I always find it a lot more difficult to focus on my academic work in term 2. Days feel like years of agonising work, but Reading Break somehow disappears in the blink of an eye. I am perpetually exhausted, so I do the bare minimum, but then I start feeling like anything I do is ultimately pointless, and as a result, my productivity levels sink even further. It’s a vicious cycle.
An article on student learning during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic describes academic burnout as “exhaustion resulting from the high study demands placed on [students] by the family or teachers, a cynical and uninvolved approach to study and academic institution, or a sense of inefficiency that are related to negative beliefs about educational competencies or opportunities” (Tomaszek and Muchacka-Cymerman, 2022, p. 1). Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
If you are feeling exhausted and unmotivated, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s so common that the second half of the academic year has even been dubbed the “term 2 blues”. The good news is that there are many support systems in place that may help us face the looming monster of not wanting to do anything.
Whether it is exhaustion from having too many things to do, cynicism towards assignments themselves, or feeling discouraged from test results, here are some resources that I use to help alleviate the feelings of burnout:
1. When I feel like I have no time.
With the school year ending, the deadlines to all the projects and assignments you’ve put off are suddenly due the next week. You start thinking you have no time for all the work needed to be done, and the stress accumulates to the point where you end up procrastinating even more. Am I speaking from experience? 100%.
But as motivational speaker Simon Sinek once tweeted, the hardest part is just getting started. Here are some ways to help unload the stress that comes with taking that first step towards tackling the impending wave of deadlines:
- Prioritise! Whenever I don’t have the energy to actually get things done, I crack open my planner and organise my upcoming projects. That way I’m breaking down my workload before I actually start. Here is a digital to-do list that I use to organise my week.
- I also find that the time-management toolkit and handout on managing online learning has many useful strategies on how to prioritise specific tasks.
- I like the Pomodoro technique, which breaks down studying time into timed intervals. Instead of saying “I have to study for the whole day”, I tell myself “I have 20 minutes to study, and then I can take a 10 minute break.”
- Sometimes, the beeping of the Pomodoro timer ends up interrupting my focus, and so I use the Flowtime technique instead, which is explained in this blog post.
2. When I don’t feel like getting work done.
One of the biggest reasons why I tend to slip in the second half of the year is because I get so buried in my heap of deadlines, I forget why I love learning so much in the first place. After reading this blog post, I realised that motivation, unlike what many self-help gurus might tell you, is not a permanent state of being. It’s okay to not feel 100% dedicated to my projects all the time; in fact, most people probably don’t. Lately I’ve been trying to listen to my body, and actually resting when I feel exhausted. Learning self-compassion is just as important as everything else!
Unfortunately, deadlines still exist, and I can’t spend the entire day watching Netflix. Here are some things I do to get myself back in the (studying) groove:
- Reward myself with every completed task. No matter how big or small the task itself may feel like, I try to do something that’ll bring my mood back up. For example, having a slice of cake after doing a reading, or taking a walk outside after doing the laundry. It’s the little things that keep me motivated!
- Change my environment. Back to when classes were completely online, my studying life only felt even more monotonous because I was sitting in the same room, and staring at the same wall every single day. Just moving from my bedroom to the living room did wonders to my energy levels, and I found myself focusing more on Zoom lectures.
- Go outside. I find that sitting outside for just a couple minutes makes me feel so much happier, especially when it’s sunny. Sometimes I’ll take my readings outside, and just bask in the limited amounts of sunlight that Vancouver has.
- There is also a very informative post on the science behind motivation, and ways to train your brain to help achieve your goals.
3. When I feel like the effort I put in is not reflected in my grades.
At some point during university we all encounter challenges related to our learning, and that’s perfectly okay! Success is not a linear, straightforward process; there are bound to be many obstacles throughout the journey. I have definitely had my share of ups and downs. This blog post shares five common learning challenges, and some recommendations for how to address them. Some additional resources to look into include:
- This post on how to make the most out of office hours. For those who may find it a little daunting to talk to professors (I know I certainly did), here’s our toolkit that might help!
- The Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication provides writing consultations for any stage of the writing process.
Term 2 is especially harder because we’ve already worked so hard in the first half of the school year. There are going to be times when assignments feel more painful than beneficial, and even getting to class can feel like a daunting task. Yet there are also going to be times of sudden bursts of creativity and productivity. Motivation comes and goes, and it’s okay to take these changes in stride, and rest when exhaustion hits. I hope these tips were helpful, and I wish everyone the best of luck as the term ends!
Kristensen, T. S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E., & Christensen, K. B. (2005). The copenhagen burnout inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work and Stress, 19(3), 192-207. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678370500297720
Martin, D. (2012). This is a book. Grand Central Pub.
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 2(2), 99-113.
Tomaszek, K., & Muchacka-Cymerman, A. (2022). Student burnout and PTSD symptoms: The role of existential anxiety and academic fears on students during the COVID 19 pandemic. Depression Research and Treatment, 2022, 6979310-6979310. https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/6979310