We’re approaching that lovely time of year when academics claim they’re going to take a break but actually intend to work. Sound familiar? If you’re raising your hand, then keep reading. I’m going to explain how you can get work done over break without burning out or ending up disappointed.
If you have a conference abstract deadline, a revise and resubmit, or job market materials to prepare, then your task will be obvious. You have deadlines to meet! If that’s the case, part of your planning is already done for you. Your urgent and important tasks take priority.
There are two mistakes academics make when thinking about what they’ll work on over break. These mistakes aren’t so different from the usual planning missteps that plague academic writers. Both mistakes rest on making unrealistic assumptions about what you’re capable of achieving.
The first mistake academics make when planning work over break is that they try to finish alI of their leftover work from the semester. When you do this, you’re acting from a place of panic, which is never good for planning. Also, if you couldn’t finish all this work in roughly three and a half months, what makes you think you can finish it in just six weeks? Consider working on a task that you can actually complete. That might mean using the urgent/important matrix to determine if there’s anything you absolutely must get done over break.
The second mistake writers make when planning work for the semester break is that they overestimate the time they have. Usually, you’ll look at the calendar and say, “I finish grading this day and the spring semester starts this day, so I have all the days in between to work!” Not so fast. There are likely several days – or even weeks – that won’t be conducive to work. These include travel days, holidays, and school vacations for children. When you add up these commitments, you’ll see that your work time isn’t as limitless as you thought.
Your first order of business is to figure out how much time you actually have to work. I suggest first only including days where you can do more than two hours of work. This is especially important if you’re starting a new, complex task like engaging a new body of literature, working on a new section of an article, or starting a revise and resubmit. You need time for deep work.
Now, you can add up all the additional work sessions under two hours that you intend to schedule. Next, calculate the total number of hours you have available for work. Finally, you can realistically assess what you can achieve during that time.
When we have a long list of things to do, we tend to plod through it rather mechanically. We rarely give a thought to what we want to do. If you have several options from which to choose, work on the project that’s most exciting. Working over break shouldn’t feel like drudgery. Also, there are so many distractions during break that you’ll want a project that can hold your attention. It’s probably not the best time to update your EndNote library.
When Will You Rest?
If you work for the entirety of your break, it’s not actually a break. The next semester won’t be any less grueling than the last, so you should get some rest. I mean really rest. To do this, schedule some downtime. One of my clients taught himself to make croissants over break! What matters is that it’s restful to you.
Remember, the break is not just a continuation of the last semester or a jumpstart to the next semester. It’s a transition time, where you can reflect on what you’ve accomplished, recover from the grind of the semester, and recharge so that you’re energized for what’s to come. With some careful planning, you can have a break that is both restful and productive.