How to Stay Motivated at the End of the Semester

The Final Weeks Can Sometimes Feel Like Forever

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(Dougal Waters / Getty Images)

If college were easy, more people would be attending -- and graduating. And while all of college can be challenging, there are definitely times when things are more difficult than usual. The end of the semester, for example -- and especially the end of the spring semester -- can sometimes feel harder to get through than the rest of the year combined. You're low on energy, time, and resources, and it's more challenging than usual to recharge yourself.

So just how can you stay motivated at the end of the semester?

Try changing your routine. How long has it been since you mixed up your schedule? As in ... really mixed it up? You might be in a bit of a funk because you're just going through the motions: go to bed late, wake up tired, go to class, procrastinate. If you need to snap yourself out of it, try reworking your routine, if even just for a day or two. Go to bed early. Get enough sleep. Eat a healthy breakfast. Eat a healthy lunch. Do your homework in the morning so you can hang out, without guilt, all afternoon and evening. Go off campus to study. Mix things up so that your brain can engage and recharge in a new context.

Add some exercise. When you're low on energy, adding exercise to your routine sounds positively dreadful. Making the time for physical activity, however, can help relieve your stress, increase your energy, and clear things up mentally.

Go for a nice long run outside, if you can, or join an exercise class that you've never been to. Play a pick-up game with friends or just zone out on the rowing machine. No matter what you do, promise yourself you'll do it for at least 30 minutes. Chance are you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.

Schedule in some down time. Even if you know you'll be hanging out with people throughout the week, it can be hard to really let yourself relax if you're worried about everything else you have to do. Consequently, make an official night out, dinner out, coffee date, or something similar with friends. Put it in your calendar. And then let yourself really relax and rejuvenate while you're out.

Get off campus and forget you're a student for a little while. Everything you do probably revolves around your college life -- which, while understandable, can also be wearisome. Leave your backpack behind and head to a museum, a musical performance, or even a community event. Forget that you're a student and just let yourself enjoy the moment. Your college responsibilities will wait for you.

Remind yourself of your long-term goals. Studying can be exhausting when you think of all you have to read and learn and memorize and write within the last few weeks of the term. However, thinking about your long-term goals -- both professionally and personally -- can be incredibly motivating. Visualize or even write down what you want your life to be like in 5, 10, and even 20 years. And then use those goals to help you plow through your to-do list.

Make attainable short-term goals. While looking at your long-term goals can be motivating, focusing on your short-term goals can also be incredibly helpful. Make simple, very-short-term (if not downright immediate) goals that you can reach with a little extra effort. What is the one big thing you'd like to get done by the end of the day today? By the end of the day tomorrow? By the end of the week? You don't have to list everything; just list one or two tangible things that you can aim for and reasonably expect to accomplish.

Spend an afternoon imagining the details of your life after college. Focus on as many details as possible. Where will you live? What will your house or apartment look like? How will it be decorated? What kinds of things will you have hanging on the walls? What kind of dishes will you have? What kinds of people will you have over? What will your work life be like? What will you wear? What will you eat for lunch?

How will you commute? What kinds of situations will make you laugh and feel joyful? Who will be part of your social circle? What will you do to have fun and relax? Spend a good hour or two imagining the details of what your life will be like. And then refocus and recharge yourself so you can finish your semester and make progress toward creating that life.

Do something creative. Sometimes, the demands of college mean you end up spending your entire day doing things you have to do. When was the last time you did something you want to do? Allocate an hour or two to do something creative -- not for a grade, not for an assignment, but because you simply need to let your brain do something else.

Do something new and silly. Are you tired of having all of the items on your to-do list be serious and productive? Add something that adds some brevity and good, old-fashioned silliness. Take a cooking class, go fly a kite, read a trashy magazine, finger paint, get in a water gun fight with friends, or run through some sprinklers.

It doesn't matter what you do as long as you let yourself be goofy and enjoy it for what it is: ridiculous.

Find a new place to study. Even if you're lacking motivation, you still have certain things to do -- like studying. If you can't change your to-do list, change where you get things done. Find a new place to study on campus so that you at least feel like you're mixing things up instead of repeating the same routine over and over and over again.

Set up a reward system for yourself. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to be motivating. Pick two things on your to-do list and set an easy reward, like that candy bar in the vending machine you're always daydreaming about. When you finish those two tasks, treat yourself! Similarly, add in other short-term rewards, like a snack, nice cup of coffee, power nap, or other small treasure.

Drop something from your to-do list -- and don't feel bad about it. Do you have a ton to do? Are you tired? Do you just not have the energy to get everything completed? Then instead of focusing on how to motivate yourself to do the impossible, take a hard look at your to-do list. Pick one or two things that are stressing you out and drop them -- without feeling guilty. If things are stressful and your resources are low, then it's time to prioritize. What seemed important a month ago may no longer make the cut, so cross off what you can and focus on what you really need to focus on. You just might surprise yourself with how your energy levels replenish and your stress levels decrease.