As the year comes to a close, you pretty certainly have any number of loose ends.1 Some of them you’ll need or want to tie up before the end of the year. Others you might decide to put off for a bit.
But there’s more to life than your current work demands, your next upcoming project, or that last assignment that needs attention before the semester fully ends.
By the same token, honing your craft as a biblical scholar doesn’t just mean being more effective in domains like these. It also means being more effective in integrating other life domains that are just as or more important.
You’re a whole person with a multifaceted life—and those multiple facets are part of what make life rich. So, although it’s almost always overlooked, a core skill you need to hone for the long haul is how you live as an academic in order to integrate the domains of your life that stretch beyond the academy.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer 5 thoughts about how you can set yourself up for some enriching time away from the academy to spend with loved ones, invest in other interests, pursue other projects, or any variety of other possibilities.
1. Prepare early.
If you’re looking ahead to holidays at the end of the year, start assessing where things stand. Think too about where you’d like them to be while you’re away.
If you go through the next couple weeks on your present course, are you already implicitly going to short change time away?
Hopefully not, and if not, that’s great. But if you’re unsure, you likely are.
The Planning Fallacy
According to the “planning fallacy,” we’re all much more likely to underestimate how much time it takes to complete a given activity.
That’s especially true when we’re faced with more pressure for that activity to be completed on time.
For example, if we’re in conversation with others or if we’re mentally contemplating such conversations we’re more liable to give overly optimistic assessments of how much we can do in a given amount of time.2
Adjusting for the Planning Fallacy
That doesn’t need to be bad news, though. It just means you’re now aware that you might need to adjust your expectations for the coming days.
Start by asking yourself questions like:
- What will have to be true over the coming days for you to unplug from your regular demands?
- What will need to happen for you to be fully present on your other interests or with your friends, loved ones, or whomever you’ll be spending time with?3
With this vision in place, you can then plan your time between now and the start of your holiday activities. You can prioritize the critical few items that help will make your holiday as enriching as possible.
You can counter the effects of the planning fallacy by adding 50% to how much time you think it will take to complete a project.4 Or to be still safer, you can try doubling your estimate.
With some updated estimates of how long it will take to complete what’s on your plate, you can also start to triage what might need to wait for the new year. (With this triaging may come renegotiation with others who might be affected by your possibly completing something a bit later.)
2. Address others’ needs ahead of time.
Identify who may have “surprise” needs from you either shortly before or while you’re supposed to be away.
In reality, such surprises probably aren’t as surprising as we sometimes allow them to be. From past experience, you probably know who’s likely to ask for something from you at the 11th hour or later.
Reaching out to that person(s) directly might seem counterintuitive. After all, I just suggested you might need to triage your schedule by moving some things into the new year.
But if you reach out to others asking for requests from them, you might be more likely to get things added to your plate.
It’s true that you might. But the alternative is simply not knowing. And in that event, you’re setting yourself up for a series of 11th-hour decisions about what requests to fulfill—and comparatively tenser discussions around scheduling for those that you’d prefer to handle in the new year.
Instead of leaving yourself open for such maybes to arrive in your inbox unannounced, be proactive.5 Contact as soon as you can those who might need something from you to let them know that you’ll be happy to field requests from them before or after your time away but that you’ll be unavailable during the holiday window you’ve set aside.
Doing so is also courteous to those individuals who may have their own holiday plans. Your reaching out gives you all the opportunity to negotiate a mutually satisfactory plan for when you’ll get what to whom.
3. Plan for your time away.
Don’t walk into your time away cold. You might not want to plan it in as much detail. That’s perfectly fine.
But your time away is valuable, as are the people you’ll spend it with. So, that time away deserves to have thought put into it.
Even something as simple as a couple short conversations beforehand can help to surface how you’ll spend that time in order to make the most of it.6 It can also help you avoid the temptation to dilute your time away with academic or other work that could wait.
4. Use an auto-responder.
When it comes time for your vacation to start, set an out-of-office reply or other automated bounce back. (You might actually want to do this a little in advance of when you need to start disengaging. That way, you won’t have requests come in that you don’t have time to respond to.)
In the automated reply, you don’t need to give a lot of detail. But do let whomever know when you’ll be able to get back with them.
5. While you’re away, actually unplug.
Be fully present with the people and activities for whom you’ve set aside this time to disengage. You might want to use a tool like Freedom to help protect what you’ve decided to prioritize during your time away.
If you find you didn’t start preparing early or fully enough, don’t try to squeeze school or work activity back in around the margins. And if something comes up claiming it can’t wait, don’t be too ready to agree with that assessment.
Other than that, remember that “inside ‘yes’ is ‘no.’” If you pull school or work back into times you’ve set aside to be more fully present with family, friends, or others, you can make that choice. But that “yes” is an automatic “no” to those you’d otherwise be giving your time, attention, and presence to during that time. And you shouldn’t underestimate the relational cost of that “no,” especially if it’s a cost that repeats.
That said, if you really think something can’t wait, start by talking through how best to handle that with those who will be affected by your not unplugging. Negotiate how best to move forward from where you are (even if that isn’t where you ideally wanted to be).
Then, take away from the experience the lesson(s) that will help you prepare better for the next time you’ll be away.
Just like other parts of the craft of biblical scholarship, your ability to unplug from academics and focus on other life domains is also something you can hone over time.
Do it a few times with intention, and you’ll notice yourself gradually getting better at being not just whatever your school or work demands require, but also someone who lives a full life as a whole person.
For suggesting this general kind of question, I’m grateful to Michael Hyatt. ↩
Cf. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 73–101. ↩