Everyone knows how those last few days of summer feel as a kid: Packing your new school bag, organizing your three-ring binders, and picking out your first-day outfit, all while anticipating who’s in your homeroom and if your crush still remembers you. Back-to-school season is a total vibe. And luckily, it’s an experience that doesn’t have to end. In fact, according to experts, it behooves you to get excited about the beginning of September, and use it as an opportunity to press restart—especially if you work remotely and need a boost of energy or a change of pace or scenery.
“Imagining good things ahead of us makes us feel better in the current moment,” Simon A. Rego, the chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, recently told the New York Times. “It can increase motivation, optimism, and patience and decrease irritability.”
Ready to get started? Here’s how to channel that magical back-to-school feeling and make this your best year yet.
Set Goals for the Year Ahead
When you were in school, you probably set concrete goals for yourself like, “get an A in Calculus,” or “have my first kiss.” Unfortunately, as adults, we tend to aspire to achievements that are a little more convoluted, like “triple income by Q3,” or “launch a new company.” And while all goals are valid, one recommendation for September is to mix it up a little by setting a few highfalutin goals, as well as goals that are based on what you want to personally experience and how you want to feel throughout the year.
“Ideally, find time to take perspective,” says Camille Preston, Ph.D., the Founder and CEO of AIM Leadership. “Dream big about what you want to experience, setting aside any of the obstacles you think are in your way. Then, think creatively about how to make these experiences a reality.”
Start a New Routine
There’s a reason why the saying “new year, new you,” resonates so deeply. We all want a fresh start—a flashing green light telling us we’re about to enter a new chapter of our lives. For remote workers (especially those who need to mix things up to stay interested), starting new routines can be extremely beneficial. These routines can be big—like waking up at 5 AM, or even better—clocking out at 5 PM—but they can also be as simple as adding quick check-ins with yourself to your daily schedule.
“Focus on refreshing yourself energetically and emotionally,” says Preston. “Think about how you are or aren't already caring for yourself during the workday. Are you hydrated? Are you taking quick breaks to stretch or go for a walk? Remember, the best way to move forward is to reflect on what has worked in the past and then intentionally repeat and amplify these known strategies for success.”
Get a Change of Scenery
Our surroundings greatly impact our productivity and happiness, which is why it’s so important to recognize how our location makes us feel. “Take a long hard look at how, where, and when you're working,” says Preston. “What are your prime times for work? Where do you do your best work? What holds you back from really getting into flow during your workday? What small tweaks might you make to be more successful?”
Once you have the answers to these questions, mix things up by finding a new place to do your job. Yes, this could mean finally setting up a little desk for yourself at home, or joining an on-demand co-working space like Daybase to get out of the house and be surrounded by productivity. If there aren’t any co-working spaces near you, check out your local library and embrace the “back-to-school” vibe. Other options include hotel lobbies, wifi-enabled parks, or even a friend or colleague’s house if you’re missing the social part of being in an office.
Go “Back to School” Shopping
If this was your favorite part of the year as a kid, chances are it’s still something you’d enjoy now. Give yourself permission to invest in some new office supplies—a better chair if you work from home, or a new bag if you’re lugging your computer to the office half the week. Back-to-school season is also a great time to take stock of your wardrobe. Have you gotten too comfortable on Zoom calls? It might be time to pick up some new shirts, accessories, and hey, sweatpants if you need those too. And don’t forget a haircut. The “back-to-school haircut” is a huge part of the experience.
Don’t Burnout Before You Begin
Make sure your list of goals includes rest and relaxation. While we all want to race ahead and achieve, achieve, achieve, the last few years have taught us that we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves—mentally and physically—in order to do our best work. So maybe this year, you only work four days a week. Or perhaps you can schedule a short vacation or a mental health day every quarter. Explore your options and embrace a fresh start.