One of my absolute favorite movies is Hot Fuzz. Nicholas Angel is the quintessential parallel for an academic: he’s singularly focused on his work and doesn’t know how to “switch off”. It’s only when he meets his partner that he learns how to have fun and not be so serious all the time. I mean, who else doesn’t immediately relax while drinking a pint and watching Patrick Swayze rob a bank in a Richard Nixon mask?
But it’s summertime and, like most academics, we’re faced with this race against the clock to “catch up” on everything that we didn’t do during the semester/school year/past decade. Sometimes, those expectations are mighty unrealistic. If you’re like me, I very quickly get frustrated when my plans go out of whack, and it’s midsummer and I didn’t accomplish much. I’m taking a different approach this year, and I wanted to share that with you.
First, I’m being much more realistic about my goals. It’s taken some time, but I realize how long it takes to write a brand new lit review or to revise a conference paper. This is one of the things that makes me pause when a grad student hands me a timeline for their dissertation writing. Working fast to get more done isn’t always smart nor is it doable. I advise my grad students that they will feel better if they finish a task BEFORE an estimated deadline rather than trudging past that deadline. That positive feeling helps you keep moving forward.
Second, break those tasks down! One of my summer projects is to start a paper on a brand new to me subject. It is going to take me much longer than the summer to get it done (survey writing and implementation, etc) so I’ve broken it down into steps. I need to review the literature out there on this topic. I need to draft a survey instrument and have friends critique it. I need to get IRB approval for this study. These are all small tasks that are digestible rather than “write paper X”.
Third, I am switching off…sometimes. Just because I’m free from teaching for the summer doesn’t mean I have 24 hours a day where I can work. Summer is time for me as well. I love to read fluff books while sitting on my deck. My kids love hitting the pool for a few hours. Did I mention naps? Such decadent self-care! Summer is the time for you to get some sun on your skin (with some SPF in between). Get away for a few days, even if it means a staycation. Go hiking. Hit the pool. Sit on the deck at a coffee shop and listen to nature. Be sure to take some time for you and those who are important to you. It’s easy to fall into that trap of trying to get everything done in 15 weeks, but it isn’t realistic. Do what you can and be sure to take some time for you as well. I hope that you’re able to look back on this summer and see what all you’ve accomplished rather than what you didn’t.