Monday, July 4, 2011

Taking Breaks

In a profession that requires as much mental energy and intellectual engagement as academia, it's absolutely imperative that we give our brains serious rest and recuperation times. These breaks fall into two basic categories:

1. short breaks during each day that prevent mental fatigue so you can get good work done.

This kind of break should be a part of your regularly scheduled day. When do you teach? When do you write? When do you read? When do you go to class? When do you eat? When do you take a break? Of course, if you're not working or making the best use of your time, then you probably don't need a break. But if you're working consistently each day, you'll need a break in there.

Right now, I'm working each day from about 8-11:30am and then going home for two hours to eat lunch and see my family. Then, I get back to work from about 2-4:30pm. These times may shift a little day-to-day, but not by much. I'm writing in the morning, researching/reading in the afternoons, and hanging out during lunch. I also usually read a little in the evenings and on the weekends. That break in the middle of the day keeps my brain from burning out in the middle of my afternoon work session.

2. longer breaks every once in a while that prevent total system failure.

This kind of break should roll around a few times each year. You should try to pack up and get away from your normal writing/working/living spaces, if at all possible, and take a vacation on which you will not work at all. Ok, ok, I'll be reading during my vacation this week, but I won't be doing my day-to-do writing/research. Rest, relax, recharge. Talk with friends who are not in your dept. or program, call up your family, sleep!!! Just unplug from the academy for a short break.

While I would argue that the summer doesn't represent a "summer break" for academics, I would say that without the added responsibilities of teaching, classes, etc., it's much easier to give yourself a mental break without getting behind.

If you haven't planned a break for this summer yet, do it today!

On the other hand...if you haven't planned to work between your breaks this summer, do it this second!

What does everyone think about weekends for academics? Do you take weekends off? Do you find such an idea preposterous or impossible? Let's talk about academic weekends!


  1. About weekends, I've always been a person of extremes (you can chuckle here), so I've tended to handle them the same way. I take one day as a hard-core workday and the other as a hard-core rest day. Of course, since I don't have a family like many of my friends do, I have the luxury of not feeling guilty about sequestering myself away on Saturday. I have one friend with four kids who made it through his whole PhD program and the first year of his post-doc without ever working on Saturday or Sunday, but he was particularly rigid during the week to earn that flexibility.

  2. Great post about workdays! I take a full Saturday and Sunday off. On Sundays I check in with my dissertation group and I plan out my work week, but other than that, the two full days break from my dissertation gives me the relief I need to keep going with the writing week after week, month after month, year after year!


  3. I prefer and need to do the Em system, but I have to do the annep system due to home maintenance (some weekends) and need to drive to get anywhere interesting or refreshing (others).

  4. I shouldn't be checking this now because I'm on my own vacation break. But I thought I'd take a quick break from my break while downing some Ben and Jerry's "Chocolate Therapy."

    Thanks for the awesome comments and great ideas.

    @Em I would agree that it takes a serious commitment and rigidity during the week to take weekends off.

    I've found that I can't cheat a little by not counting my reading of fiction as "work" work. ha. I usually read some on the weekends, but I don't write, which is the activity I most associate with doing work.

    I've also found that this abstinence makes me look forward to Monday morning, and that each night when I'm winding down, I find myself looking forward to the next morning's writing session!