Winter Break Limbo

The third-year dossier is edited and off to the committee; the last talks got talked; grades are posted. Haven’t quite started working in earnest on Spring semester yet, and I’ve set aside my writing until Tuesday.

I’ve written before about the struggle to take time off during holidays. And I’m getting better about not expecting to get a ton of work done over break. I never do as much as I think I will, and just end up feeling guilty and exhausted when Spring semester starts up again.

But what the heck are you supposed to do instead?

I know I’m not the only person who’d probably be better off in a medically-induced coma between the end of the semester and the joint meetings. This year I’ve:

This is definitely the office floor of a well-adjusted person who knows how to take a vacation.

  • baked about a bajillion cookies
  • replaced the old insulation in our crawl space
  • made 5 pounds of kishka
  • watched a probably pathological number of period dramas
  • tore down and rebuilt our broken electric piano

I haven’t finished all the other non-work stuff I thought I’d tackle: the pile of books, the unfinished projects, the community and household organizing, the couple dozen open tabs in my browser. There’s still a few days. I give it even odds.

Why does this job, where you set your own hours more than any other salaried position I know of, attract people who don’t do well when they’re not on a schedule? And what good is it to say you’re taking a week off work if you just turn around and drive yourself crazy overdoing everything else instead?

Does anyone have advice for what to do when you’re off the clock? For how to take a vacation without necessarily leaving town?

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4 Responses to Winter Break Limbo

  1. Brian Winkel says:

    We have to remember that a change of pace might be all it takes to actually say you took a break; even doing the same things, but at a less hectic pace. Staying at home, rather than going to the office, is part of that change as well. Decompress, or as Poincare says, let the subsoncsious (not a coma!) take over for a while.

    • smalec says:

      This is a great point. I really did feel refreshed when I got back to the office, even if I didn’t always feel relaxed away from it. Poincare must have known what he was talking about.

  2. Helen G. Grundman, AMS Director of Education and Diversity says:

    Hi Sara,

    I’m thinking I must not be the right person to give you advice — unless, of course, you don’t enjoy baking, rebuilding and fixing an electric piano, watching dramas, etc. (in which case, you should make an effort to do fewer of these things!)! If these are things you enjoy doing, then why wouldn’t it count as vacation?

    I see nothing wrong with not dealing well without a schedule. (Mathematicians should be able to deal with triple negatives.) Just be sure to make yourself a schedule that includes the things that you want in a vacation. It sounds like you feel like you’re missing something. Figure out what it is and put it into your schedule. At the same time, strategize for getting things that make you unhappy out of your schedule.

    Next: Stop feeling guilty! If you stop putting things into your schedule that don’t fit, the guilt should take care of itself (or at least most of the guilt…). And if you’re still suffering from feeling exhausted, then I’d strongly advise that you spend some of your time off getting some sleep! (I repeat: Stop feeling guilty and get some sleep!)

    If the issue you’re describing involves not finishing with the work-related tasks that you’ve set aside for yourself, then you should take your own advice from your earlier article: (1) work at not scheduling so much work for during your break and/or (2) schedule yourself some time (preferably at the beginning or end of your break, but we’re all different) to do the tasks that you feel that you can’t schedule for later, then do not allow yourself to do work-related tasks outside of that time.

    Finally, if you feel that over-scheduling yourself is the only way that you’ll get anything done, as I said above, just schedule things that you enjoy doing (at least during the vacation portion of your break).

    My best technique is not to promise anyone (including myself) that I will accomplish anything during times that I’ve put aside as my vacation time. Admittedly, I’m not good at actually scheduling vacation time, but when I do, I try to relax. I heartily recommend it — unless, of course, you enjoy yourself more doing something else!

    • smalec says:

      Thank you so much for this excellent advice. I’ve gotten so much better at not promising other people anything over breaks, but it’s those promises to myself I can’t seem to come to grips with. It’s very helpful to hear assurances from others that it’s ok to just be for awhile.

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