There’s been a recurring phrase uttered around the office this past week… “I can’t wait for Easter”. I know that I’ve said it almost on a daily basis, not in anticipation of a chocolate egg eating frenzy (though those that know me will find this hard to believe), but more in the fact that I need a break. That’s a break from early morning starts, commuting into Sheffield, emails and just everything work related. I think I’ve needed this for a while, but deadlines and day to day business have caused me to get caught up in the moment and push that nagging feeling of tiredness to one side and carry on regardless.
Research suggests that you should take regular breaks to improve your performance at work. Short breaks give you greater clarity on your task; help you to develop creative solutions to issues, heck, taking that trip to the kitchen for a cuppa with your colleagues just generally makes you better at your job. I try to mix up my tasks so that I don’t get bored doing the same thing all day and the result is that my to-do list starts to decrease in length. Even so, I know that at the moment I’m pushing the big, important tasks to one side as I don’t trust myself to do them justice. I have to double or even triple check my work, especially emails, to make sure that they a) make sense and b) are not riddled with comedy typos.
I’m certain that I’m not alone in feeling like this. When I’m at Think Ahead events I often hear researchers sharing feelings of guilt about taking time out either to attend these and other development events, taking annual leave or even being absent through sickness. What is particularly worrying is the belief that time away for any of the aforementioned reasons will have a negative rather than a positive impact on their research and their career in general. We need to promote the positive aspects of time away from work; what we can see from evaluations of Think Ahead development events is that participants can always take away something which will support their academic practices directly or indirectly. Anecdotal evidence suggests researchers who take time off for a holiday come back refreshed and with a renewed zest for their research, and researchers who are ill and take the time to recuperate are far more productive in the long run than those who decide to battle through.
So my solution to my feelings of general weariness has been to schedule in some of my annual leave, which I usually reserve for those precious few days of summer when the UK weather is, well, better and I can paddle in the sea. I’ve acknowledged that this year I need to approach things differently; I have to schedule regular breaks. First up is an extra day at Easter. Not much you may think, but that one day means I get a full 5 days away from the office before I have to get up and sit on a crowded tram to take a 50 minute journey into Sheffield. I can’t say that I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders as soon as I pressed send on the leave request, but over the past few days I’ve noticed that I’m looking forward to my time off and I’m making plans for more strategically placed leave later in the year to give me that extra boost when I need it.
If I’ve learnt anything over these last few weeks it’s that we need to take time out to invest in ourselves either through personal development or by simply taking some ‘me time’. Our very own Dr Kay Guccione regularly tweets a reminder for everyone, but especially researchers, to “take breaks, make breakthroughs”. I think that I’m okay with adopting that as my mantra too.