Fall Break is almost here at my institution. For most of us this means a three day weekend. Because I teach on a Tues/Thurs schedule it means a four day weekend for me. My question is: do you rest on these occasions? Academics in particular, but also many of us I suspect, don’t actually take the time off. We see it as a chance to “catch up” on work. For teachers this often means grading and/or feedback. Some of this is because of the circumstances of modern academia (and late stage capitalism) – the thinking that there’s just not enough time to get all the work done, so why not take these days “off” to do what you cannot do in a normal work week? It’s an appealing prospect. You won’t have emails or calls interrupting your day (although since fall break may overlap with Indigenous People’s Day, your kids might be home). You might be trying to “get on top” of some project in particular and this extra day or two would be the perfect time.
I used to work holiday weekends myself when I was a grad student & adjunct instructor teaching seven WIT classes at three institutions. It honestly was the only way I could get all the work done. But of course most of us aren’t working two or three full time jobs simultaneously, so there should be enough time in your average work week to get your work done. I don’t say this to shame you, but to take a hard look at what your employer expects of you (and what you expect for yourself). Because a lot of us in knowledge work have a degree of autonomy – full-time higher ed instructors have a lot of this in particular – we often think of our failure to accomplish all our work tasks in a 40 hour week as just that: our failure. A lot of productivity advice is centered around what YOU can do to hack your way through your work load. But how often have you critically considered what is a reasonable work load?
Anecdotally, it wasn’t until I stepped outside of academia to work for a start-up that I even thought about it. Start-up culture can be built a lot of bullshit. There’s the whole “you’re part of something here so it’s okay you work the jobs of three people at the salary of one from somewhere where the cost of living is half as much as where you live.” What I realized in that environment was I needed to start tracking my time spent on work tasks. I was a worker; not an entrepreneur. And I was being paid for 40 hours. So I literally kept a log and stopped working each week once I hit 40 hours. I still ended up exceeded the nebulous (ever changing) goal posts of success for my small part of the start-up. And then I returned to academia because I wanted more autonomy. I know some academics might be LOLing at that, but it’s absolutely true to my own experience that I have more control over my work life as a higher ed instructor than as a workerbee in a corporate job.
The point is that it made me look at my own labor very differently. Now that I am no longer a grad student or adjunct faculty, I refuse to work over breaks (to be clear, I do not think adjuncts – whose pay is literally calculated based only off the time spent in the classroom – should work on breaks, but I also know that sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to put food on the table). Now that I have more control over my work life, I see breaks very differently. It’s my time off too. I need these breaks to REST – for myself, for my family, and for my students. If my institution makes me teach too many classes, serve on too many committees, and publish too many articles than can reasonably fit into the working days of each year, I’m not about to lean into that shit. If your workplace makes you work more than the time for which you are paid, do you really want to give them your holiday weekends as well?
Might I suggest spending your fall break (if such applies to you) leaf peeping (actual term for looking at fall leaves), drinking Apple Cider, and watching the best Halloween movie of all time (Hocus Pocus)? You might feel guilty thinking about that stack of papers or unread emails, but try to fight it. Make a plan to tackle it when you get back to ease your mind. REST in the knowledge that it will get done. Find freedom in knowing that the work is never “done” – even for academics with semester schedules – for there is always more work, so you should take the REST whenever possible. Picture work as a river: if you try to dam it up you’ll just get carried away and drown. Let it flow around you instead.
One final thought before I close: This isn’t about “recharging” so you can be an even better workerbee (you’re not a damned battery). It’s about taking back what’s yours already. Do it first and foremost for yourself.
In keeping with this manifesto, I will be taking a blogging break next week so I can enjoy an actual period of rest. I hope you can find time to rest as well.
If you have a holiday weekend coming up, what are your plans for rest?
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).