6 Ways to Manage Your Studies Over Christmas
The Christmas holidays can be a blessing or a curse for a worn-out student.
On the one hand, acres of potential free time to get ahead with work, do some studying that isn’t just about the next exam coming up, or even catch up on some much-needed sleep. But on the other hand, a Christmas holiday – no matter how you celebrate it – is likely to come with a lot of exhausting obligations. If you celebrate a traditional Christmas, then there will be presents to buy, rooms to decorate, cooking to be done and a whole lot of relatives to catch up with. Even if you don’t celebrate a traditional Christmas but just have the time off, there will probably be family demands on your time that you’ll have to balance.
All that free time that you thought was stretching ahead of you can vanish very quickly between shopping trips, family visits and perhaps the occasional indulgent lie-in. There have been no shortage of students who have started the Christmas holidays with a large pile of library books and an even larger pile of good intentions, only to go back to school, college or university with the books unread and the good intentions unintentionally abandoned. With the best will in the world, few of us manage to do all the studying that we wish we could over Christmas; there’s just too much going on. And once Christmas itself is over and done with, there’s the celebrations for New Year’s Eve, which can be nearly as time-consuming.
In this article, we take a look at how you can plan your time and your studying to make the most of your Christmas break – so that you can catch up on your workload and have some festive fun as well.
1. Set a particular time for studying every day (and let your family know about it)
One of the reasons why it’s so tricky to study over Christmas holidays – say, compared to half term or Easter – is that the pattern of days for most people is much less predictable. There might be family dropping in unexpectedly (or unexpectedly to you, even if your parents knew about it), or other demands on your time, such as coming shopping at short notice, or meals out. When at other times of year it’s easier to just say no and hide yourself away in your room with your books, at Christmas there’s an additional sense of obligation to spend time with your family.
The best way to get around this is to pick a particular time of day to get on with some work, and to make sure your family knows about it. If there’s a family planner or something similar hanging up in the kitchen, make a note of your study hours every day. One advantage of this approach is that it means your family might help hold you to your intention to study, but more importantly, if they schedule visitors for those times, they can’t reasonably expect you to be available to spend time with them.
As for the time to pick, we recommend getting your studying out of the way in the morning, so that you have the rest of the day free. While it can be hard to motivate yourself to get to your books first thing, it’s even harder to do so later in the day, when you might be dragging yourself away from spending time with family and friends in front of a roaring fire. A couple of hours from 10am until midday is a realistic study period, and falls at the time of day when unexpected guests are least likely to show up at your door and require you to spend time with them.
2. Think about how you can adjust your studying to the circumstances
After your schedule being disrupted by family and friends, the next big hurdle to most people studying over Christmas is the particular circumstances of that time of year throwing your work into disarray. You might have planned on accessing the library, only to discover that it isn’t open on Bank Holidays, or – in some cases – you can’t make withdrawals at all between Christmas and New Year. Depending on where you live, snow might also be an impediment to library access. Similarly, if you’re home from university, you might find that the speedy wifi access you’re used to in Halls isn’t available at home, with multiple siblings putting demands on the bandwidth or a single dongle that needs to be shared around between several family members’ laptops.
The difficulties you might face aren’t just about access to study materials, whether in person in the library or online. If you have family members coming to stay, you might find yourself turfed out of your room to make way for an elderly granny or aunt, or that your usually peaceful study space is suddenly full of young cousins, nieces and nephews getting into arguments over toys or board games. Even if your family is mostly adults, having more people in the house can make it harder to concentrate than you might be used to.
The trick here is to consider how you can adjust your studying ahead of time. Do you need to get books out of the library early, or download lots of papers? Perhaps it’s a case of being prepared to pay for more data on your phone so you can have your own source of internet access. Or you might simply need to plan for work that can be done in a busy house – working through textbook exercises, for instance, can be better suited to an environment where you might be disturbed than something more involved like working on an essay.
