Sabbatical Panic (Really?)

It is Wednesday, the third day of the winter semester and the third “real” day of my sabbatical. Sure, it officially started on January 1st, but those days between the 1st and the start of term on January 5th were still part of the holidays. I got ready for the real sabbatical work to begin on those days — organized my desk, sharpened my pencils, etc. But now there are no more excuses. And it isn’t easy. I know that this is likely not a popular thing to say, but stay with me. First of all, I’m so very grateful for the sabbatical. I truly am. It is a gift and I want to make every moment count. But that is the rub. I want to make every moment count. What does that even mean?

I began on Monday morning in a state of panic–there is not enough time left in my sabbatical (only 52 weeks!) to get it all done! I grabbed some books from my ever-growing “to read” pile and started ploughing through them, wildly taking notes and barely stopping for lunch. At the end of the day I felt worse. There are always going to be more books! I also realized that if the goal is to simply get through them, I’m not really absorbing what is written in them. What is the point of that?

I fear that the past decade or so in academia has conditioned me to the idea of getting throughgetting it donechecking it off the list. To what end though? There is always another hoop or deadline. Academics are skilled at multi-tasking–juggling grading, meetings, grant writing, committee work, lecture prep, report writing, form filling, etc. But when, if ever, is there time to read for the sake of engaging with new knowledge? This, it seems, should be the starting point for everything else. How have we lost sight of that? Part of this sabbatical may be about unlearning some old habits. Quinn Norton has written a great essay called “Against Productivity” that reminded me that the fast-paced, multi-tasking way of being in the world is not the only way. I’ve filed this essay away in my Evernote. It is one I think I will want to return to throughout this year.

Yesterday I tried a different approach. I opened up the book manuscript that I have been working on for far too long, the manuscript that is going to get finished on this sabbatical if it kills me. It was daunting. It had been a while since I sat with it, but I went back to a trick that helped me get my dissertation done when I was in grad school–I set the timer. 20 minute sessions in which the only thing to focus on is the document itself. Have to look up a reference? Too bad! Wait until the timer goes off. As anyone who has used this technique knows, by the time those 20 minutes are up you are in to the task of writing. You have found a groove and want to keep going. Get up from the chair, stretch, get some more tea and set the timer for another 20 minutes. I did this a few times yesterday and it felt good. I also gave myself permission to sit and think. Towards the end of the day I shut off the computer, grabbed a book and sat in my reading chair to read. I didn’t take notes. I simply read. The panic started to subside. It isn’t gone completely, but this seems to be a much better approach.

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Sabbatical 2015 Starts Now!

Today is the first official day of my sabbatical. Ok, technically it started yesterday, but since yesterday was a holiday I’m not going to count it. Making brunch and drinking mimosas with friends isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a sabbatical year. Or maybe it is!

Is it weird that I’m already worried about running out of time during this next year? So many things I want to do, and I know that the year will just fly by! I think some people think I’m “on vacation,” but I think it might be the opposite. I’m know I’m going to be trying to cram as much writing/research as I can in to the next 52 weeks. Sabbatical is such a gift and I want to be sure to use it wisely!

I need to finish up the book manuscript I’ve been working on for a while. I had hoped to be able to get more work done on it while I was Department Chair. No big surprise that this didn’t really work out as planned. Being Chair was a lot more time-consuming and energy-draining than I had budgeted for. So, this is the first big thing I’m going to focus on. But, I’ve got some new projects that I want to work on too, projects that will take some time to set up. I need to do some background reading and research to get them started. I’m also developing an online version of my first year course. Throw in some conferences and some research travel, and all of the sudden 12 months doesn’t sound like that much time! Eeep!

I never make new year’s resolutions. For me, as an academic, September is the time for new beginnings. This year is different though because of the sabbatical. So, while I hesitate to call them “resolutions” (that just feels like setting myself up for failure), there are some things I want to put in place as this year begins — good habits that might help me stay on track and get the most out of the sabbatical. Things like making sure to get some exercise each day and to drastically reduce my time playing around on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I’m also reviewing the tools I need to help keep me organized and to keep the writing/work flowing. Evernote, Dropbox, and Zotero are an essential part of my research process and have been for a while. I would like to transfer my writing from Word to Scrivener. I have had Scrivener for a while, but haven’t quite had the time to learn how to use the software properly. I think it has a lot of potential though. Word is getting on my nerves. I’ve also started a 60 day trial of Basecamp because two of my new projects are collaborative. I’m still getting up to speed on what Basecamp does, but so far it seems like a great way to work with others.

Here’s to a great 2015! I look forward to seeing what it brings!