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Summer: A Time for Productivity and Recharging
July 12, 2012 - 10:19pm

If you’re a U.S. academic, you are likely about halfway through the summer break by now. Many  are technically not on break, as you may (like me) have a 12-month appointment or be teaching in the summer. Nonetheless, for the majority the pace of everyday life in academia slows down with fewer students and faculty around in the summer. This slower pace means more time for research or other summer projects -- but can also contribute to a lack of motivation (for example, as an extrovert, I find it difficult to keep myself motivated in the summer since I have much less contact with people). It can also be tempting to overload summer with a too-long list of projects and forget to take time to recharge and recover from the hectic academic year.

On June 19, the #femlead chat hosted a discussion on summer plans and productivity and the midway mark seemed like a good time to re-share those tips. I’ve chosen a few tips from the from the discussion that seemed to most resonate with the chatters to expand on here (for a full archive of the chat, see the Storify from that date).

One recurring theme was the need for self-discipline in the summer, given more flexible schedules and deadlines:

The number one suggestion for creating discipline in the summer was to set a schedule and stick to it. However, sticking to it was acknowledged to be the most difficult part of the equation. Some go-to remedies to help stick to a schedule include Natalie Houston’s advice on using a timer to keep you focused and on schedule, as well as the suggestion to block out the time in timed blocks with different tasks scheduled for the blocks. For help with accomplishing the latter, two new apps (one for iDevices and one available as on the web) may be useful. The first, 30/30, works with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod and allows you to enter tasks with a length of time for each one. Once the tasks are entered, you start the timer and the app lets you know when it’s time to stop working on a certain task and move on to the next one. The second, Taskk, is a website, currently available in beta. Once you’ve created an account, you can create a list, give each task a time estimate, drag them into priority order, and Taskk will set up a plan of action based on how much time you have. While neither is a magic bullet, using one or both can help with creating the structure that summer can be missing.

Another persistent theme was the need to take time to recharge in the summer. Most of the chatters indicated that with different schedules and weather, they were able to take vacations, deal with less email, catch up on mundane tasks like filing, and make time for retreats, reflection, and just doing things a bit differently -- for example by moving meetings outside to take advantage of good weather (although for those of us who just experienced the brutal heat wave baking large sections of the U.S., perhaps the last suggestion needs to be rethought). In particular, the need to really take vacation (e.g., turn off the work email) was emphasized as necessary for a true break -- advice I have taken to heart as I am currently on day five of an email blackout while on vacation -- and I must say that it is doing my soul good to be away from the constant ding of Outlook alerts. Taking a real break, combined with the little changes of routine I’ve experimented with, is turning out to be incredibly useful in terms of replenishing the energy depleted by a very hectic academic year and I am looking forward to heading back to campus rested and ready to prepare for a new year.

What about you? How do you keep productive in the summer while simultaneously finding the time to relax and recharge? Share your tips in the comments!



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