In previous entries of my sabbatical diary, one topic that arose was how to handle expansive periods of unstructured time. It’s an area with which I had a lot of concern when I started, for sure. I don’t have a history of working well when I have huge blocks of time. On a previous post, englishwlu offered some great suggestions on this point. I really do not have much to add to those points except to emphasize the need for flexibility and experimentation in both what you do when and where you do it.
Though on sabbatical, you may still have to structure your day around partners, kids, parents, volunteer work, or other commitments. Such obligations will, of course, come first. After that, you may feel what I did: a glorious sense of freedom followed by an increasing sense of pressure to use your time well. As I have already described, when I arrived in New York City for my fellowship, I certainly felt the excitement, which I tried to temper with a cautious optimism. In my first few weeks in the city, I figured out what to do by wandering consciously. In other words, I expected to work in the library, and I would wander its nearly dozen floors finding the right space. What I found, though, was that every seat in the entire place was often taken. Students filled every table every time of day. That threw me a bit, but the campus is filled with other buildings, and I had already been in a couple. I remembered some quiet corners here and there, and I searched for them, finding more along the way. (Special Hint: If a building has been recently renovated, go there first; you may find new comfy chairs in the hallways or lounges, some with workspaces for laptops and such attached.)
After a couple of weeks, I had a list of a few places I could go to work. I should note that I am someone who does not always work well at home. I am very lucky to have an apartment in the city, but I quickly regarded it as a place to get away from work. I get more done away from home in libraries and coffee shops. I know this about myself and did not try to change when my sabbatical began. That is not the time to try to alter work habits, especially if those habits have enabled you to reach the place in your career where you want to be. If I wanted a nice view of all the traffic and tourists on Broadway, I knew a couple of spots in one building. If I wanted a quiet corner with little traffic, I knew where to find that. Most importantly, if something changed (a lecture taking place in what was normally an empty room next to that quiet corner or groups of students hanging out in the hallways to see professors during registration time), I tried my best to flow along with the change, shifting from revising in one place to reading in another.
Flexibility and experimentation are key in almost all aspects of sabbatical life. I feel I have had a productive time so far, but I have done only half of what I thought I would do by now. The other half has been filled with work that felt right for the time and space I had available. Even I’m not exactly sure what all I will have done when this ends next year, but that’s part of the fun since I am working steadily.
When you have large blocks of time and flexibility about what you do with it (and where), how do you decide what to do? Have you noticed your methods changing based upon the kind of work you are doing or because new projects demand new tactics? Let us know in the comments!