Hi friends! Today I want to talk about a practice that I really, really value, but spent most of grad school being very, very bad at: taking time off from working. I feel like it’s pretty common advice that academics should “take at least one day off a week” but it’s hard to go against the culture of constant work! So let’s talk about HOW I actually became a person who takes weekends off and maybe we can all crowd source some tips for valuing and taking needed rest breaks.
Ok I’m interspersing weekend adventure pictures throughout this post because pretty mountains! Going outside is awesome! For most of graduate school I worked the way I thought academics “should,” which is to say all. the. time. I worked until 9 or 10 at night every night. I worked Saturdays and Sundays, too, for at least half the day.
By contrast: I now (usually) am done working at 5 (exceptions for teaching night grad seminars and occasional conference submission-related panic). I never work Saturdays/Sundays. I feel extremely vulnerable even writing this in a blog post (does it feel like bragging? does it make anyone wonder if I will “deserve” tenure?). Getting to this point was HARD. It took several years of PRACTICE. I think there were a couple of mental barriers I faced to taking time off and the first best thing I did was just naming those barriers:
-Guilt. When you’re in a system that values the “best” students, where people praise each other for “dedication,” and where you’re “lucky” if you get accepted to a competitive program, I think there is definitely a big fear of not being good enough or working hard enough.
-Competitive culture. You show up to the office on Monday and everyone engages in a solidarity gripe fest about how much work they had to do over the weekend. If you can’t participate, will people judge you? Will people wonder if you’re working hard enough?
So, how did I break out of this cycle of always working? The first big realization I had in grad school was that things were never going to get easier and there will always be more work. Oof. These are not happy thoughts. But I really had a serious moment where I thought to myself “if I don’t get control of my life, I will never have one.” That hurt, but it was my motivation.
So, with this thought in mind, I did a couple of things that made taking time off easier:
–Change the conversations. I surrounded myself with people who took breaks and distanced myself from conversations about constantly working. You don’t have to ditch your academic friends, but when people talk about how they have to work all weekend step away from the water cooler. This is not a conversation for you anymore. Because you don’t have to work all weekend. You know what else helps? Forging non-academic friendships because non-academics mostly don’t understand!! Because everyone always has more work to do! But non-academics just…mostly don’t do that on Saturdays!
–Take small steps. The first real thing I did was I stopped working after dinner on weekdays. This was much easier, then I moved on to a full weekend day off, then two. I made each rest period a habit. To stop working after dinner, I tied this to a specific time and set of behaviors (Ex: after dinner I will close my laptop and put it in the office). Another thing that I actually just did that helps a ton is turning off email notifications on my phone. I schedule my email checks now (again, specific times: 10 AM and 4 PM).
–Lie. Look I don’t want to be too blunt about this, but if you have someone in your life who makes you feel bad for not constantly working, I think you’re allowed to just say “ugh yes so much to do” when they start griping. And then move on.
–Do nothing. Another big problem I’ve had is that when I take time off I still fill it with trying to be busy in other ways (like, uh, blogging). I have created higher-quality rest by noticing weekend activities that actually make me feel rested and setting up spaces to do those activities. I put chairs on my patio so I would go sit in the sun on nice days. I charged my ancient Kindle and got a library card so I could always have ebooks ready to read. Hiking helps a lot, because there’s no cell phone service. I try to ACTUALLY REST at the end of the trail. Like seriously just sit there for a few minutes. It’s eye-opening how difficult this is.
So, there you have it. This has been a 4+ year project for me. The guilt is never completely gone, but I am finally at the point where I don’t think “wait, should I be working?” on Saturday. Having a daily writing practice on weekdays has definitely helped as well. If you have other tips for stopping yourself from overworking, please share below! I hope you all have a restful weekend 🙂