May 8, 2012

Summertime, and the Living is Easy--Or Not

So it's finally summer.  You've turned in your grades, you've finished TAing that horrible class that took all of your time, and your department is winding down its endless meetings.  Now you can get down to your own writing, right?  You can finally work on your own work that you've been putting off because you had to get those papers graded and go over all those tests.  Well, yes and no.  If you've been teaching this academic year and have minimal teaching and administrative responsibilities this summer, then yes, you will have a great deal more time.  But what you probably won't have is a lot more energy.  In fact, you'll probably be a bit burned out, or experiencing some version of Academic Exhaustion syndrome.  In that case, seriously consider taking some sort of break to mark the end of the term.  Go away for a long weekend, or even (gasp!) a week, and use that time to regroup and recharge so that you can come back refreshed and ready to work.

Then, when you come back (or maybe even before you leave), make a plan for what you want to accomplish this summer and how you want to handle it.  Be sure that plan is realistic, and that you're not trying to cram twelve months worth of writing and research into three months.  Find out what your optimal length writing session is and how many separate sessions you can productively fit into a day.  If you find that your attention wanes after 45 or 50 minutes, there's no point trying to work for an hour and a half or two hours.  Likewise, if you find that you can fit in several 25 or 30 minute sessions, make sure that you're not planning for too many in a row.  Break up your day with other activities.  Allow yourself to have breaks.  If you are the kind of person who works well working straight through, then go ahead and plan for your two or three hours, but then carefully monitor your energy levels.  As Eviatar Zerubavel says in The Clockwork Muse, if you go over your optimal length writing session, you may just experience diminishing returns.  Be aware of that possibility and plan preemptive strategies to circumvent it.

The summer is a great opportunity to get work done, and many academics flourish during it.  But don't get caught up in the trap of thinking that because you have "all this time" that you are required to use every second of it.  Think about what is realistic and what is going to help you make the most advantage of your time.  Make sure your summer writing goals aren't so large that you're just going to frustrate yourself.  And remember that the same strategies that work for squeezing in the writing during the academic year can often be employed in the summer as well.  It's really the flip-side of the same problem; either way, you're faced with the challenge of managing your energy as well as your time.

What are your goals for the summer?  And do you have any particular tips or strategies to help other academics handle the summer paradox of "too much time?"

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