Making This New Semester Your Best Yet

Francis Piche Student Software Engineer, McGill

08 January 2018

It’s a bit late, but happy new year!

A new year brings a new semester, and as promised, a new round of blog posts!

Let’s kick this year off right, starting with some tips on how to make the most of the new semester energy, how to set (and stick to) your new goals, and how to keep your motivation train chugging all semester long.

January is great. Not only is there a new semester to start fresh, there’s also a year behind us to reflect on, and another to look forward to. I used to roll my eyes at the whole, “new year new me” thing, but I’ve realized that any opportunity to start new (arbitrary or not) is a wonderful thing.

The combo of a new year and new semester is a powerful one. After a refreshing break, we’re full of motivation and optimism. Well, some of us anyway.

Whether you’re excited for the new semester or not, I’ve gathered a few tips to help make this new semester your best one yet.


The Usual

I won’t spend much time on this, since it’s the same stuff you’ll find everywhere, but nontheless, the beginning of the new semester is a great time to take advantage of the many opportunities that your school offers.

There’s not been time for homework to accumulate, so it’s also a great time to:

-Work on a personal project!

-Organize your archive!

-Hunt for internships!

-Set up your calendar!

-Join a club!

-Join a sports team!

 What I’d rather talk about, however, is how the new semester is a perfect opportunity to make changes in your life.

Opportunity For Change

Motivation is high this time a year, and you’d be wise to capitalize on it. This is the perfect time to start developing some new good habits and kicking some bad ones.

But wait…

Research from the University of Scranton suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals


So before you go making a list of new year’s resolutions (given the post date, you probably already have) here’s some things to consider:


What Would I Change About Last Time?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look back. If there’s some things you      did in the last 4 (or 12) months that you know aren’t good for you, write      them down.

Did I Say I Would Change the Semester Before?

Scenario: You get a gym pass in January, telling yourself you’d actually get in shape this year, you go for a few weeks, then you get busy and skip a few workouts. Next thing you know, it’s January again and you haven’t been to the gym since February. If that sounds familiar, this is for you.

What makes you think this year will be different? It’s easy to say it will, without really giving much thought as to why. Write it out. Open up a notepad and flesh it out for at least 10 minutes. Give yourself time to examine what went wrong, what made you quit, and why you didn’t get back up after quitting. See my post about Flipping the Switch.

What’s Holding Me Back?

Everyone has some baggage holding them back from achieving their potential. Usually these roadblocks are deeply rooted within ourselves, and honestly, I’m not qualified to open that Pandora’s box. But I will say this. Don’t be afraid to call yourself out.

Be honest with yourself and say: “I blamed it on being too busy, but the real reason I didn’t pursue that opportunity is because I’m afraid of failure”, for example.

Make a Plan.

Once you’ve identified the things that need changing, and examined why they failed in the past, it’s time to make a plan. Write out a series of specific step by step instructions to complete your goal. Make it tangible, measurable, and achievable. You could even go as far as to map out a timeline of completion (but be realistic).

Choose Four.

Choosing too many goals will be overwhelming to keep up with. The number 4 is arbitrary, but I think it’s a fair balance. Just choose the 4 most important things to work on, and nothing else. Once those are locked-in, choose another 4.

Source: Pixabay.

If you’re stuck for ideas, there’s always these foundation building habits:

Establish A Morning Routine:

There’s an ocean of blog posts and articles out on the internet about this, and for good reason. A morning routine (while I’ve struggled to perfect mine) is a great way to build some momentum going into the day, and start it on a high note.

Things like making a healthy breakfast, drinking a big glass of water, taking a cold shower, reading for 15-20 minutes, on an extremely routine basis will bring stability and productive momentum to your day. Everyone has a different routine, so take some time to make one that’s unique to you!

Night-time Routine:

Even more important is the night-time routine. Put down your phone, cut the work, and get your mind ready for sleep. Your body’s sleep schedule depends on regularity. Having a nightly routine will establish signals that your brain reads as it being time to go to sleep. You’ll soon find it easier to fall asleep, and experience more restful sleep as a result. Messing up your nightly routine will almost surely get in the way of your morning routine, so if all else, get this one down!

Personal Hygiene:

20% of Americans never floss, and only 40% do it on a regular basis, according to the Delta Dental Oral Health and Well-Being Survey.

It seems silly, but seriously, the basic things like hygiene and grooming can slip. Taking them seriously is a great way to build a solid foundation from which to build other, more meaningful habits.

When asked about his most important daily habit, Elon Musk replied: “Showering”. Straight goods.

When you feel like you can’t stick to anything, focusing on sticking to simple things like hygiene provide the confidence to go on to more difficult habits. (Plus you’ll smell better.)

Clean Your Room:

Am I starting to sound like your mom yet?

Psychology professor Jordan Peterson from the University of Toronto often talks about the importance of keeping your living space clean.

“If you want to organize your psyche you can start by organizing your room” – Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

He believes that there is little difference between the state of someone’s living space and the state of their psyche. Chaos breeds chaos. Order breeds order.

Sticking With It.

I listed such basic things because I strongly believe that they’re a great place to start for building confidence and discipline. I personally experienced this last summer when I had to build myself up from scratch. See my “Failure Changed My Career” post.

It’s easy to brand yourself as “the person who quits”.


Building habits is a habit in itself, and humans need positive reinforcement.

When a child learns to read, you don’t immediately give them Moby Dick. They’d give up immediately. Instead you start with the alphabet, something they struggle with, but can eventually succeed at.

I recently picked up playing the piano again after 11 years. I’ve learned that playing pieces that are too easy is a waste of time, the same way that playing a too difficult one is. There’s a sweet spot, where our abilities are stretched just enough, that facilitates the best progression and motivation. That’s where we want to be. Uncomfortable, but succeeding. Motivated.


Keep an accomplishment journal.

This journal will help you keep track of exactly what you’ve been doing right and wrong through the year.

Write down what you want to do. Write down when you did it. Write down what went wrong. Write down what went right.

It allows you to build up a “streak”, that you won’t want to break, and if you do, you can look back at the proof of your capabilities.

Remember. Success breeds success. A war is won from many battles.

That’s all for this week, and I’d like to take a few lines to give some updates about the blog.


Some Updates:

It’s been a little over a month since my last post, as I was a bit overwhelmed with exams. After exams I took a much needed break to be with family, relax, and work on a new project. I’ll be announcing that project soon, and there will be a lot of blog content to come with it.

I’ve also made some changes to the philosophy of the blog itself. I might need to change the schedule to bi-weekly, so that I can spend more time on my projects, and make higher-quality posts. Previously I’d spend 4-7 hours per post, and I’d like to double that number, to ensure more well-researched, well-planned, and well-written posts.

I’d like to transition the tone of the blog away from opinion to more well-researched and informative, as well as write more about tech and software, as well as productivity. I previously didn’t have much going on in terms of software, so I relied on the productivity aspect. Expect a mix of both in the future.

Thanks for reading, and as always, keep chugging along J

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