Happy New Year 2021!

I hope you enjoyed some enriching time around the Christmas holiday.1

Maybe you focused simply in being with those who matter most to you. Maybe you spent extra time on a hobby you don’t normally get to do or any number of other recreative activities.

At the end of the year, it’s somewhat more common for the generally frenetic pace of life to slow, however modestly. And that slight ebb can provide valuable space to pause and reflect.

Looking Back

This past year has held some unique challenges, to say the least. And as it winds to a close, there’s an opportune time look back over the year.

Freedom for your focus and imagination to wander can be an important aid in fostering creativity and insight.2

So, while you’re unplugged from your regular routine, you may well be able to reflect more profitably and with more perspective on that routine.

You can take stock of what worked, what didn’t, what went well, and what you’d like to do better moving forward.

You can think about the unexpected that really could have been anticipated. And you can consider the buffers you had (or didn’t have) to cushion the impact of the unexpected that couldn’t be anticipated.3

As you do so, be sure to reflect on your life both personally and professionally. You are, after all, a whole person. And it’s no good letting the wheels fall off either side of the cart. You want them both working together in the days, months, and year ahead.

I’ve recently done this kind of yearly review myself, and it’s always a helpful experience.

Looking Ahead

As your mind moves forward to next year, as it naturally will, start thinking about what you want to accomplish in the year ahead.

As you do, I’d encourage you not to do too much with these thoughts just yet. This is especially true for the time you’ve planned (and maybe committed to others) in which to step back from your regular professional activities.

Instead, take full advantage of any space the end of the year provides to be, do, and think in other ways than you’re able to in the week-to-week routine in the rest of the year.

Definitely do capture these thoughts someplace where you can come back to them. That way, they won’t get lost or forgotten (which they’re pretty liable to do otherwise). You’ll also free mental space that will otherwise be taken up, even if subconsciously.4

Conclusion

As you’re thinking along these lines, you might think of something you’d like to see me post here in this coming year. If so, certainly let me know.

I’ll be going through that feedback early in January and repeatedly throughout the year to ensure I’m giving you the best help I can in honing your craft as a biblical scholar.

Meanwhile, I wish you all the best for a wonderful New Year’s.


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. Chris Bailey, Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction (New York: Viking, 2018), 133–58. 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 175–84. 

  4. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003), 23–26. 

How Will You End the Year?

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.

Conclusion

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.


  1. Header image provided by Jude Beck

  2. Cf. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 181–83. 

  3. For suggesting this general kind of question, I’m grateful to Michael Hyatt. 

  4. McKeown, Essentialism, 181–83. 

  5. 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. 

  6. For this suggestion, I’m particularly grateful to Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller, “How to Rejuvenate with a Staycation,” Lead to Win, 25 August 2020. 

Daily Gleanings: Productivity (5 December 2019)

Jory MacKay discusses productivity shame and strategies for coping with it.

MacKay defines productivity shame as the sense that you’ve not gotten “enough” done.

In a whole host of areas, completely finishing work is a state that never materializes. There is always more to do.

So to avoid feeling the shame of having not done enough of the endless work you have in front of you, MacKay recommends five strategies:

  1. Refocus away from getting more things done and toward “being decisive and confident with how you’re spending your time” on what’s most important.
  2. Divide your work into manageable chunks that are completable so that you can see your regular progress.
  3. Set up support systems for yourself using whatever tools or processes you find helpful (e.g., RescueTime, Todoist, GTD).
  4. Disconnect from work at the end of your workday.
  5. Reflect on what getting “enough” done would really look like for you so that you can strategize about how to set yourself up for success in the future.

For more, see MacKay’s full discussion on the Doist blog.

Happy Thanksgiving

This week, I’m out of the office and celebrating Thanksgiving. If you’ll also be celebrating, I hope you’re able to enjoy some time with those who matter most to you. If the holiday has snuck up on you, there’s still time to prepare to unplug and make the most of it.

Tune back in next week to continue the discussion about life in biblical studies.

