I have had doc students tell me if they let themselves rest completely it is too hard to get back into the work groove. This is crazy thinking. One of the signs of having good enough rest is that you hate going back to work. That lasts half a day at most and it is the cost of completely letting go and recharging all of your internal batteries. You want to rest and completely forget your dissertation work. In an earlier post I talked about students who threw a bed sheet or blanket totally over their desk since even seeing the computer or piles of research files restarted them thinking about the work not done.
Back when I worked at a medical residential rehabilitation facility I was on backup manager status every three weeks. Those weekends my pager (yes we used a pager back in those days) could go off at any time and it would be a big problem. So I was always on edge those weekends and Monday would come finding me glum and irritated. I felt like I had no time off and did not like my job. I could never let go completely and might have to interrupt my day off to go back to work at any time.
Most of the time if alerted I simply talked to the lower level primary on-call manager who received a lot of the pager calls. I mostly approved whatever action they had taken or decided to take. But I was not able to let go of the job on those weekends and I lived in two worlds. I was home but I was sort of at work. I might have to suddenly leave and go to the hospital or deal with a severe problem. I could not sit back and relax and recharge.
When the doctoral student does not follow rules like our “hot potato” technique they slowly lose their reserves of strength. If the dissertation process runs you then all sorts of extra work pops up and most of it is useless. In a complex task such as completing a dissertation you cannot allow yourself to be managed by the variables in the environment. Simple rules help you to succeed. Rules like when I am off I am off no matter what pops into my head. Then you establish times that you are off. When you are off you are fully into that world of rest. If a thought comes to you, can you jot it onto a restaurant napkin? Sure, briefly and then ignore it. Your family and friends with you should at all times feel that you are completely focused on them.
How then do you stay away from work thoughts? You fill your time with what you like to do and nothing else. You play video games, shop, eat out with friends, amaze your kids and do nice things for your spouse. Toss in plenty of sleep, watching sports, visiting with friends and reconnecting with extended family members. Do some yard work, take a walk, jog, ride a bike or do some yoga. Listen to a lot of music that you like. Ignore that creepy and insistent feeling that you should be doing something important right now. That feeling always tries to overtake you but ignore it. Live fully in the world of relaxation during your holiday.
I assure you when you go back to your time of doctoral work that everything that you left will still be there. For the first day or so you will resent the dissertation but then a new energy flows in and you see things about the dissertation you did not see before. We are made to rest and replenish ourselves. That gets lost on doc students as the process goes on and on. Many folks start out and they are bright and clever and gifted but many do not graduate. Perhaps one of the reasons is not properly managing your own mental and physical energy.
Live in each world fully while you are in it. If you are rested and feel close to your family and friends then you will do a lot more with your dissertation work. Live completely in that world also and use your recharged internal batteries to work hard and succeed like few others have. The choices you make will have a tremendous effect upon how far you get and what you accomplish. A mentally tired doc student who is burned out will not find graduating an easy goal to accomplish.
Mind your goals,
Dr. Randy Parker
National Doctoral Students Association
(I wish each of you a restful and holiday!)