Can reading week actually mean reading week?

Sarah O’Donohoe writes about the pressures and realities of reading week

With the Michaelmas term breezing by, the oasis of reading week is on the horizon. While in theory reading week is supposed to be used as a time to get some rest and get your head down, in reality, it can be easy to feel the social pressure to spend your week living an insta-worthy lifestyle, taking pictures in the mountains of Italy or exploring a South American jungle.

While a Ryanair flash sale might be enticing to some, it is important to recognise that a weeklong breakaway is more than the price of flights. There is a cost to any decision you make, whether it be financially, emotionally or academically. So what’s the best way to spend your reading week? In this article, I’m going to dissect the different directions you can take, how best to delegate your time and how to make the decision that is best for you. 

Manage expectations. It’s imperative to manage your expectations for the week ahead. You may think that you are going to have the most productive week ever, working 12-hour shifts and going to see your parents, all the while going out every night. Speaking from experience, that may not always be how things turn out. 

Create a list of your non-negotiables, in order of their priority. Whether that be studying for an MCQ during the week or meeting up with that friend you haven’t seen since moving up to college. They should be your priority, and everything else should be a bonus. As painful as it is, life gets in the way sometimes, and it’s just something that you have to prepare yourself for. 

If you are going away, reading week for you should start the week before. Make sure to get as much of your assignments done as possible before going abroad. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it will allow you to enjoy your time away so much more. 

“We all have different priorities”

Don’t let FOMO get in the way of what you need. FOMO is perhaps the worst part of reading week and not a thing that many people talk about. It’s easy to see people’s extravagant Instagram stories from their villas in France and feel like you’re missing out. But you need to remember, people only post the best part of their lives. We all have different priorities. Plus, some of us might be in a more demanding course, which makes these trips less viable. Or sometimes we might just not have the means to have those experiences for the time being.

Try not to let it get you down. Just because you aren’t able to do something extravagant during reading week doesn’t mean that you should deprive yourself of any enjoyment whatsoever. Speaking from experience, I said no to trips away with friends or nights out I may just have been able to afford it because I was afraid of managing my workload while away and that the trips would not be up to my expectations. Those who are chronic procrastinators (join the club) often result in spending their time thinking about the “social” experiences that they are missing out on and as a result, end up not being very productive. 

So, what’s the solution? Sometimes, you have to take a calculated risk. Is going out the night before your essay is due a good idea? Probably not. But if you have been working all week, and if you know that by not going out you are just going to be sitting in and not getting the essay done anyway, you might as well just enjoy yourself. You need to prioritise yourself, and your wellbeing, but do take that advice with a grain of salt. It’s a fine line trying to balance what’s best for you while also occasionally venturing outside your comfort zone. 

“Be firm with your boundaries; be nice; but at the very end of the day, you don’t have to owe anyone an explanation about what’s best for you”

That being said, everyone is different. You may feel pressured by your friends to take trips away, but if you feel like deep down all you need is a week at home just to rejuvenate in your bed, you do you. Try not to feel peer pressured into agreeing to things you have no interest in. That’ll only result in the stress of having to flake out at the last minute or sit through something you absolutely hate. Be firm with your boundaries; be nice; but at the very end of the day, you don’t have to owe anyone an explanation about what’s best for you. 

To conclude, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to spend reading week. It should be a week to get some studying done, take some time off and do something fun. Try not to conform to other people’s expectations, and do whatever feels right for you. Working a minimum wage job or studying all week long – while not ideal – may just be the reality for some people and as crap as that is, it’s okay. The most important thing to remember is that the week flies by, so try at the very least to accomplish one thing on your list, and try not to let the week go to waste.