Study Leave Week 16

Restarting after a short break

One of the luxuries of study leave (research leave / sabbatical) is having sustained time to think, research, and write. But even the most seasoned of academics needs a break from time to time, and the change of pace can make it difficult to restart again afterwards. Some simple techniques can make the process less troublesome, such as:

  1. Restart by writing a pithy to-do list – not one with endless tasks on it but the key ones.
  2. Pick up anywhere – be it skim-reading an article on your reading list, working on a set of article revisions, tidying up a bibliography, or drafting paragraph you’ve been meaning to write – but time-limit your restarting work to an hour and then re-evaluate. Worrying about where to start can be the cause for serious procrastination otherwise!
  3. Manage your expectations – do not assume you’ll get back into full flow quickly, and remember it takes time for mind and body to readjust. Short bursts of defined modest-scale tasks will mean better chance of getting back up to full speed more quickly after the restart.

It’s been about a week since I finished writing my latest book chapter. I know I need to tweak it still, but I also recognise that if I try to go in and do the changes straight away on my return from my short break I’ll make more errors than improvements. My time away from research was wonderful but not wholly relaxing (it involved 800 miles of driving, staying in two different places, and attending my best friend’s wedding where I was also singing a little solo and looking after another friend in a wheelchair). This meant that when I got back to my desk I was pretty exhausted and the productive research mindset I’d been in before I headed south was all but lost.

Being mindful of the need to ease myself back in gently, I rejigged my Study Leave Planner, made quick reassessments of what useful work I could achieve, and set out to work on much smaller tasks than book writing. It has paid off. This morning my brain was beginning to fire in research mode again, and I’ve got another 1,000 words down on paper (this time starting a new chapter). With the weekend looming (together with a visit from the in laws) I’m trying not to feel frustrated that I won’t get a good writing run, but I’m recognising that it doesn’t matter, because I now have the right techniques to ensure that the restart isn’t too painfully slow next time.

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