On vacation

I was on vacation for a week. While I was on vacation for a week, I got an email from a colleague asking me how I can afford to take vacation time, given how thinly our staff resources are stretched. It wasn’t criticism — it was “how do you make this work? I want to make this work…”  I thought my answer might interest more than just him.

Honestly, the work part of my brain says I shouldn’t have done it. My to-do list is terrifying and classes start in 2 weeks and holy crap.

But I needed the break. I needed to think about things that aren’t work, things that aren’t intangible whatifs, and just do some things I enjoy. I slept a lot. I hiked. I camped. I went to the beach, and talked to my grandmother, and ate lobster, and played with the family dogs. It was great.

And now, after triage, there are 66 emails I need to read, all likely with a to-do item attached that only I can handle. I have 45 items on my current list, many of them big time-consuming thought exercises with lengthy reports/plans/projects as output.  I have every intention of working 60 hours this week and next, because I don’t know how else to get it all done. I also took thank you notes for donors, Ed’s State of the Crane Library report, and the transcripts of the student/faculty researcher interviews i hired consultants to conduct last year with me on vacation, because those were things I could read/do while sitting in my grandmother’s living room in the evening. I have a pile of notes and project plans in my iPad, which got just as much productivity use on vacation as off. I planned my fall trip to New Zealand — a speaking engagement, so technically work — while at the beach. I deleted spam and not-important email every morning, and responded to a couple of personnel issues in my pajamas in a tent, using the 3G on the iPad.  And then I put it away each day, and went and did things that matter to Jenica, not to the Libraries.

It’s just like anything else, I think — you decide it’s important, so you make it happen, and you deal with the fallout. And I’ve decided that taking some time for myself — in whatever form it ends up taking — is just as important as anything else.  Two really long weeks will be the fallout, but last week was great, so I declare it worth it.  Your mileage may vary. 🙂

And so. I’m back. I’m recharged. I have a pile of work to do, new ideas and new approaches to old ones, and some new energy to do it with. I’m ready and willing to work my ass off to get this semester launched right. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a moment of sadness when I turned off the email vacation auto-responder and set my phone to accept voice mail, again.


  1. I could not agree more. I am taking a vacation at the end of this week and I am so looking forward to it. The summer is not a vacation for administrators. I have been working pretty non-stop on several projects and my body and my brain are telling me that I need a break. If there has been one lesson that I’ve learned this year it is that you must allow yourself a break. We work very hard and are happy to put in the time, but we need to give ourselves permission to relax. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of not doing this. It is not pretty. Glad to hear that you had a great vacation!


  2. I’m not an administrator (of people or an organization… just sorta kinda of systems), but I, too, agree. My strategy is usually to take smaller amounts of time off more often, rather than a week at a time. Keeps me from feeling (and being) overwhelmed upon my return. About a week ago, right before a major ILS upgrade, I took a four-day weekend. Worked hard right up to that break to ensure that my absence wouldn’t negatively impact my team at such a critical moment. (A year ago, I went to ALA right in the middle of the end of an ILS migration. Good thing the conference was local.) When I got back home, everything felt easier. It felt like I had been away for longer, but I was on top of my game. I felt like I had earned the break.

    I’m about the worst when it comes to using vacation time. I never feel inclined to take weeks off at a time. I also don’t have the financial means to have an extravagant vacation — not even for a whole week down the ocean. In the 2.5 years I’ve been with my current employer, almost all of the vacation time I’ve used has been for conferences. I’ve been asked to stop doing that, and request for that time to be covered by the employer.

    Since I’m generally M-F, 9-5, I try not to work too many weekdays in a row. (I’m never 100% off on weekends.) I try to keep it to 17-19. Holidays help. It’s not selfish to take a day (or two, consecutively) off every other month if it means becoming better as a result — both for oneself and for one’s organization.


  3. I have to agree that taking your vacation time should be a priority. To Julian: I understand what you are saying in terms of days off here and there and stress but not taking all of your vacation of using your vacation time for professional development is essentially working more time for the same amount of money. Don’t short-change yourself.


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