Best Wishes to You for a Merry Christmas 2020

How have you decided to spend this holiday season?1

Are you recreating? Spending time with loved ones? Taking up other hobbies or interests you don’t usually get to pursue? Or maybe you’re planning to do some combination of all of these.

Too Many Things, Too Few Days

Or maybe the end of the year has crept up on you largely unnoticed. Maybe the hustle and bustle of the regular demands on you have left you with more to do than you have year left. And that’s besides the additional demands of a vaguely upcoming soon holiday season that’s now at the doorstep.

Even if the holiday has sneaked up on you, though, I’d encourage you not to let it pass without pausing to look up.

There’s more to life than your current slate of academic obligations, other work demands, or your next upcoming project. So, carve out some time to say “yes” to what’s most important. You won’t regret it.

Preparing for Time Away

You can start with the simple steps I mentioned a few weeks ago.

  1. Prepare early. Sure, next time you’re planning to be away, you can plan farther ahead. But it’s never too late to start from where you are.
  2. Address others’ needs ahead of time. You might not be able to address a whole lot, but it’s pretty well the 11th hour anyhow. So, depending on what you hear back, you can negotiate whether it really needs to be done in the next couple days or whether it can wait into the new year.
  3. Plan for your time away. Especially if you’re running full speed ahead directly into time away, you might want to plan at the beginning of that time to decompress, as well as think and talk through how you want to invest the balance of the time you’ve carved out to be unplugged.
  4. Before you unplug fully, set up an auto-responder to let others know when you’ll start responding to them again after your time away.
  5. While you’re away, actually unplug. Enjoy the time with your loved ones or whatever extra-academic activities you’ve decided to pursue. Regular demands will soon pick back up again. So, take full advantage of the opportunity to savor the moments while you’re away.

As you go through this cycle, note what you want to improve the next time you’re preparing to be away. Making those changes over time will help make taking time away easier and more enjoyable.

If you’re facing this or other particular challenges, do please take just a couple minutes to let me know so that I can shape next year’s content accordingly.

Wishes for the Season

However you’re planning to spend the next few days, I particularly hope you’ll take the opportunity to join with “the few among the Niatirbians” in reflecting on and being grateful for the elements of truly lasting value in the season.

It can be a challenge to look up from the daily grind or “the rush” long enough to catch a solid glimpse of these elements. But it’s an effort well worth the undertaking.2


  1. Header provided image by Walter Chávez

  2. For the source of the video rendition below, see C. S. Lewis’s excellent essay “Xmas and Christmas,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 334–37. 

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