The beginning of the beginning: fits and starts

Thinking back now on the first few weeks of my sabbatical I’m struck by what I don’t remember.

I remember flailing around a lot in that first month of sabbatical. As I mentioned in my first post, it’s been a big change for me to go from a very structured weekly schedule to having wide open spaces on my calendar to fill as I choose. It’s not that I’ve never had to deal with a lack of work structure before, but it’s been a long, long time since that’s been the case for more than a week or so. I am most definitely out of practice.

In a way the beginning of my sabbatical was just a bigger version of what often happens to me in the first few weeks of the summer, when the academic year has ended and projects and reports have wrapped up. Switching gears from very busy to less busy can be a challenge for me. I flail around a bit before settling on a list of what I want to accomplish over the summer and sketching out a rough plan for doing it in between vacation time and other commitments. I try to balance my wishlist of tasks with blocks of space and time to catch up on reading and thinking. And some summers (though probably it should be all summers) I end by taking stock and reflecting on what I did before heading into what I will do in the fall.

I keep a very brief research journal — really just a list of dates plus a couple of words about any research I worked on that day — and going back to consult it reminds me that I started my sabbatical by catching up on some writing that was coming due soon. I also made a Google doc called Sabbatical Plans (very literal!) with a list of all of the projects I’m working on during these six months, big and small, real and ideal. The blank page can be scary when starting a new writing project, and I felt that same fear when looking at 6 months of my (mostly) empty calendar. Starting to fill that calendar in with tentative, self-imposed deadlines helped.

It’s taken a while for me to settle into a routine, mostly because my sabbatical work is just less bound by routine than my director work is. Each day and week can vary, sometimes widely, in both what I’m doing and where I’m doing it. Some of my sabbatical work has been affected by external constraints, for example, interviewing students (which had to happen during the semester) or preparing for a talk on a specific date. Other work is less time-sensitive, like file management and CV maintenance. I update that Sabbatical Plans doc every week or so, tweaking and fiddling and adjusting and crossing off tasks as I finish them. Finding the structure in my unstructured time has in some ways been the biggest challenge of my sabbatical.