your next semester.
However, learning how to manage this free time to ensure it ends with you feeling accomplished is challenging. I am entering my fourth winter break (potentially my last long winter break until I retire) and cannot wait to make the most of it. I have learned to maximize my free or leisure time with these simple steps:
1. Set Goals
Spend some time thinking about goals before your break even begins. If you don’t and you start relaxing, there is a chance you may not get anything done. I try to keep my goals simple and reasonable enough that I can complete them in the amount of time I have.
I recommend making one of your goals fitness related since everyone moves around much less when they’re confined to their home. Go for walks, pick up an exercise challenge, or do a one month membership at a gym. Some other goals you may want to accomplish include searching for scholarships, applying for jobs or internships, earning money for next semester's books, or getting ahead of your reading assignments.
After a challenging semester, no one wants to jump right into working on small projects, reading books that feel like homework, or working full time. Take a few days and treat it like a weekend after a hard test with nothing due on Monday. This allows you to catch-up on Netflix, read a novel, get some sleep and workout without feeling guilty. Set a limit for your ‘do nothing’ days or else your entire break will be filled with them. I personally give myself two days off before tackling any projects.
3. Make a Plan
First thing Monday morning (or whichever day you finish relaxing), make a plan. Sit down at a clean space and write down what you’re going to do on each day. Set yourself hard deadlines and stick to them. It helps if you tell other people about them, so they can help hold you accountable. You can either plan out your days or set deadlines, but you will be most successful if there is some pattern to your days to create healthy, productive habits.
4. Follow Through
This is the most straight forward, but hardest to implement. Follow through. Wake up when you say you will and make an honest effort to do everything you said you were going to. This is particularly hard when the Netflix show you binged for the past two days is calling your name, but muscle through. Keep your goal list and plan in a visible place and return to them frequently. Limit your access to websites and activities that are just a waste of time, like Facebook or games on your phone. This gets you off track and sets a precedent of distraction.
5. Get Back on Track
Almost everyone gets off track at some point. When you do, recognize it quickly so you can take steps to counteract it. One strategy to get back on track for your plan is to go elsewhere, like the library or a coffee shop, to start your ‘work.’ This is helpful as it pulls you away from distraction and puts you in public so you feel the need to perform. Another strategy is to get dressed up. Even if you’re staying around the house, you’re in a different mindset when wearing cute clothes and jeans than sweatshirts and sweatpants. When you put that effort into getting dressed, you’ll be more likely to feel ready to do work.
6. Don’t Forget to Have Fun
One of the best parts about winter break is that you get to return home. This means you get to see your family, friends, and those people from high school you hoped you would never see again. Don’t forget to spend time with those that matter to you! Your schedule is adjustable, so rearrange when fun opportunities presents themselves or leave Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights free for friends and family. This is one of the points of break, take advantage of it.
Overall, break is a time for you to focus on yourself. After a hard semester, you need time to recuperate. It’s important to relax, but winter break is also a huge opportunity to knock items off of your bucket list or tackle some of your goals. All of those items that fell by the wayside over the semester can be completed throughout your break as long as you make a conscious effort to do so.
You will not be productive in this effort without a plan and some motivation. Create habits that aid you in your productivity and give you a sense of self-worth when you’re not in school. Enjoy this time you have to relax and work on projects. It won't be around forever!