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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Simultaneously near and far

I’ve been back from my sabbatical for two months now. And I’m happy to report that I’m still happy to be back. Since returning I’ve been grappling with both the expected and unexpected, as expected. 🙂 It was somewhat busy during the few weeks I was back in the library in the ramp up before the semester started, and it’s been solidly busy since the semester began six weeks ago.

In some ways it seems like it’s been much much longer than two months since my sabbatical ended. We’re experiencing (hopefully temporary!) library faculty and staff shortages right now that have impacted the rhythm of the semester and added tasks to my day to day list as well. And I think some of my extended-time feeling is the result of current events, everything that’s happening politically and globally. It’s busy at work, busy at home, busy in the world.

But in other ways it still feels like I just got back back from sabbatical yesterday. Back in August I co-wrote a post with my fellow ACRLogger Jen Jarson about her experiences starting a new job and mine returning after my sabbatical. What I’ve found most surprising about returning from sabbatical is that I did come back to the library with fresh eyes, in the same sense as Joan Petit’s tweet in one of Merinda’s posts. I think I thought that six months wouldn’t be nearly long enough for me to grow fresh eyes, especially as some of my research involved coming into the library to interview students last Spring, so I didn’t spend a solid six months off-campus. But it’s true: since coming back to campus and the library I’ve been noticing all kinds of things I hadn’t noticed in a while.

Even now, with two months of non-sabbatical under my belt, I’m holding on to a little bit of that freshness, trying to think about our challenges and successes in new ways. I’m also experimenting with strategies to keep my eyes fresh. On as many days as I can, I’ve tried to use lunchtime for two things: catching up on LIS article and book reading while I eat, and taking a walk right after I eat. Even after sabbatical there’s still a long backlog of Library Things I Want To Read (y’all are so interesting, and write so much good stuff!), and when I can pull myself away from Twitter at lunchtime to read something more sustained it feels good. I’m lucky that the college where I work is at the intersection of a few different neighborhoods and has some park spaces nearby. I’ve figured out a few walks of different lengths, usually 15-40 minutes or so, and (weather-permitting) have tried to take at least a short walk every day. Putting both lunchtime reading and walking on my daily to-do list has helped a bit — even if I don’t get to it that day, the list reminds me of the goal.

And as I write this I realize that coming back from leave puts me a little bit into the mindset of our campus community who use the library, and makes it easier for me to think like a user. Even though most of my research is on students’ academic experiences it’s still easy for my focus to shift solely to the day to day tasks, especially when it’s busy. But it’s worth trying to figure out ways to keep the fresh eyes, I think. Seeing like a student or faculty or staff member can help keep their needs in mind even when everything else — from scheduling to facilities issues to our current job search — takes up time in my days.

Photo of Lost Man Creek, an art installation in Downtown Brooklyn of 4,000 California Redwood tree saplings
Photo of Lost Man Creek, an art installation in Downtown Brooklyn of 4,000 California Redwood tree saplings