3. Find somewhere else to study outside the house
Whether it’s slow wifi or your aunt’s dogs barking the house down, sometimes the best way to study over Christmas is to get out of the house. The idea of going somewhere else to study might seem quite strange if you’re still at school, but for most students it’s normal to take your laptop to a coffee shop or somewhere similar, and this can be a great way to get some work done undisturbed. It also helps section off that designated study time – it can be easier to carve out the time if you’re physically removing yourself from the distractions of home. You might be more tempted to let the deadline slip if you’re supposed to have started work by 10am, but if you need to be somewhere else to start work at that time, it can help you be more disciplined.
Where can you go? If you’re in a decent-sized town or city, there are bound to be cafés that will be happy to have you if you buy drinks at regular intervals (one an hour is usually fine). Look out for places that advertise their wifi and have prominent plug sockets, as that’s a good indicator that they’re happy to have people sitting there for some time working quietly. Avoid annoying the owners by choosing the smallest table you can fit on, and use non-leaky headphones if you’re going to be listening to music.
If a drink-per-hour at a café is a bit pricey for you, most towns will have an alternative that’s entirely free: your local library. You might well forget it’s there, but most local libraries will have a quiet study space, complete with the wifi and power source that you’ll need. Their collection of reference books might even furnish you with what you need, and you probably won’t even need to be a member to access any of it.
5. Don’t use studying as an excuse
Christmas can impose a lot of chores that you might not want to do, whether that’s sorting through old clothes, peeling potatoes for an army of relatives, or becoming an unpaid babysitter to their children. And if your family are particularly good at respecting your desire for peace and quiet during study time, it can be very tempting to try and get out of these responsibilities by citing your need to go and do some work for school or university.
It’s tempting, but it’s still ill-advised; it won’t take family members long to notice that you always seem to want to get back to your books when a dull shopping expedition through pre-Christmas crowds is on the cards, and their goodwill towards giving you the time you need isn’t likely to last once they’ve realised your using work as an excuse. This goes double if you claim that you’re studying but end up using the time as an opportunity to hide in your room instead of spending the time with your relatives. What might seem like a white lie now could be deeply irritating in a year’s time when you really do need the time to yourself to catch up on work, only for relatives to remind you that last year, you claim to be doing some advance reading for next year and were instead playing video games.
6. Be realistic about what you can achieve
You might have read the above recommendations about when to study – for instance, a couple of hours in the morning – and thought that that wasn’t really a lot of time. You might have plans to use this time off like study leave, and write a short essay every day, or get through three books in the week. But Christmas holidays do have a way of stealing time from you and it’s best to get more work done than you expected to than to come back to school or university with lots of things left undone that you were expecting to have finished by Boxing Day. This is doubly the case if you haven’t really worked over Christmas (or any other holiday) in the past, as you won’t have good habits to fall back on and your family might assume, regardless of what you say, that you will have a lot of free time.
You should probably assume that your average day over the Christmas holidays will be as busy as an average day at school or university, so think about what you can usually achieve in ‘homework’ time and allow roughly that amount of work per day. Of course, you should bring some surplus things to do – after all, you might end up snowed in and have a lot of opportunity to get work done. But you shouldn’t make plans to have a lot of work done by the time the new term starts, so you’re likely to end up disappointed.
7. Take the day itself off
If you do a proper, traditional family Christmas – whether those traditions are midnight Mass and all the relatives over, or focus more on pigs in blankets and Doctor Who – then there’s nothing that will make your family unhappier than saying you’re going to keep up your studying routine on Christmas Day itself. Studying from 10am to 12pm on Christmas Eve and then heading out for last-minute shopping and an evening with the neighbours is sociable; insisting on keeping to that schedule on Christmas Day is unfriendly at best.
You might have ideas of getting involved with the morning Christmas traditions, gathering under the tree and then having a Christmas lunch before sneaking off to get a couple of hours of work done. Our advice? Don’t bother trying. Aside from the fact that every difficulty of studying over the Christmas period is quadrupled on the day itself, if your family is trying to dissuade you from studying on the days leading up to Christmas, you can get a lot of mileage from saying, “of course, I won’t be doing any work on the day itself.” Then throw yourself into all the fun and tradition of it, and they might be more prepared to forgive you when you have to go back to your books on Boxing Day.