Keeping up after coming back

I’ve been meaning to write this followup post for a while, but this first semester back from sabbatical has been busy. Unusually busy, even. Which is even more reason for me to work on writing this post about how to hold time and space for my research and scholarship now that I’m back from sabbatical.

One strategy that I’ve fallen into far too often in the past for keeping up with my research has been additive, tacking project and writing time on top of my usual workday schedule (and, too often, on the weekends). For me that’s not been sustainable; I’ve come very close to burnout. In addition to time and space to work on my research, sabbatical afforded me the time and space to think about other ways to incorporate research time into my schedule without spending every waking moment on work or research.

A few years ago I started waking up a little bit earlier than I needed to and spending my first hour awake each weekday morning on writing and research. That hour — accompanied by coffee, before getting ready for work — has proven to be the most reliable way for me to make progress on my research projects. It can be slow going, for sure. Sometimes that hour goes by too quickly (or even too slowly), or I end up not using many of the words I’ve written. Even so, the consistency of that habit means that eventually it all adds up to something.

This semester it’s been harder to get back to that hour. Going from the summer to my kid’s fall school schedule — which varies from term to term — was an adjustment, as it always is. Last month my spouse started a new job, which meant a change for all of our morning routines. Combined with more than the usual number of early-ish meetings at work, I’ve been slacking on my morning research and writing hour more days than I’d like (though I’m proud to say that I’m writing this very post during that morning hour).

The morning hour is a good habit, but sometimes I fall into the bad habit of beating myself up for not getting enough research and writing done. So I’m bringing back the research journal where I quickly note what I did at the end of each morning hour (full disclosure: it’s just a spreadsheet with the date and a few words about what I did). I’d put this aside during sabbatical in favor of more robust ways to track my projects, but this is the perfect tool for me to stay accountable to myself and stay motivated.

Habits are tricky things: once you get into the groove it’s easier to stay there, but even long-time habits can be broken and it’s hard to get back into that groove once you’re out. At this point in the semester — a couple of days off this week, then full steam ahead hold onto your hats for one more busy month — getting back into keeping up with my morning hour is still a challenge. But I know this is a good habit, a habit I need, the habit I’ve built that’s been most successful in enabling me to keep up with research and writing. And it’s perhaps not surprising that after sabbatical I ended up back at the habit I’d established before sabbatical: one hour every weekday morning, first thing.

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