When I share with my colleagues that my research interest is self care in women of color, many suggest that I focus on academia first. So, this one is for you.
Boundaries are not a bad word
The very qualities that make us great teachers, also make it difficult to set boundaries once the semester is over. For example, during the semester, I try to respond to emails as soon as I receive them, or within the same day. Although my syllabus states to expect up to a 24 hour turnaround during the week, and 48 hours on weekends, I rarely wait that long.
On December 16, our academic term ended. On paper, this means that I do not resume teaching responsibilities until January 23. However, any teacher knows this is not true in practice. While I do check my email each day, I am setting boundaries with students as to what I can answer over email, and what we will need to discuss in person at the beginning of the next term.
Yes, there is a need to stay plugged in to an extent, as we have various projects that continue over the break, as well as meetings that will take place on campus during the January term. However, I have found it helpful to occasionally turn off phone notifications for email. This allows me to take a break from being bombarded with work-related emails first thing in the morning, or when spending time with my family.
Winter Break work-related goals
Let’s admit it, many of us see the winter break as an opportunity to catch up on unfinished tasks, or be more diligent about our research. If this is the case for you, take a moment to write down everything that you would like to accomplish. Before committing to it, take a moment to think about whether or not your goals are realistic, and what you will need in place to support them.
I have several work-related goals for my winter break:
- Immediate tasks
- Complete outstanding letters of recommendation
- Complete peer observation notes
- Course Development
- Read through the new affordable text I adopted for my students, and redesign my course around it (yes, this means new slides!)
- Redesign a different course, shifting the focus to current articles, while still using the textbook as a resource
- Prepare my course websites for each section, and update my syllabi
- Stay up to date on current events
- Read three articles per week related to current or future research
- Write three days per week
- Correspond with colleagues regarding ongoing research
- Professional Development
- Work on my RTP, as my first periodic evaluation is in February
- Develop more effective tracking tools for lesson planning and service activities
While this may seem excessive, this will leave me in a good position to start the Spring semester without falling immediately behind!
Once you have your list, you can identify which tasks are time-sensitive or must-dos, and which would be nice to do. Now, its time to be realistic. When do you plan to get these activities done? Do you feel like you will need to work as much as you did during the semester? If so, the next section is for you.
Plan to take time off
I can’t imagine having the willpower and motivation to face next semester without taking some time to breathe. Although I crave routine and accomplishing important things, my ability to stay focused just withers after a while. Before I know it, I am turning to my many tools of procrastination just to escape.
So, I have a list of a few things that will help me to stay balanced during this break:
- Set three priority tasks each day. Everything else is just gravy (or frosting, if you prefer)
- Each week, think about where you can take off a few hours. Then, think about what will be your work-free day. Block these out on your calendar NOW. Before you tell me that you don’t deserve this or you can’t afford to do it, remember I’m only asking for one day of your week to be work-free (of course, you can take more!). We need time to recharge as much as our students do. We have another 15 weeks waiting for us on the other side of January.
- Work in small spurts. When you find yourself lacking the motivation to get started, think about what you can tackle in five minutes. Once that is complete, go for another five, then maybe ten. Just don’t think about doing it all at once.
Remember that your break is for you, and you deserve some time to unplug. If you skimmed this section, go back and review, because now we are moving on to all of the other things that are waiting for you during the winter break.
Holiday parties, Malls (at Christmastime), and Housekeeping…OH MY!
Oh right. You thought you would have so much free time, until everything started popping up on your calendar! If you didn’t plan your work-free hours and your work-free day, its possible that they will soon be eaten up by everyone else’s priorities. So, try to go back and review where you can make time for yourself!
During the fall semester, I believed that I would have unlimited downtime over the winter break, and I could use a fraction of it to catch up on housekeeping tasks. I didn’t think about how quickly my weekends and evenings would be divvied up in socializing (I will be more realistic about this next year). So, I’m thinking the goals below will need to be divided up into a more realistic manner:
- Sit in PJs and watch TV all day (I’m REALLY good at the PJs part. I’m actually not really capable of watching that much TV, but Netflix can help here)
- Purge my closet (at least commit to getting rid of 20 items of clothing. Its a start. My last attempt to purge clothes led to the decision to lose weight, so I don’t feel bad about the delay here)
- Give to a few causes I wish to support, domestically and abroad (In Progress!)
- Create my goals for 2017 (Done, thanks to a friend’s goal planning brunch!)
- Create my 2017 Q1 planner (in progress…I’m quite obsessive about this).
- Clean out my various email accounts
- Organize my messy spaces (Yes, I’m honest)
If I want to have a real shot at getting these tasks done, they have to find their way into my daily priority tasks. I know which I find fun to do (planner research, I’m looking at you), and which I am loathing (cleaning and email purge). But, I realize the “why” for me is a more balanced and relaxed mental headspace in 2017… not to mention that being organized speeds most of my daily tasks up.
Self-Care: Prioritizing YOU
Now that we have gotten discussion of all of your tasks out of the way, we can finally address self-care. I wrote it this way because few of us are good at putting self-care first. I am very dedicated to improving my overall well-being, because my ability to be energetic in my daily life depends on it. So, over the break, I’m taking advantage of down time to go to the gym more consistently. I’m also dedicated to planning as many healthy meals as I can at home, because relying on eating out does not line up with my health (or financial) goals.
So, here are my self-care goals for the winter break:
- Meal prep: find interesting recipes that fall in line with Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry approach, cook regularly in large batches
- Work out five times per week, build up towards three of these sessions being organized dance or fitness classes
- Monthly massage, pedicure, and eyebrows
- Spa day before returning to campus
- Sleep consistently (limit computer time, late nights)
- Read for leisure at least twice per week
- Keep a journal where I plan, reflect and express gratitude
- Take a vacation and a staycation
You might find it interesting that my self-care list is so simple. However, it is this list that allows me to have the energy and motivation that I need to carry out the tasks on the first two lists. Without a basic foundation of self-care, I will not have the stamina I need to follow through on my goals. Restoration through sleep, travel, reading, and dance allows me to recover. Recovery allows me to engage in my tasks with a fresh pair of eyes. I’m more innovative, resilient, and confident as a result.
Putting this into Practice: Systems and Accountability
If you are looking for steps to put this into practice, try developing your three lists (mine could be summarized as work, personal/home, and self-care). Next, you can print these three lists and use them as a reference in refining your goals, setting daily tasks, and monitoring overall progress. Each evening, I use a regular journal to reflect on my day, and establish my three priority goals for the next day. This keeps me from being overly ambitious! Create a process that will work for you, and leave you feeling refreshed and accomplished in the New Year.
The best, and most important, step I can recommend, is to have some form of accountability. This post originated out of a discussion with my colleagues. We were each challenging each other about what we would do to engage in self-care over the break. We found it difficult to just stop working. The emails don’t cease. The responsibilities continue to increase. Its possible to imagine a scenario where suddenly, you are working harder than you did throughout the semester because there is no one there to stop you.
In committing to self-care with a small group of colleagues, I don’t feel vulnerability or pressure. Instead, I feel validated in prioritizing self-care. They relate to my challenges. They are here to not only to remind me of my goals, but to encourage me to start from where I am and celebrate small steps. It is our hope that what we try to establish as healthy practices over the holidays will morph into a routine that will give us more energy and balance throughout the semester. Try to find someone you can be accountable to regarding self-care, whether a colleague, friend, partner, or even someone in the comments section!
I hope this post gave you the opportunity to reflect on how you can best approach your winter break. Remember to give yourself the support (and recovery time) you need to accomplish your goals. I wish you the best for a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year!