As I returned from my holiday last May, I realized that my work cycles through the following four phases:
- Returning from a break: When I return from a break, my mailbox is so full that I know I will need weeks to get a grip on it again. I almost regret that I took a break (almost, but not quite). I’m also behind because there’s work that was left unfinished before I went on a break. I entertain the idea of simply deleting all emails and starting with a clean slate. I also need to pencil in extra meetings to touch base with everyone to see how things went while I was gone.
- Midway mud: I have more grip on my pending tasks and incoming emails, but have the feeling I am not really finishing anything. Things are moving along slowly, and there are little fires everywhere that require my constant attention. I chase my own tail and don’t get enough sleep. I contemplate just putting in more hours on a weekend to finish some emails that are going stale, but decide against it.
- Rushing towards a break: A break is on the horizon and I still have 128346 pending items. I try to get as much done as possible, but know that there will be always pending tasks. I also need to schedule extra meetings to coordinate what needs to be done while I am gone. I worry that I really shouldn’t be taking time off because I’m too busy. Then I set my out of office reply and vow to myself not to check my emails while I’m on a break.
- Taking a break: I take a break, but refresh my mailbox a few times during the day just in case. I log in to manuscript central from my phone and fume at the comments of reviewer 2, and mull over them for the next two days while also trying not to think about work. On my way back, I feel both happy because I took a break and disheartened because I know I will start with a backlog again.
Does this cycle sound familiar to you? Have you found a way to escape this hamsterwheel?