03 Jun

why i’m blogging my way to my sabbatical start date

On Saturday, I mentioned that one of the reasons I’m starting this blog now is that I’m about to go on a thesis-writing sabbatical. The plan is to have a full draft of my dissertation by Christmas, with a view to sending it off for examination before Semester 1, 2014. I have 27 days of work between me and my sabbatical. I have an absolute bomb load of marking to get through in this time and a whole lot of things to put in place so that I don’t take any non-PhD work with me into sabbatical.

So why, in this frantic lead up to my hibernation, do I think it’s a good idea to start a new blog?

I am pretty panicked about the prospect of doing nothing but PhD for eight months. Apart from the pressure of knowing I need to churn out tens of thousands of perfect usable words each month for the rest of the year, I am also conscious that I need to put some things into place to make sure I don’t fall down a black hole of writing and thinking and insularity and oh-my-god-I-can’t-write-another-word-ness. I have never been in a position in my professional life where I have had only one thing on my to do list. I am actually pretty worried about my capacity to get stuff done when ‘the stuff’ is actually just one enormous thing. I do recognise that writing a thesis isn’t just about writing – there’s a whole lot of administrivia I can distract myself with when I need to. But I’m not going to have the usual variety of things to do. No classes to plan for. No slide decks to beautify. No meetings to juggle. And no email. (Actually, I must say I’m looking forward to that last one. No more living out of my inbox.)

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it is this: I need to be busy and busily creative. I can only do a certain amount of thinky-thinky work in one day, and then it really is all over red rover. But if I can mix that thinky-thinky stuff up with something that’s creative and challenging, I will get more of the thinky-thinky stuff done. So over the next month I’ll be putting together some plans for some creative projects I can dip in and out of during my sabbatical. I have a vague plan of spending an hour a day making something – something completely unrelated to my PhD and preferably not involving technology. Among many other ideas, I plan to make a quilt. My PhD quilt. Something pretty that will remind me of this time in my life. Because let’s face it: although it’s going to be a hard slog, it is an enormous privilege to have this massive stretch of time in which I can focus solely on my research. I want more than a thesis to remember it by.

Something else that worries me is how I’m going to manage my time and my self through this intense writing period. The peaks and troughs of the academic work cycle combined with teaching a couple of nights a week in semester time mean I have absolutely no routine in my life. Zip. I work any where and any time. On the days I go into the office, I have a normalish day: up, shower, breakfast in the car, long drive to work, late lunch, teach an evening class. On the days I work from home (most days right now, as semester is winding down), I start my days in the worst way possible. I check email on my phone in bed and there’s usually at least one thing in there that I need to follow up on straight away, so I usually head straight to my desk and start working. Do not pass the shower. Do not collect a coffee. Go directly to jail my office. Generally the call of coffee pulls me away from my desk a couple of hours later. On weekdays (when there’s no one else at home to make it for me), I don’t usually have breakfast and if I do it ends up being closer to lunch time. It snowballs from there. Lunch, if I have it, happens late and is generally whatever I can prepare fastest and it gets eaten at my desk. At 6pm or 7pm I usually unplug my laptop and move to the lounge, where I catch up on email and administrative stuff that can be done in front of the tv. This non-routine happens probably three days a week. It’s not ideal but it works okay.

But I am increasingly aware that I cannot do this every day for eight months straight. I need to sort out a morning routine, start planning meals that I actually cook, set aside time for, and actually take, a lunch break… The little things that normal people do without thinking about it. I love the flexibility my job gives me, but sometimes a little bit of routine goes a very long way. I crave it. I crave structure and orderliness.

So this month, I am planning on putting some things into place to give me some structure and some opportunities to be creative while I’m on sabbatical. My plan is to blog about them here. You know, saying it out loud means I actually have to do it, etc. The challenge of blogging every day in June will help me to make some small progress each day towards my goal of getting organised, getting some routine in my life, and setting up a bunch of creative projects to keep me sane while I write.

Here goes!

30 posts in June: 3/30