Post from sabbatical-land “less than zero” days to go: a few random thoughts and unsolicited advice

When I first started a “days to go” countdown in blog posts about being on sabbatical, I pegged the end of my sabbatical as being September 1 because I was off during the winter 2015 term and not teaching this summer. Well, a couple of things happened. First off, I never was completely “away” and I’ve really felt that lately this month with the “CyberDiscovery” camps both at Louisiana Tech the first week in June and here at EMU starting this past Monday. But second and more important, I am taking on some quasi-administrative work as the associate director of the first year writing program starting this July– and really, I’ve already started getting a few emails about all this I have to address here and there. So even though it isn’t a ton of work and responsibility (yet), it’s still not “on leave.”

The party sabbatical is over. Time to get back to work. But before I do, a few random thoughts and advice, mostly to myself.


At EMU, sabbaticals (and other research leaves) are competitive: you have to put together a proposal about what you’re planning on doing while on sabbatical and then the presumption is you will work on whatever it is you proposed. Truth be told, this is more of a friendly presumption and not a contractual obligation. I had a sabbatical seven years ago and I fell well-short of what I said I would do in my proposal, and the result of my failure was I was awarded another sabbatical.

Sabbaticals aren’t like this everywhere. I had dinner with an old friend recently and we compared sabbatical experiences. At her institution, everyone was awarded a one semester sabbatical every seven years just as a matter of course and there was no obligation to produce anything. She said she read and read and read, which sounds pretty sweet. Of course, the flip side of that is a number of universities have eliminated sabbaticals entirely, but that’s another issue.

In any event, I’d give my sabbaticalling this time a “B.” Overall, I felt like I got done about what I was hoping to get done. I finished a chapter that’s going to show up in a book about MOOCs sometime in the hopefully near future. I gave a talk at the CCCCs and put together a pretty fun panel at HASTAC. I did several interviews that will (hopefully) make up the third part of the MOOC project. So productive enough.

On the other hand, I didn’t get as much done as I would have preferred. I suppose this is always true, but I would have liked to have gotten a lot more reading done, not to mention writing. I mostly have myself to blame for this. Like I said, I only got mostly away from EMU and not completely away. I was still advising a few graduate students on their projects, I spent a fair amount of time and energy applying for an administrative position, and so forth.

But I also found myself more or less wasting a lot of time. When you have a lot of free time and not much of a schedule to keep, it’s really easy for simple tasks– going to Home Depot, booking a hotel room online, organizing the garage– to fill entirely too much time. I have decided that this is why some of the retired people I know are always complaining about being “so busy.”

And I guess that was ultimately part of my problem with being on sabbatical. A lot of fellow academics would ask if I was “enjoying” my sabbatical, and my answer was always something like “I guess, sort of.” I don’t want to sound ungrateful or something, and there were definitely parts of being away that I did enjoy. I was particularly happy about being on sabbatical in April since there are usually a slog of end of the school year meetings and obligations and deadlines. But generally speaking, I like being around and working, and I get a lot more stuff done when I have a lot of stuff to do.

I guess that means I’m not ready for retirement quite yet.

Anyway, a few last Sabbatical II thoughts:

  • I learned a lot more about under what circumstances I’m most likely to be productive. Mind you, I often did not follow my own advice, but I did get a better sense of what I should be doing. A simple example: even when I didn’t have to do it, I tried as much as possible to be up and at ’em by six am because I am much more likely to be productive in the morning, I’m more likely to go the gym if I’m up early, and I’m more likely to get to bed between 10 and 11 pm, and I think that bedtime is important (for me) because nothing particularly productive happens for me after 10 pm.
  • Oh, and timers– using timers is good. I knew this before and again, this falls into the category of easier advice to give than it is to follow, but even when I had (in theory) all day to work on something, I was (and am) always a lot more productive when I set a timer for 20 or so minutes and force myself to concentrate on that task for that time.
  • My main piece of advice for would-be sabbaticalers is a lot like the common advice for packing light: lay out your clothes/lay out your project goals, and then divide it in half. Besides being more realistic, cutting down on the project goals for a sabbatical gives you a chance to relax, reflect, and recharge.
  • I wish I could afford to take a full-year sabbatical not because I would get that much more work done (maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t), but because that probably would allow me to really really get away. One of my colleagues spent his full year sabbatical this past academic year in Japan; another went home to and traveled around in Europe. If Annette holds off a year on applying for another sabbatical and if we both get the year-long sabbatical seven years from now, then we’ll be on to something. Stay tuned for 2122 2022.

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