Work: What Counts?

I’ve just taken a whole week off.  The first full week I’ve taken off work in a long time.  My first week off since the Christmas break, (during which I was working a part-time job so I was still working).

I’m not very good at taking time off.  For the last five years I’ve had to juggle PhD research, term-time teaching, and part-time work, not to mention domestic chores and keeping up with family and friends.  By now I am well accustomed to a hectic schedule in which every moment has to be utilised effectively and efficiently.  Working a lot and being busy is thus borne out of necessity.

There are other reasons supplanting my chaotic schedule.  Firstly, I feel incredibly guilty if I do take time off.  This phenomenon – often referred to as “PhD guilt” – is, by all accounts, a commonly experienced sentiment: you can read more about it here and here.  In addition, I actually enjoy what I do.  I mean, I get to watch Spanish films, read interesting books, write about these things, and call it “work”.  And this is related to the third reason for not taking time off: what counts as “work” in my case?

I ask this question because I think it is fundamental with regards the much-discussed work-life balance, which often seems to tip towards the latter rather than the former in the case of academics.  Clearly, time spent working on my thesis counts as “work”, whether that involves reading, writing, thinking, planning, editing, watching, analysing, and so on.  But does writing blog posts count as “work”?  What about answering e-mails?  And chatting on Skype with two colleagues about our edited book project?  What about reading and sharing academia-related links, and connecting with other academics, on Twitter?  And watching Spanish films?

The truth is: I enjoy what I do.  I enjoy doing these things.  Yes, there are days when I would rather not watch a film and analyse what’s going on, or when I would rather read anything other than material connected to my research topic.  But on the whole, I enjoy reading, watching, writing, and so on, and that’s why I think I personally find it hard to take a week off, in which I do not do any of the above.  I feel at a loose end, purposeless, like I’m not sure what to do with myself.

However, that said, I’m glad that, following my supervisor’s advice, I took a week off.  It allowed me to catch up with friends, and begin packing (my husband and I are moving house this summer).  In addition, I feel rested, refreshed, and energised to begin what will be an intense summer of thesis-ing (and house-moving!!).

I’ve been thinking about these issues – time off and what counts as work – a lot over the last week, and I wondered whether I was alone in this, or whether this is something others have experienced too.  How often do you take time off?  Do you enjoy it?  Do you feel guilty?  What are the benefits and/or disadvantages to taking time off?  What counts as work for you?  Please feel free to leave me feedback as I’d be interested to hear how others experience this facet of academic life.

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