On the importance of holidays

Here is the new term at university beginning in a week time and here I am back on my desk reminiscing about my well deserved holiday and the impact it has already had on my motivation and productivity…  It does feel like this is the time of the year to look back at what went well and learn from past experiences and to make plans for the new year before jumping back into the ‘mad-house’ experience of doing a PhD. Furthermore, I am in the mid point of my fieldwork and time is literally flying as I think about data, interviews, schools, etc, etc…

My summer began with lots of things to do and pressing deadlines, I was finally done with school so I thought I had all the time in the day, week, month to get things done. I was brave enough to deny myself a holiday in order to stay tuned and hard-working. Day in, day out though I began realising that this was not working for me as I was getting better and better at finding ways to procrastinate, to avoid transcribing or typing up notes. So I had to take an unexpected and quite radical measure – I booked a holiday…

Ten days away to clear my head, relax and recharge my batteries. Great, right? Well, I wasn’t so sure about that at the time. I have the habit of working through the year without any major breaks and I could not see the ten days away in a different country as an advantage (I never really had a holiday since I started my PhD two years ago, yes, I am that sad…). In reality though, the advantages were many, and just to mention a few:

  • I’ve had a few conversations with students thinking about doing a PhD asking me what is the best thing about the degree – ‘flexibility and managing your own time’, I would respond, but is that so? Do we not sometimes forget when to stop working? Some more often than others, but at times I can go on till late at night and then wonder why I’m tired the next morning. Then I would have a couple of days off and pretend to come back all ready. Well, my holiday opened a whole new level of recharging… more time away was actually beneficial and I was reminded what a real break is and why I should spend time away from my usual work environment. 
  • It is hard to detach from you own research project whatever else you do on top of the PhD – I do a lot of extra bits but usually these do not provide that critical space to stop and clear my head and start with a refreshed brain – I’d go to schools, teach based on my research, meet scholars, meet teachers and students, talk research… at the end of the day, it’s all about research again which is just not good enough. Being away enabled me to see that there are other people doing different things who actually never think about data, interviews and analysis. More importantly, these people did not want to talk about my research or to understand it for that matter, so I had to remember how to operate in a whole different world.   
  • Reading something else, something that is not academic… I spent days on the beach listening to the sea while reading a book for pleasure, no note taking involved, no pressure for time or speed-reading attempts. I think I rediscovered the beauty of language. Yes, I do think a lot about language in academic terms, about who says what and why but having that task off my shoulders for several days was refreshing.  Now I can say that I read in a different way meaning that actually I can take in more information than before, hmm, extra space in my head perhaps?

And now I’m back and ready to get on with academic life. I live and breathe my PhD and can’t let go at times but at least I managed to come up with fresh ideas about how I’m going into the new term! I’ll share as I go along, the good, the bad and the learning 🙂

Happy new term to all!

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