It’s December! You can feel it in the air – the winter holidays are upon us. The days are steadily getting shorter and colder. Radio stations have already started blasting out seasonal tunes. Christmas decorations are up all around the city.

But for students the holidays are a harbinger of impending doom. This is because although the winter holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, love, and levity, our teachers never make it clear that they share those sentiments. You know what I’m talking about. Assignments from all subjects piled up a meter high. Tests and quizzes dished out, one after the other. Deadlines set so close to the end of the holiday that there is no choice but to work on them during the break, followed quickly by final evaluations and exams. And not to mention, if you are a grade 12 student, there are applications to universities or jobs to consider on top of all that.

It’s a tough time for students, and I imagine a teacher might not have it much easier. But despite all of that, the Winter Holidays are indeed supposed to be a break. So here are some tips from Garneau seniors and past graduates on how to manage your time so you have time to do what you really want.

1. Remove yourself from distractions.  There are a lot of things out there that can distract you. Simply having a computer puts you at the mercy of hours of potential procrastination pals. With instant, cheap and easy access to thousands of videos, shows, games, songs, articles, messengers, and a mindset that always tells you ‘just one more’, it isn’t hard to lose track of how long you have been less than productive. Though it’s unavoidable to use the computer for a lot of projects and papers nowadays, for those that don’t, turn it off.  There is very little reason to have a computer open when you have a vectors assignment that needs doing.  You don’t need Facebook to study.  You don’t need to have an active Skype call when you write a paper. If you desperately need a concept explained or a question answered, save it up to ask all at once, or simply ask and get off again. You’ll be much better off without people  inviting you to go shopping, or a sitcom tempting you to watch. Oh, and find some place quiet. That usually helps too.

2. Switch. Just like a swamp, people stagnate. The average teenage mind can concentrate 100% for about an hour. Then, the efficiency drops exponentially.  That ‘rut’ is not something you want to fall into. Grinding out pages and pages of chemistry questions can get pretty boring, and opens up your mind to potential distractions (or in some cases, 4-hour naps). Instead of forcing yourself to do something continuously and letting your mind go stale afterwards, do something else that’s productive. Anything will work, so long as it is somewhat different. Tired of page after page of calculus? Go try and write that creative writing piece! Can’t think of any ideas for the piece? Go build your science fair project! And if your mind is really letting you down today, take a quick break and go relax awhile. You’ll be recharged and ready to work!

3. Find a rival. When I asked one of the seniors how they stayed on task, she answered that she looked at her sister doing work, and decided not be “waste” anymore. Granted, this is probably hard for people without siblings. But it is still very much possible.  Find someone who you are close with, or someone who you look up to in your class. Partake in a friendly competition with them. You don’t even have to let them know! Just strive to do your best to keep up with their working habits, if you don’t already have enough motivation by yourself. Having a friendly competitor can help motivate both parties.

4. Exercise.  If you don’t take the seniors’ word for it, take the word of a lady who is the president of her own company, an honours student at Yale Law School, and one of the campaign leaders for the first Obama campaign. This is one of those things that comes naturally for some, and not so naturally for others. But when you feel your brain is really not up to its usual standards, going for a quick bike ride or doing a few push ups can really help clear your mind and increase your overall alertness. Maybe it’s the increased breathing rate and oxygen flow. Maybe it’s the endorphins released as you work out. I don’t know. All I’m sure of is that a few reps and a quick jog can get you back on the metaphorical horse in no time. Try it out for yourself next time you feel down on productivity.

5. Stay on schedule. This perhaps one of the key elements to work efficiency. You can only get so far with a laissez-faire attitude. When you have applications to universities due, three different tests in seven days, five problem sets due over two weeks, and a summative heading your way, you will fall to pieces without some kind of plan. Organizers and planners are there for a reason. Take note of when everything is happening, and break down the workload into manageable bits. Do ten questions a day for seven days if you need to finish a seventy question problem set. Plan your essay, draft your essay, and edit your essay on different days if you need to. Review test material every day for a week to prepare. Teachers generally give enough time to allow for this to be a viable method.

And try your best not to fry your brain by leaving six things due for tomorrow when it is 10 p.m. at night. That’s never pleasant.

Happy holidays, and good luck!