Rewind: Ignoring the "Should Be Doings"
On How to Take a Guilt-Free Break
Publish Not Perish is currently on a winter hiatus, which will run from December 11th to January 9th! I will be taking a break from publishing new posts this month to rest, reflect, and prepare for the new year! Never fear, dear readers; I will continue to send content to your inboxes each week, but it will take the form of rewinding old posts or sharing content from other writers during my hiatus.
Research and writing are tasks that never feel done. There is always another article to write, another chapter to finish, or another project to work on. As I’ve written about before, there’s no formula for ensuring that your research productivity is “enough” to get the job or tenure, so we always feel like we should be doing more.
When you combine the feeling of "should be doing" with a gap between school terms, many of us are tempted to spend our time away from the grind catching up on writing work. To be clear, there is no right or wrong way to use this time, and some people have successful research careers that revolve primarily around writing during the summers and term breaks.
That being said, I'd like to advocate for some guilt-free rest and relaxation time built into our schedules for those of us about to enter the holiday season. Research shows that taking breaks, doing non-work-related activities, having slow workdays, and vacationing all benefit our overall productivity.
Many of us want to take a break but can’t shake the “should be doing” feeling. Here are a few pointers on how I avoid feeling guilty about not being productive during the holiday.
Embrace the idea that time off is good for you
Imagine that you went outside and sprinted a mile as fast as you could. After the exertion, most of us would pause, gasp for air, drink some water, and take a leisurely stroll until we stopped sweating. This is a normal reaction to physical stress, especially for those of us who do not run.
Yet, we often expect ourselves to immediately do a research sprint after just having completed a teaching or classwork sprint. This an unrealistic expectation to place on our exhausted selves. We can't expect to run that sprint again without adequate rest. So, allow yourself to slow down and recover if you are tired from the semester. You'll need that rest if you plan on running that race again in January.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang argues that we should consider work and rest as partners, not as adversaries. He writes,
you cannot work well without resting well. Some of history’s most creative people, people whose achievements in art and science and literature, are legendary, took rest very seriously. They found that in order to realize their ambitions, to do the kind of work they wanted to, they needed rest. The right kinds of rest would restore their energy while allowing their muse, that mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going (p. 2-3).
As I mentioned in my previous post, my hobby of Brazilian jiu jitsu is extremely relaxing for my mind after a long day at work. The mental focus it requires takes my mind away from the idea world and places it on a new puzzle I have to solve in the here and now. Pang's book demonstrates that engaging hobbies are essential for success in other intellectual and creative pursuits.
My example of rest is physical, but there are obviously many other relaxing activities to engage in, such as reading for pleasure, doing puzzles, playing music, and so on.
What activities completely engross you and allow you to unwind mentally? Leave a comment because you might have an idea that will help someone else!
Plan work time and rest time
I was trapped in the mentality that the 24 hour clock was all available work time during my first few years of graduate school. Flexible schedules mean that I could work at 8 a.m. or 11 p.m. If I went out to dinner with my partner or trained jiu jitsu, I was not working and felt guilty about it. Because of this mindset, I felt like I was always falling behind.
When I decided to limit my work hours, it freed up the rest of my schedule for other activities such as rest, hobbies, and family time. So, it doesn’t matter if your workday is 8-5pm or 12-9pm. Consider your work hours to be work hours, and your time to be your time. If I don't get it done during work hours, I'm not going to sacrifice my other time to compensate.
Changing the mindset has significantly reduced the nagging feeling that I should be working. I typically don’t work at night and on the weekends and I don’t feel guilty about it because it’s not my designated work time. Of course, there's nothing wrong with working on weekends or at night. My point is that if all of your waking hours are potential work time, you'll feel like you should always be working, so figure out how to limit that available work time to reduce the guilt.
My point is that if all of your waking hours are potential work time, you'll feel like you should always be working, so figure out how to limit that available work time to reduce the guilt.
Try scheduling which days of the “break” are for relaxing, rejuvenating, and spending time with your loves. Guard that time. Instead of telling yourself that once that paper is done, you’ll take that time off, instead tell yourself that on X date you’ll stop working and instead focus on other things in your life. It doesn’t matter if the paper is doesn’t get finished because YOU and your blood or chosen family, or whatever priority you want to guard, are more important. Scheduling time off gives you the permission to not do other things while you are resting.
Recognize what/who loves you
I was recently at a conference, and a panelist kept repeating this refrain: “Academia doesn’t love you, even if you love it.” Academia is not going to say, “Oh, you look tired and should take a break.” It’s not going to say, “You’ve done enough, so relax for a while.” Instead, academia is always going to be in the background of our minds, whispering, "There is more to do.” This is the nature of individually-driven work like writing, but also of the precarious nature of being underemployed or under-compensated. Enough is never enough.
So, muster up your cognitive dissonance and take a firm stand so that YOU can decide when enough is enough. That paper is only getting a certain amount of time because you don’t get paid enough to sacrifice your health, wellbeing, and time with your loves to justify working more.
That paper is only getting a certain amount of time because you don’t get paid enough to sacrifice your health, wellbeing, and time with your loves to justify working more.
I wouldn’t dare to prescribe how much time you need off from work during the “break,” because only you can decide the balance between productivity and rest that makes sense for you. Take a few days, a few weeks, or the entirety of the break. All are acceptable approaches!