A fellow student’s guide to using your Semester Break productively

You made it!

The semester is over and now it’s time to hibernate under your blanket and binge on snacks and junk TV. However, totally switching off and disappearing from the world, although tempting, can cause more harm than good. By all means take some time to rest, enjoy sleeping in and bask in the glory that is having no assignments due (unless you’re enrolled in a compressed course, in which case you are very clever and can find tips on smashing it here).

Holidays are wonderful times to recover, but they’re also the perfect opportunity to catch up on life outside of university, get some squiggly jobs done and work on creating a clean slate before wading into another semester. Here are some things you should do in between trying to earn money to survive and forgetting what day it is.

1 – Inbox Zero

How does your inbox look? Are you one of those people with a neat tree of folders, religiously filing, deleting and scrubbing their inbox?

Or are you like me and your email program is a digital episode of Hoarders?

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Sifting weird spam, amazon receipts, daily newsletters from every store you’ve ever shopped at from important stuff like bills, official correspondence, and bottle shop offers can take quite a while. But the sense of relief and accompaniment when you reach the fabled ‘Inbox Zero’ will make you feel like Highlander during the Quickening.

2 – Get Organised

Do you also have a pile of old lecture notes, crumpled post-its and useless highlighters sitting on your desk? Combine that with the random PDFs, ebooks and PowerPoint files scattered throughout your computer and you’ve got a recipe for a future mental breakdown. Spending just a few minutes a day organising your physical and digital workspace can do wonders for both your efficiency and your state of mind. Setting up a series of file trees to organise your lecture notes, readings, research and documents enables you to access things quickly and easily.

I have a standardised template that works for me. I just copy and rename the template for each new subject I do.

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Similarly, the ‘a place for everything , and everything in its place’ mentality applies to my physical workspace. Granted, while I’m working on assignments or studying for an exam it looks like I’m a burnt-out detective who can’t let go of a case, but after each study period I tidy it so I can start the next day fresh.

3 – Plan for Next Semester

Wait, wait! Before you start hurling abuse and rotten food at me, hear me out.

Why not get a little comfortable with the idea of next semester. I too am a broken lump of protoplasmic wreckage after the last 15 weeks, and I fully intend to rest and reboot. However, moving from holiday stasis directly into day one of next semester is like rising to the surface too quickly after a deep dive – you end up with the psychological version of the bends.

Have a little glimpse of the subjects you’ll be doing next semester. Will there be group work involved? Do you have to give a presentation? How many essays are there? Get mentally prepared. I find it handy to jump onto the library online and have a look at what is on the course reserves.

Take a look at some of the authors and concepts you’ll be working with, maybe even read a few of the papers if any catch your eye. *ducks*

4 – Volunteering, internships and work experience

If you have spare hours you should consider spending them on helping others, some form of uni related experience, or possibly both. Finding a charity that is meaningful to you, or related to your degree or career goals is a great way to give back to the community and earn some valuable experience (plus an enormous dose of the warm and fuzzies). Likewise, offering up some of your time to intern or do work experience somewhere relevant to your goals is an excellent opportunity to build your resume, chalk up some industry exposure and get your foot in the door.

5 – Life admin

The next month or so is the time to do all those things you kept telling yourself you would do once you were on holiday. All those little jobs that you had to put off: catching up with friends, a spot of gardening, going to see relatives, visiting your GP for a checkup, actually using your student gym membership, getting your eyes tested, washing the car, cleaning out your closet, flipping your mattress, checking your smoke alarms, changing your contact details if you’ve moved recently, tidying the mosh-pit under the sink… you know, all those little tasks that can make life feel managerial. Get them done.

6 – Read a book you choose

After seemingly endless weeks of reading recommended, prescribed, and often incomprehensible text book chapters and papers, it is a true joy to read something you actually chose for yourself.

Don’t feel you must read something profound; Ulysses can wait. It could be a favourite Goosebumps story or the back of your shampoo bottle, the important thing is that YOU chose it.

7 – Tick something off your Bucket List

Always wanted to sky-dive? Learn to parkour? Conquer War and Peace? Enter a hot-dog eating competition? Watch the entire Friday the 13th series in order?

Now is the time to do it.

It might just be one thing on an enormous list, but ticking it off can give you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and help with the mental cobweb cleanse we all need after a tough semester.

8 – Update your resume and CV

You’ve just finished a semester and, surprise! You have new skills.

Nailed a presentation? You now have ‘strong oral communication skills’.

Did you manage to wrangle a decent mark out of the potential python wrestle that is group work? Sounds like ‘interpersonal communication skills and experience working with others to achieve goals.’

Did you juggle academic, work, family and relationship commitments while still keeping up with your favourite shows? Congratulations, you’re ‘flexible, adaptable with demonstrated time managements skills with the ability to prioritise your workload to achieve positive outcomes’.

I’m not being facetious here either. Workplaces genuinely want you to have experience that is relative to them, but that experience can come from other facets of your life. If you can relate real-life experience, even in areas not associated with the job, you can give your application an edge.

9 – Hobbies

Catch up on those things that bring you joy. Dust off that guitar in the corner, do some whittling, paint little figures, write that Broadway musical or plant a garden.

Doing something that captures your focus and provides a good dose of pleasure and accomplishment is the perfect way to repair and reenergise your tired and overloaded brain and get you ready, sandbagged and armoured for the next round of academic warfare.

Naturally, you’re more than welcome to wallow in the holidays like a puppy who has discovered a particularly unsavoury smell, but completely switching off will make that first day back feel like you’re Neo freshly unplugged from the Matrix – and there’s little worse than wiping the holiday sleep out of your eye and it’s already week 5.

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