Warning, Students! Don’t Get Sucked into the Post-Exam Vortex

Warning, Students! Don’t Get Sucked into the Post-Exam Vortex

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals, Lifestyle Design

The end of semester is a funny thing. You go from a submerged state of pressure and anxiety to a sort of sudden, shocking, tranquility.

Once exams are over, you can find yourself with a lot of freedom on your hands. Now this freedom is certainly not unwelcome! But if you’re not careful with your time, a new kind of anxiety can take over. And this anxiety is worse than the academic variety, because it can leave you feeling lost, without a sense of purpose.

The Fine Line between Relaxation and Boredom

You can only sit on the couch and bask in Madmen and pudding for so long. Eventually you’ll find yourself missing, not exams per say, but the sense of momentum and productivity that defined your life during those last few weeks.

Boredom is one of the most uncomfortable feelings in the world, especially for those of us with scanner personalities. We’re wired to want to create, explore and embark on new adventures. It’s so inherent to our nature, that we almost have no choice in the matter.

This means that relaxation can quickly morph into agonizing pain if you’re not careful. While others may be perfectly content lying on a beach for days on end, it’s amazing how this kind of ‘leisurely activity’ can quickly make us multipotentialites lose our minds.

Freedom Alone is Not the Goal

In The ‘Undeclared for Life’ Manifesto, I wrote about the idea of structuring your life in a way that leaves you free time to pursue your interests. I also stressed the absolute necessity of defining what those interests are (though they can, of course, change and evolve over time).

Freedom alone won’t make you happy. What will make you happy is using that freedom in a deliberate way to do what you love.

Vacation is the Perfect time for Goal-Setting

I have a challenge for you. This post-exam/holiday season, don’t go home and collapse on your couch. Instead, pull out a pen and paper and make a list of activities that are meaningful to you. Include those interests that you’ve been hoping to explore, but haven’t yet found the time for.

Hopefully you’ve gotten into the habit of jotting down thoughts in your notebook and can simply flip back for ideas. But either way, conduct a little brainstorming session and then take some small action steps immediately.

You can take breaks between spurts of productivity to veg out on the couch a bit, but if possible, do not give yourself too much (or any) down time at the get-go.

Remember that things in motion tend to stay in motion and the opposite is equally true. The longer you wait to begin, the harder it will be to pull yourself out of the slump. The Resistance Monster will attack and fight to keep you in a zone of safety, comfort and passivity.

This is Good Practice for ‘Real Life’

Trust me, you want to get into the habit of doing this now, because one day you will graduate and then you’ll have nothing but freedom. If you don’t learn to structure your time around your passions, you will end up feeling completely lost come graduation.

What’s worse is you’ll begin to accept whatever comes your way simply in order to squash those feelings of boredom and uncertainty. A lack of reflection and deliberate planning is a major reason that people end up with unsatisfying careers. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll take whatever you can get.


Note: As a very recent graduate myself, I wanted to write this post specifically for students. However, this stuff applies to anyone who is taking time out from their normal routine, be it school, work, whatever.

I also encourage goal setting at any time of the year, vacation just happens to be a particularly opportune moment because you can take advantage of your new found freedom.

What meaningful activities are you going to schedule into your life to replace your time of otherwise passive consumption and sleep?

Finally, to those of you in exams right now, good luck! My heart goes out to you.


  1. Jim says:

    Thanks for the nice article. I’m a science grad student and I’ve had a crazy workload during the last few months. It is hard to make room for hobbies and passions; you’re very right about making time.

    I’m looking forward to taking a break to finish producing a science, history, and adventure filled EP with my band ‘The Long Holidays’.

    cheers and happy holidays!


  2. Emilie says:

    That’s awesome, Jim. I’m planning on pulling out the guitar as well this holiday season. It’s been a rough semester abroad without her. :)

    Thanks for the comment and good luck on the EP. Drop back sometime and let us know once it’s done. I always like to check out Puttylike community members’ projects- they tend to be quite unique and creative. I’ve even been playing around with the idea of incorporating a little monthly project spotlight into the site…

  3. Jon Ivanco says:

    You must leave. I leave where ever I am for as long as I can. Now this doesn’t work for everyone that has “jobs” or “responsibilities” that require you staying in one place.

    But a change of scenery and not being around as much technology or being connected makes me want to come back and be super productive.

    Hobbies and passions should be pursued throughout your year not put into little chunks of time when you have more free time. The suck of the TV especially over the winter is dangerous and often counter productive. I tend to tell myself that going for a run make me feel better than sitting in front of the TV.

    I feel like the extra time I have “off” isn’t really ever off. Personally I told myself and those that I do work for that I’m busy with family stuff for a few days, then I’ll be back to balancing everything all over again, but taking a few days to go somewhere new and meet new people and just avoid all the stress that is normal life is key.

    Multiple projects, multiple whiteboards, multiple diagrams, and a never ending passion for taking time to make change.

    Currently I am enjoying Atlanta, GA freezing.

  4. Emilie says:

    Hi Jon,

    I agree. It’s a tricky situation, but I like having multiple projects on the go too. Don’t have any white boards myself, but tomorrow I am heading out to buy 5 nice notebooks for the 5 projects I’ve identified that I want to pursue.

    And yeah, I mentioned that I don’t think goal planning should be limited to this one period. However, I do think that it’s a good way to avoid the post-exam blues and the free time can definitely come in handy, if taken advantage of.

    You think Atlanta is cold? Try Montreal/Denmark. :)

  5. Peter J says:

    Boredom is horrible; mainly why, when exams finished up for me, on the first day i decided to plan out what i needed to get done on the holidays.

    I don’t know how i could survive without any projects; sitting on a couch you can only do so much, and hanging out with friends you can only do so much of too.

    I’ve devoted a fair bit of my holidays to writing my novel. (20,000 words so far :D) and want to get the draft manuscript done these holidays with 2011 working on editing the thing.

    Great post, and best of luck with your projects also ;)

    • Emilie says:

      That’s so cool Peter! I definitely plan on writing a book one day too. It’s on my list. Thanks for the comment and keep me posted on how the novel is coming along!

  6. Russel says:

    I am glad someone finally addressed the post exam/final issue. It is very real. My parents didn’t go to college, therefore they really didn’t understand what the strange phenomenon of finals were about. The crazed studying and then the feeling of almost numbness still yet vibrating and needing something else to do. I am almost 50 years old now, some 25 years since that experience, but it still very vivid.

  7. Kate says:

    In between taking spring and summer classes, I had about 3 weeks to pick up new projects – and I found myself getting into the vortex you describe! I got caught up on Doctor Who, read a lot of stuff online, saw a couple movies…and BAM, summer classes started again, and I feel like I have no free time to pursue my other interests now. I have another 3 week break coming up in a couple weeks (between summer and fall semesters) and have big, PRODUCTIVE plans this time. Thanks for the incredibly timely tips!

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