Opinion | How to get back into the swing of things

By Dalia Maeroff, Senior Staff Columnist

Winter break this year was bittersweet. Students were finally given relief from a terrible fall semester. We were all exhausted, burnt out and stuck wherever we were, whether that was with family or our roommates or alone. Pitt has announced that students should not come back to campus until their new assigned move-in date, which can make it hard to get back into the swing of things with the new semester. Here’s how to make sure you’re ready for the upcoming semester.

Clean and organize your workspace

I didn’t touch my desk for the entirety of winter break. Didn’t go near it, didn’t look at it, didn’t breathe in its direction. It’s time to clear off the clutter and reorganize things so they work better than last semester. Maybe last semester you could never find your highlighters, or your notebooks were hard to reach. Put everything into places where they are easily accessible to make the beginning of the semester a little bit less frustrating and your workspace less cluttered and ready for, well, work.

Make sure you have everything you need

This one is obvious. Make sure you have the materials you need to take notes. I prefer taking notes on paper, and I’m very specific about what pens and paper I like to use. Textbooks are also important, but wait until your professor says that you actually need them, and try and see if you can find free digital copies online. Buy textbooks used — they’re so much cheaper — or rent them.

Fix your sleep schedule

I’ve been pretty good with this over break, and I’m proud of that. But I know that many people have been effectively nocturnal over the break. That’s not going to feel great when you have to wake up to go to your 9 a.m. lecture. Adjust your sleep schedule slowly, by a half hour every night, to go to sleep and wake up earlier. Exercising during the day, avoiding caffeine, having a blue light filter on your devices and taking a melatonin supplement before you go to bed can help make the transition to a new sleep schedule easier.

Plan to wear real clothes for the first day of class — at least on your top half

Remember when we used to care what we looked like and when we used to plan out our outfits for the first day of school? When we left the house wearing something other than sweatpants? I’m not asking you to take off the sweatpants, but at least wear a shirt that you didn’t sleep in, fix your hair a bit and try to give this semester a chance. Not only do first impressions matter, but it will also boost your confidence in class.

Reconnect with human beings

Some people were lucky enough to spend the break with their families, while others were alone in their apartments or spent the break with roommates. Regardless of who you spent it with, you likely had a small group of people whom you didn’t get to see over the break. The beginning of the semester will be hard, as it might drudge up feelings of burnout, anxiety and exhaustion from the last semester. Reach out to the people you haven’t seen to provide support for both them and yourself as this semester starts.

Build a schedule for the day-to-day activities between Zoom classes

Over winter break, I picked up habits and hobbies that I really don’t want to abandon once the semester starts. I have actually been picking up a camera again, practicing violin in the afternoon, reading often and doing wicked amounts of self care. If you have a 15-minute break between classes, use it to do a face mask, read a chapter of the book you’re reading or step outside for a moment. Making time in your weekly and daily schedule to do things for yourself will make a world of a difference in your quality of life during the semester.

School-adjacent activities

Disclaimer — this is not a real term. I made it up. After a long break of not even thinking about school, I forget entirely how to do everything school-related, and I am not in the mood to just jump in right away to hit the books. My solution is school-adjacent entertainment. Reading a book, watching a documentary that you find interesting, listening to podcasts and catching up on Duolingo are some things that I consider to be school-adjacent activities. Reading books you enjoy can help you adjust to soaking in information. Watching documentaries or listening to podcasts are really no different from listening to Zoom lectures. These activities prime your brain for studying and paying attention in lectures without exhausting you and can help ease you into the semester.

Make a study playlist for the semester

Or just a general playlist for the semester to help separate the semester from the break in your mind. I’m someone who listens to music almost every second of every day, and music can have a huge effect on productivity. Make a playlist or two or six of different genres for different moods, different times of day and different classes. Plus, music just makes things more fun. If music isn’t your thing, ambient noise is also great.

Put everything from your syllabi into a planner 

This is the bread and butter for your semester. After the fall semester, students tend to get lazy and skip this, but it is one of the most important things a student can do. Don’t skip it. Take all your syllabi, put down all assignments, essays, quizzes and exams in a planner, and that planner is your beginner’s guide for succeeding for the rest for the semester. With your planner in hand, you can power through the semester ahead.

Dalia Maeroff writes primarily about issues of psychology, education, culture and environmentalism. Write to her at [email protected].