Summer Slow Down: Time to Relax, Recharge, Reflect

Summer. Time to relax, recharge, and…reflect.
How was your academic year?
What went well? What didn’t?
Anything you’d like to change?

This slow time of year (though I know, it’s academia, for some of you conference season may be right round the corner) is an excellent time to reflect and ask some questions we don’t tend to get round to when we’re hopping around from one obligation to the next. With our eyes on the next short-term goal, and immersed in the details of our work, perspective gets lost. The summer is a time to chill out a bit, zoom out. Only then can we see the big picture.

The first part of that: we need to plan an escape. Oh yes, we need to get away.
Especially if you have workaholic tendencies, or if you feel ‘behind’: you need to stop, slow down, and you definitely need to not work for a bit.
I firmly believe in having a daily work/writing routine. I also firmly believe in breaks. Complete breaks.
If you think you are going to use the summer to ‘catch up’: that may be a good idea (or it may not be), but in any case make sure you get away as well. Away, away. No work, no writing, no nothing.

Sometimes I marvel at the non-stop-ness of this world. The always and ever-connectedness. The constant information overload, email, the reading and posting to social media from holiday or wherever. Not that it is bad per se, but disconnecting, letting go, switching off has more and more become a conscious act, which requires some awareness (and a bit of self-discipline!) on our part. Ironically, of course, the more strung out we are, the more difficult it is to get out of the loop, away from the screen, and the phone, and our mind-numbing habits. It is also more difficult to step away from work. We often feel we need to keep going, as in this academic world of self-made man, deadlines always loom. The more tired we are, the more pressing they feel. We need to step out of that. Step out. Get away. Recharge.

Book that ticket.
Get on the plane, or the train.
Get your sunglasses out.

The nice thing about holidays (apart from the holiday itself) is what they allow us to do: see clearly.
They help us unwrap, they give us perspective.
They give us time to reflect, not necessarily in an active way, simply by a change of scenery.

Which leads us to the second part: clarity.
When back from holiday, but before starting work again, ask yourself: If you had to pick one thing, one habit, or one stressor: what has been the biggest energy ‘leak’ the past academic year?

For me, personally, a major shift in my PhD productivity (back in the day) occurred when I realised I was losing so much energy in second-guessing myself. It was time to get out of my own way. That was it. That was all. I had been self-sabotaging in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and it was time to stop. It sounds ridiculous, of course – who in their right mind would self-sabotage?-, but honestly, we all do it in some way. For me, seeing that, and recognising it for what it was, helped tremendously.

So, what is your major ‘thing’?
Is it a circumstance, a bad habit, negative self-talk? What is your (self-)sabotage?
It may be a circumstance, like your living situation or a professional or personal relationship that is not working.
It may be a habit, such as procrastination, or overworking, or being last-minute about everything including important deadlines.
It may be a mental or emotional hurdle such as feeling underconfident, or engaging in unnecessary self-criticism.
It may be really simple, like not getting enough sleep. It may be quite complex, say, a problem with supervision that may be difficult to even define.
(Or you may not have a ‘thing’. Nah – don’t believe you).

What drives you nuts?
Whatever it is, commit to improving on it over the next year.
Most often, when we tackle the big obstacle, the smaller ones simply melt away. The details will take care of themselves.

What is the major ‘thing’ you’d like to do differently the next academic year? How will you go about it? Let me know in the comments. If you’d like some structural support in your habit, or other ‘thing’-change consider the HappyPhD course or a coaching session with me. (I have discounted rates for the coaching sessions for those on my mailing list. If you want in, sign up below). Enjoy your holiday!


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On Holiday – Or: Strategies to Actually Unplug

Summer holidays. The academic year is done, the deadlines have been met, the plane tickets have been booked, the ‘out-of-office’ reply almost written.

Cue: sunglasses, sunscreen, novels, countryside or city trips. And shutting that office door firmly behind you for a good couple of weeks.

Except: How to close that office door firmly?

What about work that still needs to be done? What about the incoming emails?
There may be upcoming conferences, not too far ahead, that need abstracts and papers and presentations.
There may be marking still to do. Or revisions of papers that you will now finally have the time to get round to.
And, now you’re at it, why not try to catch up a bit? There are chapters that need to be finished and this may be the perfect opportunity.
This summer you will finally, finally get on top of things.

Okay. Wait. Stop. Stop!

1. There is never a perfect time for anything in academia, so this is probably NOT the perfect time to ‘catch up’ on work.

2. You need and deserve a break. It will be fun and it will serve you in the long run. You need to recharge periodically (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly), and it should be one of your priorities.

3. If you want to have any chance at all surviving the academic rat race in the long run, re-read point two.

The funny little paradox at the heart of academic life: many academics choose to pursue an academic career because of its freedoms, but their daily lives revolve around their work, year-round and too often around the clock. It can be a prison of sorts. Workloads can be high. Work obsession can be intense. And getting out of your head can seem almost impossible.

Unplugging can be a real challenge.

Disclaimer: for some of us, unplugging for holiday isn’t an issue. For me personally, holiday came easy in my PhD days. I never even used to bother to write an out-of-office reply. I just packed my suitcase in the evening and left the next day, for a month or so. Après moi le deluge. But then, that was before the hyper-connected days of smartphones. Yes, I’m old. But if you are like me (enviable in this respect only, I can assure you) just go off and enjoy your holiday! Will see you when you get back!

If you are struggling with work addiction or work overload and want to go on holiday unplugged and unburdened here’s a short guide:

1. Be clear on your obligations. If you indeed have a conference to attend, or a deadline to meet that cannot be postponed: plan for it. Reserve space in your agenda for summer work, if you absolutely have to. Make sure you get your work done before you leave on holiday, or after you get back. Plan for it. Then relax about it.

2. Claim your holiday. Holiday is what you deserve, what you’ve earned and what you want to enjoy. So write a mental out-of-office note to yourself, and listen to this wise holidaying part of your being. Be brave and unplug from email. If you have a daily writing habit, or other daily work habits (good for you!), I suggest putting them on hold for a couple of weeks. Put academic reading on hold for a couple of weeks as well. It is possible to put things on hold. No pianos will drop from the sky to flatten you.

3. If you have other daily habits that may be energy drains, or that do not allow for your switching off – I’m thinking Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Pinterest – contemplate boldly unplugging. Now, I know that I bragged about what a star I am at holiday and unplugging above – but that was pre-smartphone era. When I went on a mini-holiday last month I found myself Tweeting, and feeling quite frustrated when I had no connectivity. What?? Yes. Proof that I too am no longer immune to connectivity addiction. Because I’m old, but not that old. What I do a lot of the time is simply not take my phone with me. Addiction control.

4. There is no enjoyment in holidaying if you feel guilty about it. Reserve guilt for your worser sins. Holidaying is a virtue. Treat it as such and indulge yourself.

Sending you sunshine, and lots of uninterrupted time off. Looking forward to seeing you in the new academic year!



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