It's a vacation, but it's also a holiday

Image credit: Max Pixel

Since the end of term, I’ve been so busy with other things that, at times, I’ve almost had to remind myself that I’m doing a degree. Right at the start at December, I travelled for a political and cultural exchange programme, and now, I have to finish off my Christmas shopping, then there’s Christmas itself, my birthday, and a trip to Scotland. Combine this with jet lag, and a touch of post-Michaelmas burnout, and it’s probably hard to imagine that I’ve got any work done at all.

Even if that were true, it wouldn’t really be a bad thing. I’m a very strong believer in taking breaks, and that’s the main advice I’d give to anyone daunted by their vacation workload. No matter how clever your DoS felt telling you that “it’s a vacation, not a holiday”, it is simply not healthy for a person to work non-stop throughout the year. It also isn’t necessary, or even academically helpful, as it has been shown that taking breaks is important for productivity. It is so important to rest and relax – not just for the sake of your work, but for your mental, emotional and physical health.

Equally, it may only make you more anxious in the long run if you do very little work over the break, and so I would recommend doing it in small bites. On Saturday, for example, I was waiting for my family for half an hour so we could do some Christmas shopping, so I looked at some reading that I’d started that morning. Though I only had thirty minutes, I still managed to take half a page of notes, which saved me time when I sat down for a bigger work session the next day. As this is a very busy period, I find it stressful to set aside large chunks of time where I must work, as it seems that things can come up at any time. Instead, I like to work a little bit at a time, and then feel rewarded that I’ve got something done when I would normally have been scrolling through Instagram.

When you do work, it feels quite miserable to trawl through dense, old books in the freezing cold. You are not even surrounded with people on the same boat, as you would be if you were in the UL or working with friends. It’s hard not to feel jealous of your home friends and family members who have completed their winter exams, and now get to relax for a month. To counter this, I like to almost trick myself into thinking my work is interesting. For example, when reading through dry social theory, I make it interesting for myself by pondering how it applies to my everyday life, and the lives of people I know. Sometimes, I’ll also make nice playlists that I associate with individual papers or topics, and then listen to these playlists whenever I’m working on those. This means that, rather than being terrified of studying logistic regression, I find myself excited to listen to some banging tunes as I do so.

 Ultimately, the key to balancing work with life during the vacation is to be kind to yourself. I believe that there is no good at all in pushing yourself harder than you feel comfortable with, especially after you’ve put in eight very tough weeks at Cambridge. When you do work, it is very important to treat yourself nicely and patiently, and it is essential to allow yourself to take breaks. After all, it is a vacation, but it should also be a holiday.

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