Saturday, December 15, 2012

Give yourself a break - a real one!

How do you plan to spend the upcoming holidays?

No matter how busy your Fall semester was nor how busy your Spring semester will be, one of the most important things you can do during this winter break is to take a real break.

It’s the end of the year. Heck, it may well be the end of the world after December 21, 2012. So, take a break.



If you haven’t taken a break in a while, and have forgotten how to do so, don’t worry: I can explain to you how to do it.

Taking a break - in four simple steps.

Step 1: Choose a date to start your break.


When will you begin your break? This Friday? December 24? Before then? Or, perhaps you’ve already started? Whenever it is, choose a date and plan to stop working on that date. At a very minimum, you should plan to take 4 days off. I hope you will at least take off the week between December 25 and January 2. If you are taking off more days, please let me know in the comments section, as I am always pleased to hear about people taking long vacations.


Step 2: Figure out what will and will not get done in the remainder of this semester (Use the 4 D's)

What tasks will and will not get done this semester? Which tasks will never get done? Which ones can be deferred or delegated? Anyone who has read David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity will know that there are four options for any task: do, defer, delete, or delegate.

To be able to take a break over the winter holiday, you will have to look at your remaining tasks and decide if you will do them this Fall, defer them to a later date, decide they are not important and delete them, or delegate them. These decisions can be hard, but it is ideal to decide now what will and will not get done to avoid feeling guilty later.

All of your pending tasks for the remainder of 2012 should fall into these four categories:
  1. DO:  Prioritize all of the tasks and projects you actually can and will do before you take a break.
  2. DEFER: If the project is something you really would like to do, but can wait until the Spring, defer it.
  3. DELETE: If you take a good look at your to-do list, I am sure you can find at least one task - perhaps more - that you can delete. (If you are deleting more than two, let me know in the comments section!)
  4. DELEGATE: Delegation is often particularly hard for academics, but there are things that can be delegated, such as organizing your office, transcribing your interviews, cleaning your data, and formatting your endnotes.

Go easy on yourself and only choose “do” for those items that must be done by you and must be done by the end of the year. Those items might include: grading, ordering books for next semester, finishing an overdue review or paper. Everything that is non-essential can either be deleted or at least deferred to next year.

Step 3: Finish what’s left on your list by your chosen end date.

Once you have a manageable lists of tasks on your plate, it will be easier to focus on those and get those done. Once you finish them, you will be ready for your guilt-free break.

Step 4: Take a real break

A real break means no work. It means taking care of yourself, relaxing, and allowing yourself luxuries that you don't normally take. A real break feels good and is good for your health.

During your break, I encourage you to:

  • Avoid email: Email will just remind you of work, which is not the point of taking a break.
  • Exercise daily: You don't have to run six miles a day. You can walk around the block, go ice skating, or take a bike ride. Exercise makes you feel good and is good for you. Win-win!
  • Read a novel.
  • Watch a film or television show you enjoy.
  • Cook healthy meals for yourself.
  • Eat lots of fruits and veggies.
  • Talk to your friends and family – in person and over the phone.
  • Dance, sing, play the guitar, write poetry: get in touch with your creative side.


Once you’ve finished your break, you will be rejuvenated and ready to start work again. Make sure you take enough time off to be refreshed when you return.

And, make sure that when you take a break, you really take a break. Doing so can actually do wonders for your productivity and creativity. Scientists have found that four days in nature enhances creativity. Spending time in nature, completely unplugged can enhance your emotional and physical health. Try it!