Susan Cox: ‘Tis the season for a sabbatical

Susan Cox

By Susan Cox
For The Republic

I recently read an article by Angela Watson, an educator and instructional coach, encouraging educators to take a sabbatical from Dec 24-Jan 1. Teachers don’t generally work during this time, but Watson suggests teachers don’t even think about work during this sabbatical. Not all of us are educators, but most of us do have some time off between Christmas and New Year’s and a break from thinking about work could be beneficial for all of us and give us the opportunity to be fully present in our personal lives.

Watson suggests a variety of ways to spend your time during this break such as time for yourself, time for your family, time to do nothing, and/or time to do activities on your bucket list. She counsels: “There is no right or wrong way to take a sabbatical. Make it work for you and the people who are important to you. Whatever works for your schedule and needs and lifestyle is what you should do.

The only guiding principle is no work. If you start thinking about school, jot down your worry or your fun project idea or reminder or whatever that thought was, and look at it on January 3rd. You won’t forget if it’s written down, but you don’t need to think about it over your sabbatical. Take the time to give yourself a true break from school.” (You can find the whole article on Watson’s website:

One of my sons, who is currently in graduate school, is doing something similar this Christmas vacation. The past couple of years he would come visit for about two weeks during his school break, but he would have to keep working on his research. He didn’t like feeling torn between family time and research time, so this year he decided to only come for six days so he can enjoy his time with family without worrying about his research while he is here.

You might not be able to take several days off, but perhaps you could give yourself smaller breaks from work or just from the busyness of life. Olga Mecking in The New York Times article “The Case for Doing Nothing” suggests we take regular breaks “to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless.” Such idleness can lead to daydreaming, which has been shown to make “us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.”

To build in time for doing nothing, Mecking suggests we figure out when our minds start to shut off and plan breaks for that time. She also encourages us to “take advantage of convenient opportunities to practice idleness, like when you’re standing in line or waiting for the children to come home from school.” Making a place in your home where you can do nothing, with your devices out of reach, is another of Mecking’s suggestions.

I like to get things done and feel productive, but taking short breaks to do nothing or a longer sabbatical break can help us be more productive. If we just keep going and going and going, we run out of energy, which diminishes our productivity and can lead to burnout. I encourage you to take a sabbatical or just small breaks from work to rest and rejuvenate.