Tips for staying motivated as a second semester senior

February 21, 2021 — by Kaitlyn Tsai

As a junior, I watched enviously as my second semester senior friends strolled into their classes fashionably late, flaunting bags of take-out from their lunchtime excursions, or posted pictures of themselves going out on weekday nights. 

But now, despite emerging from an exhausting year of an ongoing pandemic, raging wildfires, one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history and college apps, I strangely have a sort of reverse-senioritis. And after doing some reflection, here’s how I’m surviving this semester.


1. Know your why

I know I’m starting out with what sounds like a cheesy inspirational quote you’d find on your mom’s Facebook page, but this is probably the most important tip because it’ll help you find intrinsic motivation for staying on top of your work.

While second semester senior year should be an exciting and relaxing time, it’s also a time to reflect on the people and activities you’ll be leaving behind. For me, this means saying goodbye to two of the activities that played enormous roles in shaping my high school career: mock trial and newspaper. 

Thinking about how much space these activities and their people occupy in my heart has really helped drive me to work harder than ever to say goodbye to them on the strongest note possible. Hopefully, when you think about what has meant most to you in high school, you’ll find the same intrinsic motivation to do well, too.

For classes, I’ve found it helps to think about why I took them in the first place; chances are, you have at least some subjects that you genuinely find interesting. I’ve found it helps to stay active in exploring those topics. For classes I don’t enjoy as much, I like to think about the effort my teachers are going through to provide us with an education in these times, and treat putting effort into their classes as a way of thanking them. 

Whatever your whys are, experts say it helps to write them down somewhere — in a journal, on a sticky note on your desk, etc. — so you can refer to them whenever your motivation runs low.


2. Plan, plan, plan

Personally, I use Notion — an arguably omnipotent organizational app — to keep track of my day-to-day tasks and plan out long-term projects, but a physical planner, bullet journal or Google Calendar (or spreadsheet?) can bring an astonishing amount of structure to your life.

I like to plan out my days by the hour, with time designated for breaks, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all schedule for a sustainable routine. 

Some people may prefer to have more flexibility in their days and resort to a simple daily to-do list. There’s also the Pomodoro method — 25-minute work periods followed by five minutes of rest — which I’ve found suits those who work well in short bursts. But whatever it is, take the time to find what sort of work schedule keeps you on task, and stick with it.


3. Take breaks

And no, this doesn’t mean binge-watch Netflix or scroll endlessly through your Instagram feed. Getting up and moving, be that through some light stretching or an at-home workout, gives my mind a break and gets some endorphins flowing through my system, putting me in a much better mood to keep working.

Every day, I also kill two birds with one stone and go on a walk or a run outside for some Vitamin D and fresh air, which we all need more than ever in quarantine. 


4. Get enough sleep

I know you’re probably rolling your eyes at this, but speaking from personal experience, when you’re running on three hours of sleep (or living in an entirely different time zone), your brain takes a hit. 

Admittedly, I’m guilty of not hitting the recommended eight hours a day, but I can’t function properly on less than six hours of sleep, so I make a point of being in bed no later than 12:30 a.m. every day. A consistent sleep schedule is key, as some of my borderline-nocturnal friends have found; sleeping from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. isn’t the same as sleeping from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Especially when I started spending more time online in quarantine, I’ve also noticed I often have trouble falling asleep. When I stay off my electronic devices at least half an hour before bed to avoid blue light interference with my sleep cycle, I usually sleep better. 


5. Self-bind as necessary

When I’m sitting through my third lecture of the day in seventh period, the gravitational field around my phone becomes noticeably stronger. And when I’m struggling to string words together for an AP Lang essay, I suddenly develop an extreme urge to binge-watch recipe videos on YouTube.

In moments like these, it helps to distance myself from my temptations. I almost never work in the same room as my phone, and I have my phone’s screen time feature turned on from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day, blocking me from all apps except those used for work. Although I abuse the “ignore for 15 minutes” button from time to time, seeing my apps grayed out serves as a welcome reminder that I shouldn't be wasting time on my phone. 

When I’m on my laptop, I also like to use the app SelfControl every once in a while to block myself from distracting sites. The best part about this app is that once you set your work time, you can’t stop it or remove any sites, so whatever you block stays blocked until you’re finished working.


6. Pick up a new hobby

Without college apps on my plate, second semester inevitably freed up time in my schedule. Instead of filling those gaps with mindless binge-watching or social-media-scrolling, I’ve dabbled in a variety of new hobbies, from sewing to concocting new recipes in the kitchen. Turning old shirts into hats and frantically squeezing lemon juice into my overly sweetened  strawberry jam keeps me on my toes, preventing me from sinking into the pit of senioritis. 


7. Revamp your workspace

I recently reorganized my desk and purchased two succulents to keep me company as I work, and it’s been a game-changer. The logic is simple: When I have a clean, attractive physical work environment, I want to work there more often.


8. Get dressed

Especially in quarantine, getting dressed in something other than your pajamas can offer a semblance of work-life separation. On weekdays, I like to wear pretty much whatever I’d wear to in-person school to signal that I’m in work mode, and it helps: When I’m not feeling like a total slob in my oversized hoodie and sweatpants, I also don’t work like I’m a total slob. But once the weekend hits, you bet I’m cozying up in sweats and my blanket hoodie.


9. Be firm but forgiving with yourself

This is probably the most important part of staying motivated in a sustainable way. It’s been a tough year, and second semester senior year is supposed to be more relaxed after all; it’s OK if you don’t check off everything on your to-do list or if you cave in and watch another episode of your favorite show. Instead of allowing myself to fall into a toxic all-or-nothing mindset, I practice reminding myself that it’s not the end of the world, and that I always have tomorrow to pick myself up again.

Hopefully, these tips will help you combat senioritis. But if all else fails, there’s always #10.


10. Think about getting rescinded

Enough said.