AltThankful photo by Pro Church Media

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.

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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:

Please resend your message on or after [date you’ll start responding normally again] if it is still relevant and you would like me to respond.

I am out of the office [dates you’ll be out of the office]. When I return, I will be mass archiving email that has arrived during these dates in order to begin responding to pertinent correspondence again as promptly as possible.

Thank you very much for your message.

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.


  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.” 

Reflections on a Babybatical, Part 1: Strategies for Unplugging (without Actually Taking a Semester Off)

We recently welcomed our second child, and after she was born I spent some substantive time out of the office.

Whether you’re headed for a similarly significant life event or you’re just moving through the regular cycle of the academic year toward a natural break time, here are some suggestions for planning ahead and making the most of your time away from the regular flow of academic life.

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1. Recognize there’s more to life than preparing for the next class, plunging into the next project, or kicking off the next initiative.

Life doesn’t stop, and that includes academic life. So, you’ll likely always have plenty enough coming down the pike to keep you busy for more than one lifetime. And sometimes, the best use of time in the margins is to prepare for what’s coming next.

But, always leaning into the future can also easily leave us always leaving and unmindful of the present. It can leave us pushing forward at a frenetic pace that only perpetuates itself rather than allowing a natural rhythm for rest, reflection, and reorientation. So, it’s important to push back on this tendency on occasion and create space for other aspects of life that can all too easily get pushed to the side.

2. Start preparing early.

At least in my experience, unplugging on shorter notice hasn’t normally worked very well, especially if it’s been for a comparatively longer period of time.

I’ve tended to mentally carry whatever research, teaching, studying, or administrative activities into the break rather than getting the benefit of actually disconnecting. I’ve also tended to forget about at least a few loose ends I’d left untied and then feel compelled to work on tying them up during what was going to be the time away.

On the other hand, if you start early planning and preparing, it’s definitely possible to minimize the number of open loops you have as the time to unplug approaches. “Begin with the end in mind,”1 and start writing down what would have to be true for you to truly unplug during your time away. Your written record will help you minimize anything you may otherwise forget amid the myriad of obligations vying for your attention as you move toward your planned break.

3. Clarify how long you’ll be away and what you’ll plan not to do.

Be realistic, but also don’t let yourself shortchange your time away. If you have a spouse, involve him or her in this clarification process.

For instance, we wanted me to be able to be out of the office for the next few weeks when our baby came. But, I also had classes I was scheduled to teach in order to meet my load. What to do?

We decided on a 30-day window when I’d be out of the office and completely unplugged. The only exceptions would be actions I had to take because they were necessary for teaching those classes. (It helped that the classes involved happened either to be ending or to be ones that I’d taught previously.)

I wasn’t entirely successful in disengaging to this extent (more about this in the next post). But, having and working toward a clear intention made it much easier to unplug more fully when the time came. And what I learned from this experience will make it easier to do a better job disconnecting the next time a season like this comes around.

4. Get buy-in from your upline.

Especially if you’re wanting to be away for longer, it’s probably best to start having conversations with your upline somewhat farther in advance.

Whether you’re in an academic, church, or other work situation, talk with the leadership that works above or alongside you. Clearly lay out what you’re wanting to do (and not do).

If need be, negotiate around concerns that your leaders may have. But, as you do so, don’t be too ready to modify what you clarified in step 3 above. If modifications are necessary, be sure to include your family (if applicable) in deciding what’s a workable change to your plans.

Don’t accept “win-lose” compromises that are easy in the moment but less satisfying in the long run. Instead, work at finding a “win-win” solution to any concerns.1

Conclusion

Whether it’s a half day or several weeks, it’s important for us all to create space to live life as fully in non-academic ways as we do in our academic pursuits. Doing so can definitely be challenging, but it’s well worth the effort.

In the next post, we’ll explore four more strategies for creating space to recharge and engage more fully with life outside the academy.


  1. For discussion of this principle, see Covey, Effective People