A semester is months-long. When you’re constantly studying and working on assignments, you can fall into a serious burnout – and sometimes, this decline in your energy and motivation is so gradual that you don’t notice it happening.
If you’re feeling burnt out, stop and think: What can you do right now to help yourself?
- You can allow yourself one more evening of low productivity, guilt-free.
This first suggestion may seem counterintuitive, but gifting your mind a break might be necessary in order for you to bounce back. None of us are able to keep our mind working hard 24/7, otherwise, we’d be computers – and hey, even computers need to recharge.
So, take an evening to tend to yourself. “Self-care” gets thrown around a lot these days—but what does realistic self-care look like for you? An extended beauty routine, cooking yourself a nutritious meal, getting an extra hour of sleep? Give yourself what you need to feel relaxed and ready to tackle tomorrow’s productivity.
- You can plan tomorrow’s study schedule.
Whether you love or hate to-do lists, experts have found them to reduce anxiety and increase productivity. This fact is especially true when to-do lists are specific about times and tasks.
This is not to say that every minute of your day has to be determined by your schedule. A schedule that is too rigid might overwhelm you when, inevitably, you don’t finish a task in the time you allotted. Plan for tasks to take longer than you’d expect! Also, schedule specific tasks. For example, plan to read Chapters 1-3 of your textbook from 2:00-3:00 pm, instead of vaguely planning to read from your textbook in the afternoon. Planning specifically will ground you – you’ll know exactly what to accomplish and when.
- You can plan tomorrow’s – preferably early – morning routine.
We recommend an early start to your day, and science does too. If waking up early isn’t easy for you, the best tip I can share, which helped me, a former (and very stubborn) night owl, to become a morning person, is to truly want to wake up early. Remind yourself that a good morning sets a positive tone for the rest of your day.
Just like self-care is unique to you, your most conducive, motivating morning routine is unique to you. Craft a routine that you will look forward to, which allows you some warm-up time for the productivity planned for the day, and will also accommodate any potential procrastination later in the day. Try a digital-less hour of exercise, meditation, and reading to inspire you to tackle the day with enthusiasm.
Now, moving forward, how can you rejuvenate your study routine and prevent future burnout?
- Mix up your study environment.
Research consistently finds that varying where you study increases memory retention and focus. If you tend to study in the same place, try working in different libraries, cafés, and random nooks around campus – you might surprise yourself with increased productivity in a new environment.
Alternatively, if you know you study best at home, discover where in your home you are most productive, and consider cleaning up or redecorating your space to imitate the psychological effect that a new environment has on the working brain.
- Reward yourself (in moderation).
Positive reinforcement! Plan a reward for yourself for an accomplishment – maybe a particularly daunting task – and keep it in the back of your mind while you work. This reward system works best when you are strict about rewards. It’s kind of like babysitting yourself. Simply stated, if you haven’t finished your veggies, you don’t get dessert (except that in this case, veggies are a 10-page paper and dessert is an episode of your favourite show).
- Take frequent, planned breaks. Use a timer if you struggle to get back to work after a break.
“Planned” is italicized for a reason. If you’re vague about when and how long a break is, it will welcome an opportunity to scroll through Instagram for however long your eyes can stand it. One of the best things to do is to set timers for work time and break time. When you know a timer will go off in, say, 10 minutes, you might be more likely to take full advantage of that break and actually get back to work when it ends.
If you also set a timer for your work period, you might work more efficiently in order to beat the clock. If you find yourself trying to complete as many tasks as possible before your microwave beeps, you’re familiar with the thrill that accompanies a race against time.
- Allow yourself some comfort while you study.
Sometimes, a comfort as simple as your favourite hot drink can motivate you to work harder and longer. If you’re dreading your schoolwork because you envision it as a laborious, uncomfortable activity, try giving yourself a little more ease while you work. For example, work in your coziest sweatpants or with music (that is, a type that won’t distract you). With consistency, you might even begin to associate a particular comfort with working. I find that when I routinely study with the same playlist, the music starts to trigger my brain’s work mode.
- Schedule a completion timeline for big assignments.
Agendas = love. Why? Because when you plan in advance, you can stay on track with big assignments. If you’re talented at procrastination, it’s a great idea to assign yourself due dates for smaller tasks that make up larger projects. Planning in advance – even weeks and months in advance – can drastically improve the way you work. If you have an essay due in two months, start planning a timeline for completion as soon as possible, assigning everything from choosing a thesis to completing your conclusion. A monster of an assignment becomes more approachable when broken down into little baby monsters hidden in a trench coat.
A strong work ethic is definitely admirable, but remember to take care of yourself. Your wellbeing guides your success. Beyond these study tips, if you’re feeling burnt out, reach out to a friend who can support you.