Thanksgiving week is a time that my students have off, so it is a particularly good time for me to try to stop thinking about work for a little while. However, a few things stand in the way, namely emails, goals, and unfinished projects.
Emails are the most obvious one; I automatically check email whenever I log onto a computer and often when I open my cellphone, so I am instantly informed of anything going on at work. Never mind that, this week in particular, most of the emails are big-group emails and don’t have anything to do with me. I still read them, and sadly, I still think about them and let them occupy my headspace.
To detox from email, I give myself two “checks” a day: one in the morning, and one in the evening, after dinner but not right at bedtime. I do what I have to do (usually nothing) and I avoid the thoughts the rest of the time.
Goals are harder; I spend 40 or more hours a week trying to figure out what directions I need to go with my work, so it can be tough to turn off the mind-wandering part of my brain that wants to plan. Especially now, 3 years into my job with not a lot of change in responsibility, the ability to make the job go in a productive, new, and interesting direction is available, but I cannot just magically know where to take my work. I have to plan!
To stop planning as much during breaks, I try to, paradoxically, plan on purpose for a few minutes when I have a waiting moment. I might plug a few notes into my cell phone or Best Self Journal. This way, I know for sure that I’ve thought about the goals and gotten them on “paper” or paper, leading me to stop dwelling on those ideas.
Finally, unfinished threads: I didn’t finish planning my class for next semester, and there are a million small things to resolve as the semester concludes in 3 weeks. It’s so hard not to want to keep working even though I know that there is time enough to efficiently do my work when I get back!
The best way to avoid thinking about the unfinished threads, I find, is to fill my days with activities. I’m not a person who loves total-relaxation vacations, but even a game of backgammon with family or a good book is enough to make the buzz in my brain about unfinished work quiet down a bit.
I feel lucky that I have more than just a weekend this year to think through how to get my work thoughts out and make space for other thoughts of friendship and family, gratitude and community.