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Careers Café

Taking a real break over the holidays


Whether you celebrate anything at this time of year or not, universities typically shut down between Christmas and New Year. You are tired at the end of term. This is an ideal time to take a break.

Taking a break is not easy.

  • You will feel guilty that you aren’t working on … well something.
  • You will worry that something important will be forgotten and then you’ll remember too late and screw something up.
  • There will be times when you are at a loss for something to do and picking up your research project or preparing for next term’s teaching will seem like as good an option as any.

You need a break. You have worked hard. You are tired. And you will be more productive if you rest and recharge.

Make a list of ALL your projects.

This prevents the dropped ball anxiety.

Categorize it:

  • Urgent
  • Needs to be done in early January
  • Needs to be done by some other deadline
  • Would be Nice
  • What is that doing on my list? (yes, you can take things off without doing them)

Schedule stuff

Ask yourself: “What do I need to finish so I can take a break?” Prioritize that. Schedule time to do it in the next few days.

Make sure it is stuff you really NEED to get done before the break. Like finishing your grading. Or getting the copyright permissions for your winter term courses.

Look at those other categories. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you don’t forget about that list but don’t need to keep thinking about it every day to remember. Use the tools available. Reminders in your e-calendar can be handy.

Set yourself up for the return

  • Tidy your office, file away the fall term stuff you don’t need any more
  • Leave yourself a Welcome Back note with some notes about what you need to work on first.
  • Put the list somewhere you can find it.
  • Schedule time in your calendar to catch up with email and reorient yourself.

Plan your relaxation.

I know it sounds weird. I don’t mean plan it so that your holiday is just as busy and overwhelming as your work. You want enough of a plan that you don’t default to working on work stuff because you have some unscheduled time and feel at loose ends.

  • Make plans to see friends.
  • Make a list of things to do if you have unplanned time.
  • Stock up on pleasure reading, long and short.
  • Get essential supplies for your favourite hobby.
  • Stock up on DVDs to catch up on those TV shows and movies you’ve been meaning to watch.

There is probably no such thing as too much sleep over the next few weeks. This is the darkest part of the year. Your body naturally craves more rest. And you are tired. You may even be exhausted. Go to bed early. Get up late. Nap.

Whatever you celebrate, I am wishing you a joyful, relaxing, and nourishing break.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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