3 steps to actually being productive over spring break

Photo by Vince Alongi

Breaks are times to relax, of course, but there’s something deeply satisfying about having a relaxing and productive break. What makes a break productive? Being productive simply entails accomplishing something significant, something worthwhile—a goal. Often, people think that means something related to school or extracurricular activities, but it could also be an entirely personal project.

I’ve always tried to accomplish at least one goal over my breaks. However, I’ve only had real success over my last two breaks, and I attribute those successes to the steps I describe here. These steps have helped me to read several books, study Japanese independently, meditate, and begin a light daily exercise routine among other things. So without further ado, here are the 3 steps to being productive over spring break: 

1. Focus on one goal

You will always have more that you want to do than you can do. To get anything done, you will need to pick the one thing that is most important to you right now.

Once you’ve picked a goal, stick with it. Don’t begin another goal until you are finished with your current one. If you try to learn guitar, brush up on your French, read three books, start a daily running routine, and learn how to bake macaroons all at one time you will likely spend one day on each of them and end up with no substantive progress at all.

If you finish with your first goal early, you will be able to start on another goal. But if you try to tackle everything at once, you won’t get anywhere.1

2. Commit to making reasonable progress

Just picking a goal is not enough—you need to commit to completing it. This could be as simple as making a promise to yourself to follow through. An even better way to guarantee success is to tell your friends about your goal or to have some competition between who can accomplish their goal by the end of break. The higher the stakes, the more likely you will follow through. One of the most effective way of doing this is to give someone a small sum of money that you will get back only if you follow through.

Just make sure you pick a reasonable goal—a good starting point would be one that you could achieve with a half hour of effort a day.

3. Track your progress

Finally, you will need an easy, visible way to track your progress. You can do this with a calendar or a piece of paper taped to the wall or with an online tool like Joe’s goals.

Simple goal tracking

Simple goal tracking via Joe's Goals

I’ve found it helpful to stick to a simple check system to monitor my progress. For instance, you might want to read a book this break. Set a daily goal, say 30 pages, and give yourself a check every day you complete that. Every time you read 30 pages, give yourself a check for that day. You should know in advance how many checks per week you want so you know when you’re on track.

Don’t record any more than this! The point is to get yourself to follow through, not to study how the number of pages you read fluctuates over the week.

Another benefit of this check system is that it is all-or-nothing. Since you don’t get a check unless you reach 30 pages, you will force yourself to reach that marker for your progress to be recorded. Just make sure you don’t make your daily goal too high or else you will never feel you have enough time to complete it.

What are you waiting for?

Breaks are a fantastic opportunity to accomplish side projects because you have no other pressing obligations. Rather than browse Facebook or watch random TV shows, you can start that book you’ve always wanted to read or learn that skill you’ve always wanted to learn (or really get that MCAT studying done that you need to do).

What do you want to accomplish this break? What kinds of strategies do you find helpful? Leave a comment below and then get started!


1 If you are trying to build a new habit, you will likely need at least a few weeks before it will stick. Different habits will take different amounts of time to form. See this blog post for more info.

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122 thoughts on “3 steps to actually being productive over spring break

  1. Hey, loved your post, but I think these tips will word only if my goals are black and white. What if it’s something fuzzy or decision-oriented…say “Select a good website designer for my project” or “Research and decide where to go next vacation”? I find myself forever falling behind the timelines I set for tasks like these, because there never is a correct time limit for research or decision making. Do you have any tips for this? Would love to read a post on this specific problem I face!

    • Hi there,
      I will probably have a brief post on that kind of thing, even at the risk of parroting the numerous productivity blogs out there. I think that SMART goal or task-setting is important (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely). In Getting Things Done terms, you need to make tasks actionable on your to-do list. Instead of “Select a good website designer for my project,” decide on the next step you can take, say “Look through listings of top web designers” or “Ask x about good web designers.” For “Research and decide where to go next vacation,” you might take steps like “Decide what kinds of vacations I would like,” “Brainstorm or look up common vacation destinations of those types,” “Ask friends about good vacation destinations,” followed by other steps breaking down the process of planning your itinerary.

      At some point, you will need to make a decision, but making smaller decisions first can help you make the larger ones. I hope that helps!

  2. I love this. Most people I know use spring break as an excuse to do nothing. I like the idea of one goal because for people,IMO, that don’t set up time and goals for themselfs one to start is good enough. Also they can’t get overwhelmed by it. 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing about your goals and also the Joe’s Goal’s website. It’s the perfect tool to help me stay on track with my New Year’s resolutions. Thanks so much!

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  5. Great tips! I think that this idea can work out even on a day-to-day basis. Say you want to read 3 books over break AND learn how to bake macaroons. Figure out how many pages you need to read a day and don’t start baking until you’ve achieved that goal, or vice versa. Sometimes I find focusing on one goal for too long makes me less productive in achieving that goal. I need the variety!

    • One goal is less interesting than multiple goals for sure, but if you haven’t historically been able to consistently follow through on any individual goal, I would suggest sticking to one.

      Of course you’ll want to calibrate this to your own personal style of productivity, and for leisure goals it doesn’t matter as much (like over break). If you’re talking about big life goals, you’ll definitely want to pare them down if you want to truly excel at them.

      Sounds like you’re already making efficient use of your time though!

  6. Nice post. I think that if you really want to do something productive you should organize your life, no matter how hard it is, if you put effort into it you’ll succeed!

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