Reflections on a Babybatical, Part 2: Strategies for Unplugging (without Actually Taking a Semester Off)

In our last post, we explored four strategies for unplugging without actually taking a semester off. Picking up where we left off, here are four more.

AltFamily together by Jehu Christan

5. Identify partners and colleagues who may need something from you during the time you’re planning to be away.

You don’t need to inform the world, but you might want to cast the net a bit wider than you think you need to initially.

In my case, I turned in an essay for an edited volume well ahead of when I was going to be away. I then moved on to other projects and forgot to include the principal editor in those I notified ahead of time about my time away.

Sure enough, while I was away, I got an email with questions about copy-editing the essay. Since I hadn’t given the editor the notice he needed to accommodate my time away, I felt I needed to accommodate the schedule he was running on.

Thankfully, it didn’t take that long to work through what remained. But, this was definitely something that I could have set up better on the front end by recognizing him as potentially falling in this group of other partners and colleagues.

6. Notify the partners and colleagues you’ve identified in step 5.

Clearly indicate when you’ll be away and what you won’t be doing during your break. Ask those on your list to give you any requests they foresee in time for you to complete those requests before you’ll be away. Stress that any requests they may make after your time away starts won’t be able to get handled until after you return.

Send this notification early enough so that you’re not imposing an unreasonable expectation on the recipients. It’s probably also good to forward it back to all of the recipients as your time away gets a bit closer to remind them both about your openness to receiving their requests and about the boundaries that you are setting up around your time away.

7. When you start your time away, set an email autoresponder to notify or remind anyone who contacts you about what they should anticipate.

If you’re taking a comparatively shorter hiatus, something like the following should work:

Thank you very much for your email. I am currently away and unable to respond to your message until [date you’ll start responding normally again]. Please anticipate a response to your message after this time.

If you’ll be away for longer, consider something like this:

Thank you very much for your email. Please resend your message after [date you’ll start responding normally again] if it is still relevant at that time and you would like me to respond. Otherwise, when I return from my time away, I will understand that your request has been handled or is no longer relevant.

This way of structuring the autoresponse may be a bit abrupt. But, doing this helps remove from you the burden both of tracking all the requests you receive while you’re away and of taking the time to reply to possibly outdated requests when you return.1 An autoresponse like this one also helps stress what action the person making the request should plan to take to get input from you if that’s still needed after your time away.

In my case, on returning to the office, I had one case where a critical request hadn’t been resent and then needed to be handled quite urgently. But, I’d framed the autoresponse this sender received a bit differently that what I’m suggesting here. In particular, I’d included the request to resend any still-relevant messages farther down in the autoresponse where it was probably easier to overlook. Stressing the request to resend an email after a certain date by putting that request at the start of the autoresponse (and perhaps in a different font) should help keep this from getting overlooked quite as easily.

If there are exceptions to the “please resend this later” request (see step 3 in the previous post), you can then add something like “The only exception is ….” For instance, I had the autoresponder indicate that I would respond to an email if the sender was a student in one of my classes or someone with a time-sensitive request about a student in one of my classes (e.g., needing attendance information).

8. While you’re away, keep firmly to your commitment to unplug.

Especially if you have some exception like I did for which you still need to touch base with work or school obligations, remember that “inside ‘yes’ is ‘no.'” If you choose to engage more on these fronts than you’d previously decided while you’re away, you’ll automatically be saying “no” to engaging with something else.

You should be especially wary if part of this “something else” is family with whom you’ve committed to be present during this downtime (e.g., in step 3 in the previous post). The time away will go faster than you think it will, and you don’t want to get to the end of it only to look back and see that you essentially worked from home, from the beach, or wherever and missed the opportunity you’d planned to disengage from academia for a bit and be more fully present with other elements of life.

Conclusion

What shape a feasible and desirable break takes will be different for everyone. But, with suggestions like these, hopefully you can either schedule some time away or turn at least part of natural, upcoming downtime into an enjoyable break that allows you to reengage with academic life even more energetically afterward.

What other strategies do you have for unplugging from the normal ebb and flow of academic life? What do you do to maximize the time while you’re unplugged?


  1. For this excellent suggestion, I’m particularly indebted to Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt’s discussion, “How to Vacation Like a Pro: 7 Steps for Recharging with Intention.” 

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