My sabbatical summer

I was having lunch with a close friend the other day. As we were chatting, she noted how relaxed I looked. Outwardly, I smiled and thanked her. Inwardly, I thought to myself, “It’s been a very, very long time since anyone’s said that to me!”

I’m about a month into my sabbatical, and I am re-learning what it means to relax. I’ve been so go-go-go for so very long that the relaxation stuff feels a bit unnatural, to be honest. I do have occasional moments of panic where I start thinking “shouldn’t I be FRANTICALLY WORKING ON SOMETHING?”, but those are becoming fewer and farther between. Hey, old habits die hard!

My summer schedule’s a bit disjointed this year. There are weeks where my kids are in camps/school district programs, interspersed with a week here and there where they’re home with me. Both kids are home with me on Fridays, for the most part. And for most of August, my kids are not scheduled for anything. (School for them starts the day after Labor Day.) The kiddos are both old enough to entertain themselves for a bit, so on some of the days they are home I can get a bit of work done, but I try to focus mainly on them on those days. Part of the reason we went with this schedule was so that the kids and I could have some fun together this summer, so I’m honoring that as much as I can.

I decided at the start of the summer that I’d commit to working (writing, reading, researching, etc.) for 2 hours every weekday through June and July (with some exceptions, like parts of July 4th week and the 3 days I was at Girl Scout day camp with my troop), and that anything beyond that was gravy. This would allow me to make progress on my research, while also leaving plenty of time for my other goals: de-stress, relax, slow down, and enjoy the non-work parts of my life. I’ve since expanded this commitment into parts of August, while leaving most of August free from work to allow me to unplug and recharge.

So far, this schedule has been working very well for me. I’ve been working for at least 2 hours on most weekdays, and I usually end up working more. For example, on Monday I worked on a literature review for 2 and a half hours in the morning, and then ended up going to the pool by myself in the afternoon and catching up on some research reading there. (Read an article, jump in the pool! Read another article, go down the waterslide!)

The best part is that I am super productive and focused, even with (or probably because of) the abbreviated schedule. I’m making a ton of real progress on my work. This morning, I spent an hour sketching out a potential new study. I got the idea for this study while reading a new paper yesterday, and I’m sure I was inspired because I actually have the time and mental space to think and reflect.

I also don’t feel guilty about doing things other than work, which means I can actually enjoy things like kayaking on a random Wednesday morning, or working on a craft project — both of which I did yesterday. In past summers, even when I’ve given myself permission to take days “off”, I’ve still felt guilty for not spending the time doing something more “productive”. I’m starting to realize just how harmful that mindset was for my productivity, ironically.

One thing I did not expect: I’m starting to rethink my sabbatical plans. The time I’ve had to pause and reflect on my work has made me realize that I need to rethink some things about my work: how I work, what lines of inquiry to pursue, how to involve students, what research questions are really important to me, etc. I have a longer post brewing about this point specifically. Suffice it to say that my plans are shifting, but that I’m even more excited and confident about what I might be able to accomplish this year, and that the shift will probably mean my work will be more sustainable for the long term and more personally meaningful.

Overall, this summer has been just the summer I needed: a little bit of work; a lot of relaxation, reflection, family time — and time to rediscover myself.