Even if personal issues or scholarly setbacks happened in the past year and half (which is how long my group exists), I have – we have – always been able to deal with it and get over it without modifying substantially our work agenda. It has to do with the solidity of the group as such, with psychological factors – and certainly, I notice it now, with the fact that, as bad as it sounded back then, it was possible to deal with it as with marginal events, without modifying the main stream of the workflow.
In that sense, it has been an new experience to have to deal with a major event that set everything back. For the first time, I really had to ask myself: When does it make sense to try and keep the normal work pace, when does it do good to take a break?
I have to deal with this question every semester. There are 2 peaks: one after 5 weeks and one 1 month before the end of the semester. I wonder how it comes that these are always the moments when the whole team is down. I won’t be teaching on a weekly basis next semester and we will see if that changes things or not.
Anyway. I still think that the job of the boss is to keep some pressure on everyone for results to actually come. This supposes that the boss him/herself works in the same logic. In the end, it all has to do with how this pressure is dosed. I have been trying to reduce the pressure on myself this past year, because I know it reduces the pressure on my group too.
The academic way of life is dangerous. When you talk to people who close the door of their office at 5:30 and re-open it the next day at 8:30 without having done a thing in between, you can measure the indecency of the expectations the whole academic system has on people’s private lives. I am usually writing a whole batch of work e-mails after putting my kids to bed, that is almost every evening between 8:30 and 10:00. I am all in all happy to get quick answers from my team and work partners, but sometimes I wish they would just ignore my e-mails. My feelings are mixed on that. What do I really wish? Happy collaborators: are those people who identify with their work on a 200% basis like I do, or people who just do their job and take decent pauses once in a while? Should I stop writing emails in the evening? (which would mean writing them over the day, when I am productive enough to do the actual work like reading, talking, writing texts)
When you come to doubt even the way you manage e-mails, it is a sure sign that you need a break. I figured that out during this past week. The first thing I did was to suppress unnecessary deadlines (the outer world has enough deadlines of its own for me not to deliberately add to those right now). The one big deadline we had was the launching of the digital edition, initially planned on July, 9th. We have postponed it to the fall. It was a wise decision, I think, at least a sensible one. I am in retrospect grateful for all the effort my team would have put in the preparation of that event – I know they would have done it, and would not even have complained that much.
But sometimes, patience is a greater help than rushing to results. Things take time, they won’t always do what you want. Even when you know you have a report on your results due in a year, your funding running out in 3, your PhD candidates not even close to starting writing, you sometimes have to take time.