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5 Tips for a Better Life and Work Balance During Winter Break

5 Tips for a Better Life and Work Balance During Winter Break
December 12, 2017
By Desirée de Jesus

Book series: Choose your own adventure

I love winter break. But maybe not for all the reasons you might think. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve looked forward to the onset of the winter break and the promise of unstructured time that allowed me to pursue my own interests. I would borrow from the library as many books as I was able and would park myself in front of the Turner Classic Movies channel for as long as I could get away with it. I also enjoyed seeing family members who lived in other cities, eating delicious specialty foods, and huddling with cousins in the cold, as we cheered on our porch for a Santa Claus who visited local neighborhoods on a fire truck (not a sleigh) and distributed candy canes. When it snowed heavily it was all the better because I could squirrel away in a corner by the window, where I could watch the snow fall and read a good book. It was nerd heaven.

Now that I’m older, winter break still holds the same level of promise and wonder for me. I still look forward to reading fiction and watching movies, but throughout the years I’ve also discovered other forms of knowledge production that are rooted in making, play, and collaboration. This year, I’d like to complete a couple nearly-finished video essays about girls in narrative film and make some progress on a text-based game that draws on my doctoral research. I have plans to bake cookies with friends while watching trashy Christmas movies and plans to try out new recipes. I’ve even purchased two video games featuring female protagonists that I can’t wait to play. There is just something so very refreshing about undertaking projects with short timelines that I can enjoy right away!

And, because it’s tempting to pack in all of the things I’ve wanted to do but have been unable to because of term-time commitments, it’s very important that I proceed with caution. Like many emerging scholars, I’m energized by research and sometimes find it difficult to not turn everything that interests me into a potential project. These days there’s so much great television being made, it’s hard not to make an extracurricular interest do double-duty. Binge-watching that new show on Netflix that also happens to present an interesting critique of X? Turn it into an article and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal! Discover a certain tendency in holiday movies to do Y? Expand the screening selection and explore how Y operates in similar films!

Now that final essays are marked and grades are turned in, I’m looking forward to adopting a much slower pace. For a couple weeks, my pattern of rising early to work on my dissertation chapters will be put on hold. The work will still be there for me when it’s time to get back to it and my return with “fresh eyes” always brings a new perspective that enriches my writing. Experience has shown me that having this distance helps me sort through the tricky theoretical bits or discover new connections between pieces of data. I have also learned that creating a plan of action for when I resume my writing gives a clear point of entry that helps me get back into things quickly. This important step helps me to stay present during the holidays and avoid feeling guilty about having an extended break from my doctoral work.

Here are a more few tips to help you develop a better life and work balance during the holiday season:

  1. It may go without saying, but if you have to continue working try to avoid scheduling labor-intensive tasks and intense social/family activities on the same day.
  2. Do you spend most of your time reading or looking at screens (e.g. computer monitor or television) during term? Rediscover activities like playing board and card games. Listen to audiobooks (you can borrow some from your local library) and podcasts.
  3. Afraid you’ll lose momentum if you stop working on your project? Set aside a reasonable amount of time for specific tasks and enlist your friends and family in helping you avoid overworking. Work always expands to the amount of time you give it.
  4. Sometimes we can become very me-focused while doing research. Use this time as an opportunity to do something good for others.
  5. If possible, make larger portions when cooking or baking and freeze them for use during term. I like to make and freeze cookie dough.

What are some things that you can do to make space for an extended break? What do you like to do over the holidays to recharge and gain new perspective?

About the author

Desirée de Jesus is a PhD candidate in Film and Moving Images at Concordia. Her research has received various scholarships, namely the Bourse d’études Hydro-Québec de l’Université Concordia and a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. She is currently producing a series of video essays about girls in popular culture and video walkthroughs of games featuring playable female characters.

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