Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Hours: Enjoy your summer and be productive too!

We all know that it is a myth that tenure-track and tenured faculty do not work at all during the summer. However, it does not have to be a myth that we work less in the summertime.
I know some of my colleagues take pride in bragging about how much they work during the summer – probably to push back against the myth that we don’t work at all. However, I neither brag about overwork nor do I actually work that much during the summer.

Summertime should look like this!
Scaling back on work hours is one of the great privileges of having a tenure-track or tenured position, or even a lecturer position that pays enough during the year to be able to avoid teaching during the summers. Of course, if you are in a position where you have to work as a lifeguard during the summer to make ends meet, this post won’t apply to you. However, there are many faculty members and even graduate students whose summers are taken up by research and writing. If that describes you, then this post will help you to think about how to have a productive summer by working only four hours a day.
My summers always involve a two-week vacation where I do no work at all and recharge my batteries. This year I will do that while camping in the Pacific Northwest. During the rest of the summer, I try my best to stick to summer hours – which, for me, means only working before lunch. I have stuck to that routine most summers for the past decade, and have been quite productive.
The summer begins for me, as it did last year, with a writing and meditation retreat in Yosemite.
Last summer, my husband spent six weeks in Peru, and I stayed in Merced for the first half of the summer with our three kids. During that time, I finished and submitted an article, wrote and submitted a book chapter, submitted a major grant, developed drafts of two articles, and finalized two syllabi for my fall courses. I did all of this working just in the mornings.
I met my goals by sitting down and working on my writing projects every weekday for about two hours. During this time, I turned off email and social media, and told my kids to leave me alone. Since it’s only for two hours, and often before they even wake up, they were happy to oblige. Once I finished with writing, I had to take care of emails and other work-related tasks. Before lunch, I closed my laptop and called it a day.
With this routine, the rest of the day is mine to enjoy and to take care of myself, my family, and my house. I go to the gym most days – a unique summertime luxury. I cook most of my meals at home. I clean the house. I watch television with my kids. I grocery shop and drop the kids off at their various activities. I read novels. I go swimming. I listen to podcasts. Basically, I do whatever I want to do in the afternoons – which I dedicate to rejuvenation and renewal.
If you dedicate your mornings to writing, and resolve not to work after lunch, this allows you to be productive in the morning, and to feel as if you are having a real break each afternoon. Spend your afternoons taking care of yourself and your family – taking your kids to the pool, hanging out with your friends on patios and in backyards, going to the gym, taking long bike rides, reading books, and checking out that yoga class. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there are summer festivals, take advantage of them.
If your children are too small to leave you alone for two hours in the morning, arrange some activity for them and use that time to write. You can sign them up for camp or drop them off with a nanny. I enjoy having the summers to spend more time with my kids – but that doesn’t mean I need to spend every single minute with them.
In addition to taking your afternoons off, plan to take at least two weeks of full-on vacation. Your mind and body need to recharge. Taking a vacation is the only way to feel as if you have had a break from the normal stresses of life and work. If you can’t make leaving town happen, you can have a staycation by spending your time reading novels, taking long walks, watching your favorite television shows, getting a haircut, or even making those long overdue visits to the doctor and the dentist.
It might sound crazy to you to take it easy during the summer, but the best way to be productive and sane during the year is to use the summer months to rejuvenate. There is a good reason why countries in the European Union all have a minimum of four weeks vacation for workers. Intellectual work is hard and we need to rejuvenate in order to be consistently productive.
If you also are fortunate enough to be free from teaching and administrative responsibilities during the summer months, you can dedicate these months to research and writing; spending time with loved ones; and rejuvenation. Each of these is equally important.
If none of this is possible for you because you are spending the summer teaching or doing paid administrative work, then it may be time to ask yourself if there is any way you can make ends meet next year without relying on the extra summer salary. Of course, this is not possible for many people, but it’s worth thinking about the balance between short-term financial gain and long-term physical, mental, and emotional health.
Summers are one of the best things about being an academic and I hope you find a way to enjoy yours.