Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Preventing the Midsummer Blues
Schools in, schools out, teacher let the monkeys out.
That old children’s rhyme reminds us that we look forward to the end of the school year as much as our students. Summer offers such promise: time with the family, travel to interesting places, teaching a favorite course, a chance to regroup from the stress of the academic year, and uninterrupted research time.
About midsummer the depression sinks in. The promises are not being fulfilled. We wanted so much out of those three months. It turns out the three months are shorter than we think. The academic year intrudes into the beginning of the summer with filing class records and notes, writing the annual report of activities to be turned in to the dean or department chair. Then the end of the summer gets truncated by back-to-school faculty advising, freshman orientation, faculty development workshops, course preparation, etc. Add to those tasks the need to connect to the long neglected areas of one’s personal life like chaotic closets and visits to the parents and the wished for luxury of time has shrunk to six weeks. Not much time to catch up on the best sellers’ list.
Making the Most of Summer
Is it any wonder that the heart of the midsummer blues is the sensation that time is running out? As the spring transitions to summer, this is the time to plan how you want to spend this time. What kind of work-life balance will help you get the most out of your summer months? Here are some suggestions to prevent the trap of either working so hard that you enter the next school year burned out or guilty and depressed about not accomplishing enough.
- Ask yourself, “What three accomplishments could I complete so
that I could say at the end of the summer, ‘I had a great summer?’”
Is it that article that needs one final edit before shipping off to
the journal editor? Is it the research you need so that you can
revise one of your outdated courses? Would it be the college visit
overnight with your high school junior to help her college selection
process? Maybe it is the completion of a house project that would
bring beauty and comfort to you in the coming year?
- How much time would each task take?
- Lay out the steps of each task backwards from the deadlines for
each project delineating benchmarks for the half way and quarter
way points towards completion.
- What is your ideal summer work schedule? Would you feel more
productive if you worked three intense days a week or would you
work better by working a few hours each morning and then working
on house projects the rest of the day?
- For goals that are more extensive than a span of three months, can
you use the more intense time now to get a good chunk of work done
with the promise of continuing the work part-time during the fall?
One faculty member I worked with committed to planning and
outlining writing projects that could be completed across the
following year. She said this planning time during the summer
allowed her to “write on the margins of her life” during the school
- Think in “threes,” the top three goals for the summer with three
actionable steps each. Then list the next three goals just in case
you complete the first three. Another option is to list three
professional goals and three personal goals. Putting a limit on
goals is one way to lower your stress.
- Set goals that are realistic for the time available and for the
work-life balance you desire. How long does it take to writing a
professional paper? If it takes a month of concentrated work, you
can get three done in a three month summer. You have to play fair.
You can’t plan to write three papers and also revise a course but
you might be able to spend two months on two papers and one month
on a course revision.
- Increase your accountability by meeting with a mastermind group,
accountability buddy, or coach. All three can hold you accountable
and you don’t need to meet in person. Groups can meet virtually in
a chat room or across a phone bridge line for an hour a month
to check on progress and supporting each others’ efforts. You
could gather a few kindred sprits with similar interests. For
example a group of STEM women faculty might meet weekly across
the summer to support each others’ challenges of working in
mostly male departments. They could set some networking goals,
some funding goals, and some research goals and get a chunk of
work done that could be continued with monthly meetings during
- Be sure to give yourself some time to recover and replenish your
energy. Take an annual retreat, a visit to a spa, and weekend
away by yourself to some local place that reenergizes you.
- Enjoy time with family but don’t over plan time like
organizing ambitious reunions that take time away from your goals.
It is easy to get trapped into service when people think of you
as a “teacher who has the summer off.”
- Be sure to take some time off even if you plan to accomplish
some professional goals. You might have one week off each month
or one week at the beginning of the summer and one at the end.
If you travel don’t bring work with you. Likewise, take time
totally off from work if you stay home. Do house projects or do
day trips with the kids but give yourself the time guilt-free.
You are working the rest of the summer and you work hard during
the year. You need to recharge your batteries.
- If you normally take off during the summer because you are on
a nine or ten month contract, consider spreading some of next
year’s work load over the summer. I know, you aren’t getting paid
to work during the summer, but think about paying yourself over
the year with an easier pace during the coming year.
- If you have children, consider how you want to pace their summer.
Do you want them in full time day care or a couple of camps? You
have to take into account what your children need as well as what
you need. Some children are grateful for time off from structured
activities and able to play while dad writes, while other kids
need to be occupied or they get into trouble. When I was a full
time professor with a preschooler, I spread my course prep for the
whole year across the summer weeks with work on Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays and outings with my daughter on Tuesdays
and Thursdays. Then I did house and family activities on the
weekends guilt free because I felt a sense of productivity from
the week. The pace seemed slow but the work cumulated so that
surprisingly by the end of that first summer I had done a major
course revision and two minor ones in one summer. Best of all,
I didn’t have to bring course prep work home during the school
- Being in charge of your plan for summer can lower stress
spillover. Dr. Debra Berke and her research colleagues at
University of Minnesota found that academic professionals
reported their highest stress was from work spilling over to
home. She found that college faculty and administrators worry
about work while trying to fulfill their home responsibilities
and therefore are not fully present to their family members.
Faculty have also reported to me that they worry at work whether
or not they are doing the right stuff by their family. So
compartmentalize work or you will have the psychological sense
you are working all the time and accomplishing nothing.
Have a productive and balanced summer and better work-life balance across the whole year.
© Copyright 2007 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.
CONTACT INFORMATION: Susan Robison, PhD.; 3275 Font Hill Drive; Ellicott City, MD 21042 Voice: 410-465-5892; E-mail: Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com Website: www.ProfessorDestressor.com