Summertiming: Planning Your Academic Summer

For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, Summer 2021 is now upon us—although someone forgot to tell the weather in the mid-Atlantic (not that I’m complaining about 70 degrees, zero humidity, sunshine, AND the delayed onslaught of cicadas). For academics, this is a season of emotions – relief and excitement, frustration and anxiety. While non-academics are jealously commentating on your “four months off,” you are sweating bullets trying to decide between staring at the wall for an entire month to recharge and doing ALL THE THINGS in months 1-3 so you can at least pretend like you get a vacation of some kind before the obligations of the fall semester elbow their way into your life. On top of all that, many of us teach intensive sections in the summer (5 weeks instead of 15!) and/or aren’t paid in the summer thanks to 9 month contracts (not that this means you don’t have to work in summer). For early career academics, the puzzle of how to spend your summer can be even more confusing: When/how much time should I devote to prepping fall classes? How much professional development webinars should I register for? What about grants? Reading groups? Mentoring? How exactly does a research GANTT chart work (or does it)? How can I get research and writing done without sacrificing my entire summer on the altar of work?

I’m still figuring it out, my friends. So I do not pretend to offer the best or even a good approach that suits everyone. I am just going to describe how I have planned my summer thus far and link to a ton of other blog posts on the subject for your reading pleasure.

My Summer Planning Process

Step 1: I made a list of stuff that I HAVE to do this summer. HAVE TO = I will get paid to do it (teach fall classes), someone gave me money to do it (grant work), other people are depending on me to do it (co-authored projects), and fulfills an earlier obligation (conference talks).

Screenshot of my summer plan spreadsheet with projects listed on the left and dates at the top as well as reminders of major events such as scheduled trips or start/end dates for summer classes
Enjoy another voyeuristic look into my life, my friends. I use plain old googlesheets for this.

Step 2: I put it all on my projects spreadsheet (which I will blog about in a future post). This is kind of like the gantt chart I referenced above, but better because it isn’t a static plan that never gets looked at and becomes quickly out of date. I look at this plan every work day. I use the sheet to make plans for a given period (e.g. summer), to remind myself of what I should be doing in a given week, and also to capture what I actually did. I also put big events at the top to remind me of things that might necessitate a slower pace – teaching a summer class or taking a trip to my cousin’s wedding (now that we’re all VAXXED – YAS!).

Step 3: Then I made an “It would be Awesome” list. This is a list of things it would be awesome to do this summer, but that I’m not going to cry about if they don’t get done. It’s a mix of personal (e.g. camping with the hubs, start a podcast), household (e.g. deep clean the garage, donate my hair to Wigs for Kids), and professional (e.g. publish that article I’ve been sitting on for the past two years, start a reading group). These are things I want to have happen at some point, but I’m not going to stress about it if they don’t happen in summer specifically.

Step 4: Make it work. There are some folks even more type-A-plannery than me who then take this plan and map it out onto a calendar so that they pretty much know what they’re doing every day for four months, but that freaks me out a little. I like a little flex room, you know? So I usually just plan each week the Friday before or the Monday of, being sure to check in with my spreadsheet, and make adjustments as needed.

You might also consider scheduling a writing retreat for yourself. Reflecting on the different cycles of Academic Work and adjusting your pace accordingly (also the latest Jo Van Every’s latest newsletter made an interesting point about thinking of July as the start of a new year). Getting Realistic About your Writing Projects is also very important. Here’s three more inspirational posts about planning academic work for the summer (one, two, three).

The important thing is to make actual time for rest. Teaching isn’t like other kinds of knowledge work. The semester schedule means we SPRINT which if you know even the tiniest bit about running means you also know that you cannot stretch a sprint into a marathon. Sprinting requires short distances, then rest, then you can do more sprinting. Resting is the key. For some of us that’s easier to do when we feel like we’ve crossed a few of those HAVE TO items off the list (me!). For others it means starting the summer in a place of rest and then tackling the plan. Find out what works best for you, and don’t beat yourself up about it if you spend more of your summer in the pool than at the computer. We’ve lived through a LOT this past year, so if there’s any summer that you should take “off,” it’s this one if possible. Remind me to tell you about the summer I took off of work completely between finishing the PhD and getting my NTT teaching gig. It was glorious.

How do you plan for summer? Has the pandemic changed your approach? I’d love to know what your summer plans are in the comments below.

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

2 thoughts on “Summertiming: Planning Your Academic Summer

  1. Pingback: My Low-Key System for Managing Academic Projects | Tawnya Azar

  2. Pingback: Make Time for Professional Development | Tawnya Azar

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