What you should be doing over the winter break

Winter (break) is coming. Chances are that you already have a lot planned, possibly too much planned. But let me get in a few words on what I think smart, ambitious high school students ought to be doing with their free time through the rest of December.

Don't do any more college stuff than you absolutely have to. As contrary as it may sound, you really should use your time as a true break and not college-planning time. If you put things off with the idea that you'd do them over break, that's perfectly normal. But get them done first and with focus. You're not going to send out good applications if you're finishing them a little bit at a time while you also finish gift shopping and meet with friends. Make a plan to finish your college to-do list as quickly as possible into the break. If you have December 15th or January 1st deadlines, get those things sent out first and with focus. There's no good reason to wait until the 14th or 31st to send those out.

Don't expect other people to work over the break just because you do. Virtually every year of my time teaching high school I got at least one over-the-break plea from a student. They wanted one last look at an essay, or a last-minute recommendation sent, or help getting their English grade up a little but before the final grades were turned in. How I responded depended on the nature of the request and the student doing the requesting. Sometimes it really was an unexpected opportunity for a really on-top-of-things student and I happily did what was asked. Sometimes I put forth a minimal amount of effort to just get along. Often I just said no. But please remember that sending other people things to do over the break feels about as crappy and unfair to them as it would to you if they gave sudden unexpected homework over the weekend. Don't do it.

Rest. This sounds obvious--of course you're going to rest. You have several weeks with no school! But for lots of students--and adults--it never quite seems to work this way. You stay up too late, thinking you'll sleep in, and then you have to get up earlier than you expected. Or you spend too much time in bed or on the couch, and you feel sluggish and dumpy. You can only get good rest from your break if you decide that you're actually going to and schedule for it. Decide that you're going to get 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and then plan accordingly. The time you spend awake will go much better if you do.

Spend quality time with people. Now is a great time to catch up with friends and family, but, like good sleep, quality time with people is also elusive. You go to parties and gatherings, you have text or Snapchat conversations, you spend a little time with people...and then you realize that you didn't really have any good conversations. Quality Time is usually thought of as time you spend with another person giving them your undivided attention. Schedule some time for this with a few good friends and/or family members.

Re-assess. Now is a great time for reflection and regrouping. Here are several exercises to try to keep that conversation with yourself productive and useful.

Highs and lows. Like a lot of families, at our dinner table we often go around and share our high and low moment of the day with each other. It's a better conversation starter with school-aged kids than "how was your day?" and it reinforces that every day has both the good and the bad. Take some time thinking about--and sharing with someone else--your high and low points over the fall semester and your college quest. What worked? What didn't? What felt good? What felt bad? Consider it all.

Two-month time machine. I don't remember what started the conversation, but one year I had an ongoing joke with a class about time travel. If you could go back in time, we argued, what you'd want most isn't to go back and meet famous people of the past--what you'd want is to go back two minutes and reverse something you just said or did. Whenever anyone said something embarrassing or had a goof, the rest of us would say "two minute time machine!" When evaluating your semester and planning ahead, think about a two-month time machine. What's one thing you really wish you could go back and re-do? You obviously can't really do it, but it's a good way to think about "lessons learned."

Restate your dreams and aspirations. Take some time and write a personal mission statement for the year, especially if you're a senior and moving on to college next fall. Or if you don't want to be so college-centric but want to spend time thinking about what's really important to you, try the "last-year test" method of thinking about New Year's Resolutions

Read. It's really tempting to read nothing--or nothing of merit--over the break. You've read so much over the past few months, why do it on vacation? The answer is simple: now you get to choose what to read, and you can make engaging your intellect fun for yourself. Besides, if you're ready to concede that the only reason you read or learn is because you're assigned to by authorities, than you may want to re-think the whole college thing. Take back control of your mind by reading something. It doesn't have to be Important Literature if that's not what you like, just choose not to be a mental slacker.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Please share this post with others.