Working over the break: points and counterpoints

The entire last week before the holidays felt like a Friday. Maybe this was because of the gradual attrition of people who left Montreal to fly back home early, or maybe I can attribute that feeling to the daily miscellaneous celebrations and festive activities. Still, during this extra-long weekend that are the holidays, I must face an evergreen question: will I work or not?

POINT: It would allow me to escape from relatives

  • I like my family, but after months apart, spending all day with them can be a bit much. Needing to go to the lab so passage cells – or stealing away to a coffee shop to do some computer-based work – can serve as a good excuse to have some time on my own, to take a break from family dynamics.

HOWEVER: Do I really need to work to take a break?

  • If my goal is to get away from my family, there are all kinds of ways I can do this without having to work. I could take a walk (alone or with 1-2 people), I could go run an errand on my own, I could go to a coffee shop and read for fun.


POINT: Progress sometimes happens best during downtime

HOWEVER: Important things are closed for the holidays!

  • Many of the services that keep the scientific enterprise running smoothly are shut down for the holidays. If I can’t get any sequencing done, can’t autoclave anything, and can’t get reagents or supplies from the biobar, it limits the kinds of work – and the kinds of progress – I can do.


POINT: It can assuage guilt about not working

  • After two days off in a row, I often get a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting to do something important – as if the weekend is over and it’s time to get back to work. To stave off this guilty feeling, I can do a little bit of work every couple of days.

HOWEVER: Rest is just as important to progress as work

  • Let’s start with an allegory: no matter if you are training to run a marathon or to become your most swole self, rest days are important, and to overwork is to risk undoing weeks or even months of progress.
  • Similarly, taking real breaks and time to rest is crucial for long-term productivity when it comes to work. As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang put it in his excellent book about rest, the experts who put in 10 000 hours of practice to become a master at their craft also needed 12 500 hours of rest. Instead of indulging this twinge of guilt I feel about not working, I could reframe this break as an investment in my future work.

For work that needs to be done in a specific location, the decision to work or not can be dictated by circumstances: if I’m not in Montreal, I obviously can’t just waltz into the lab. But for work that can be done anywhere, whether or not to take the holidays off is ultimately a personal decision. For myself, I’ll do my best to take a real break this year – after all, work will still be there in January.

What about you? Are you going to continue writing your paper or thesis during the holidays? Will you work now to take a month off later? Did you force yourself to take time off by hiding away in a cabin with no Wi-Fi? Leave a comment and let me know!

Header picture by @kipunsam.daily for GradLife McGill 

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