Taking a Break – Regret, Relax & Refresh

Last week I went on holiday; I went to Poland (Wroclaw and Krakow), saw friends get married, relaxed and spent some much needed quality time with my boyfriend. Most importantly, this was the first holiday where I didn’t bring my laptop with me since beginning my undergraduate degree 7 years ago. I still had my iPhone which meant I could access emails – but I didn’t reply to a single work email for the entire week.

The Regret Stage

To begin with, the sudden digital detox was much more of a shock than I thought it would be. At home, I take my laptop everywhere, I always have access to wifi and I am usually on top of my inbox with a digitised to do list. I didn’t have access to that list, any of my documents or PhD-related resources. Over the first few days of the trip I was a bit itchy – I felt like I was wasting time when I was at the airport doing nothing, on the flight doing nothing, or waiting around in the hotel, again, doing nothing. At first I viewed these snippets of time as opportunities where I could have been reading journal articles, abstract screening or writing parts of my literature review. I regretted not taking any work with me at all.

The Relaxation Stage

A few days after the regret stage – say around day 3 of the holiday, I was finally getting out of the habit of checking my work emails every hour or so, and I started to forget about the length of the to do list that would greet me when I got back to the UK. I had a really, really brilliant holiday. I saw my friends get married, made new friends with other guests, tried new foods, explored a new country, slept late (with no alarm!) and didn’t feel the pressure to wear a watch or check the time, because time really didn’t matter. It was bliss.

Sunset boat trip along the river, Wroclaw.
The Refreshment Stage

Towards the end of the holiday – around day 6 and 7, I started to think about work again, but in a totally different way. I started to think of really exciting and creative science communication projects that I could do in the future, I started to think about the structure of my literature review and how the big pile of papers I’ve gathered would fit together; but none of these ideas were forced. I wasn’t trying to think about work, in fact, I was consciously trying not to. I was just getting my motivation and enthusiasm back. We landed back in the UK on Friday morning, and on the drive back to Aberdeen I was reading through my work emails and jotting down things to do. I got home and unpacked, sorted out the mountain of laundry we’d acquired, and watched TV. I was completely relaxed, and looking forward to a weekend of getting back to blogging and scicomm projects, before PhD life kicks back in on Monday.

View from our hotel window, Krakow.

I guess what I’ve learned from the break, is that I wasn’t properly taking holidays before – I was switching my out of office on, and telling people I was going away, but I was sneaking work in the whole time. I’m sure there are lots of other PhD students and researchers that do that too; we’re expected to be on the go all the time and it’s so difficult to switch off. Next time you go on holiday, or have some annual leave left to take, just take a break. Force yourself out of the cycle doing bits of work here and there; you might just find that you come back refreshed and more motivated than before you left.

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