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Why You Feel So Productive at the Start of the Semester

We all know people who say they’re going to be super productive when they get back from winter break. They’re armed with open planners, sharpened pencils, and a manic glint in their eye. They insist that this semester they’ll do all of their work on time—in fact, they’ll do it all early!

Of course, this lasts about a week, but what is it about the start of the semester that makes you feel so productive? While I can’t know for sure, I suggest six factors that could contribute to this intense—and temporary—mood.

  1. You’re well rested

If you’re like me, you spent most of winter break in bed. Waking up before noon was considered early. There is a permanent dent in the shape of your body on your mattress, and you considered the possibility of permanently fusing your pajamas to your body.

In the breaks between semesters, you had the opportunity to sleep and not worry about 8 AM classes. Your body soaked up the rest like a starving sponge, so when it comes time to jump back into schoolwork, you are energized and ready to go.

  1. You’re caught up on TV shows

What’s the major distraction for college students? While a few odd ones out may say “tropical bird watching”, for most of us, the answer is Netflix. Or Hulu. Or Amazon Video. Or any service that allows you to watch your TV shows from the comfort of your pillow fort.

However, there are only so many TV shows that you want to watch, and it’s entirely possible that you caught up with all of them during break. The siren call of rewatching Parks and Rec for the fifth time is finally quiet, which allows you to actually concentrate on your homework.

  1. Being with your friends again makes you happy

The first couple weeks back at school is a blur of hugs and “how was your break?” and waving enthusiastically across the cut.  Since students travel from all over the world to get to Carnegie Mellon, it’s near impossible to see a lot of your friends over break.

For some, coming back to school is like being hit with a wave of pure, undiluted friendship. The fuzzy feelings of warmth you get from seeing friends puts you in a good mood, which makes you more energized and productive.

  1. All the material is new

Unless you have to retake a class, all of the material is new. As you glance through the syllabus, you see readings you haven’t heard of, concepts you haven’t thought about, assignments that could maybe, possibly, be interesting.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Learning about the same stuff for months can get boring, but new material is at least somewhat interesting. The simple novelty can be enough to give you an extra productivity boost

  1. Notebooks are clean slates

There’s something satisfactory about having a brand new notebook. There are no notes, no doodles, and no tear-soaked pages. It’s a clean slate.

I think that simply having new school supplies is enough to make people want to be productive. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get a heady rush whenever I walk into Staples or Office Max and see the long shelves of notebooks and binders. Of course, this feeling fizzles out as soon as you doodle your first flower around the holepunch, but it’s strong while it lasts.

  1. It’s a metaphorical new start

Maybe we’re productive at the beginning of the semester for the same reason we make New Years resolutions. It’s a metaphorical restart, a resetting of the clock, a second chance. It’s new and unsoiled, and maybe this time you can get it right.

The passage of time does not magically make you have a better work ethic. But mentally, it feels like it might.

Although I don’t know the exact reasons, it’s safe to say that many people feel more productive at the beginning of the semester. And do the reasons even matter? The feeling exists, so you might as well ride it as far as you can.


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