balance · day in the life · kid stuff

Guest post: academic rituals, life rituals

This from Lynn Siemens, whom I have shamelessly harassed for a couple of months to do a guest post. If I have met you (yes, YOU, I’m looking at you, you know who you are, all dozen or so of you) you know that you promised to write one, too, you did. Make blogging an essential part of your summer …

Thanks, Lynn!


A few months ago, Aimée asked about the kinds of things that we do to relax (see the post for some excellent suggestions.) Over the past while, I got to thinking about some of these strategies, but from a different perspective, that is, a focus on those rituals that gets us through each day as we balance work, life, and everything else that comes our way.

It has been one of those months, which work-wise has included writing conference papers, traveling to the conferences (across multiple time zones and multiple airports), recovering from said conferences, delivering a five day workshop and hosting related social events, and preparing for sabbatical (who knew this actually took time?). At the same time, on the home front, the work travel prompt various activities, including delivering and picking up dogs from the kennel, stocking the fridge with food so children and grandparents could eat while I was at above mentioned conferences and preparing lists of activities with maps. And there is, of course, the regular family and home life, which included getting the garden ready for the summer (perhaps more, accurately, finally getting around to the fall clean up), driving children all over the city, attending the numerous “end of the school year” events at children’s schools, and of course, watching the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals (Hopefully, by the time this is posted, the Canucks will have won [ed: oops. Sorry Lynn, there was a riot, too. I should have posted this sooner].) Needless to say, this has not left a lot of extra time for me, not that I necessarily want or need lots, or am even complaining. (For the record, I love my family and work!)

But, I realize that I have certain rituals to my day that serve to create that space that I need to accomplish the above with some sense of good nature and grace (you will have to ask my family if I am at all successful with this goal.)

For me, my day does not feel right until I have had my coffee, read the Globe and Mail newspaper and completed the Sudoku puzzle. This is a ritual that I attempt to continue even when I am traveling or super busy and should probably be writing that conference paper, answering emails, attending to children and spouse, and the various other things on my to do list instead of “playing games”. Despite the time these activities take away from other things, these rituals create the mental space I need for the day and to accomplish the above list. So important is this activity, that if I don’t have time before I need to begin work, I will carry the puzzle with me and find a few minutes to finish it. For me, this does not count as relaxation because relaxation should come after the hard work. In fact, this ritual must happen so that I can do the work and other necessary activities (hard or not).

So, as we look forward to a summer of work and rest, what are the rituals that will be an integral part of your day, without which no day is complete?

4 thoughts on “Guest post: academic rituals, life rituals

  1. I need to gain some new tips from comments here, so I just tweeted this in hopes that others will respond. This is only my second summer in 13 years not teaching. Last summer, I had surgery (so, forced rest). This summer, my idea was that I'd finally have that replenishing time I need. Well, I allowed myself to say “yes” to facilitating a summer institute (only four half-days, but still…) and another “yes” to continuing to serve an extra month on a Gates Foundation grant that I've been on this academic year. It's very difficult to say “no” from both a professional and, quite frankly, financial perspective. These “extra jobs” are usually stipended–quite well–at a time when step increases have been and will remain nonexistent.

    My only ritual that I've been able to hold is that after I drop my kids off to school/camp/preschool, the next hour is devoted to some sort of physical activity. I protect it with my life, even though it is often so tempting to reclaim that hour and just go back on my laptop. I sign up for 1/2 marathons or other events because then I literally cannot miss the physical piece for any long stretch of time.

    I need more rituals! I look forward to what others have to say.
    Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof


  2. Great post, thank you!

    My ritual starts with early (early!) morning yoga. Even when I climb out of bed foggy-headed and resenting my alarm (which is most days) I finish feeling calm(ish/er) and prepared to settle to work.

    I also take semi-regular breaks to take short walks with my pup Felix.

    I'm hoping we'll see some other suggestions because I too would love some new ideas.


  3. This is weird, but I have this habit of putting off showering on days I don't have to go to campus. I'll be all, “I'm just going to start writing as soon as the family drives away / I drop them off.” But then I don't. I futz around in my pjs and feel icky and sticky and don't get much done.

    So. For me, I have to shower, even if I just put on another, clean pair of pajamas. The day doesn't start until then.

    * except if it's summer and a yoga morning, in which case I hop out of bed, put on the yoga duds, bike to my class, THEN come home and shower.


  4. I have a few (quite a few-I'm a bit compulsive) rituals that I can't do without in getting my work done without feeling irritated or anxious. Heading to the gym first thing (at an hour lots of academics find unthinkable) is totally necessary to get my blood and my brain in gear, as is the cup of coffee I drink afterwards; I also listen to a fun, non-academic book while I work out, which is great incentive to get out of bed and gets my brain in language-mode first thing. I also HAVE to leave the house to work. I sit in the same place at the library every day, which is its own little ritual. And I MUST set out what I'm planning to do that day in my day planner before I begin. It takes a couple of minutes, but it means that I'm never forgetting to do something important, or failing to prioritize properly. I also turn the internet off, as I'm more easily distractable than I would like.


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