When I meet new people and tell them I work in education, the first thing they usually mention is how awesome it must be to get summers off. I can't disagree — it's wonderful. But having all that time off can make it difficult to go back to work full time, especially in a profession that requires so much of me.
In my first few years, I would get blue at the start of July and bemoan the fact that I must return to exhausting days of teaching, planning, grading, talking, etc. I would think, I love my job. Why am I so anxious to go back to work? I felt so guilty about enjoying my summer that I prevented myself from enjoying my last few weeks of my time off. What?
After several years of practice, I've identified a process that makes it easier for me to return to work in August with a good attitude. I've shared my steps and goals here, and I hope they are helpful for you if you also find that your transition back to work is difficult after returning from a lovely vacation you don't want to end.
Step 1: Reminisce on the Best Parts of Your Time Off
It's so helpful for me to reflect on my summer and purposefully identify what made it so enjoyable. Remember that your time off is meant to be enjoyed and that you'll have more memories to create next summer.
Some of my 2017 summer highlights are:
Chris and I traveled to northern Italy, Amsterdam, and Iceland.
I experienced the "Mexico: 1900-1950" exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art where I saw The Two Fridas and serendipitously bumped into my friend on her birthday.
I leaned into my down time and spent several afternoons reading murder mysteries in the pool.
I started this blog!
I took thousands of photos (yes, literally) on my new DSLR and have learned so much about the art and skill of photography.
Step 2: Plan for Success
The week before I'm scheduled to return to work, I plan out what I want my school year to look like. I name my goals; I make a mock schedule for a typical week; I set a bedtime for myself; I plan out my meals and what I'll wear for my first week back. I decide what is most important for me to succeed for the ten months ahead.
Yes, things change. No, I don't always stick to my schedule exactly. But I like to begin with the end in mind. I ask myself what I want for the school year and I decide how to accomplish those goals.
Some of my goals for this year are to:
Get to Work Early
Most teachers at my school share a classroom with a peer in her department. I love this arrangement, and I think sharing a workspace is essential for teachers to learn from each other and grow our own skills. However, a shared workspace also makes it hard to prepare for my day if I arrive at the same time as my classroom-mate.
This year I'd like to arrive to work an hour early so I have time to drink my coffee and prepare for my day with fewer distractions.
Sleep 8 Hours Each Night
I need my sleep! So, in keeping with my "Get to Work Early" goal, I must go to bed on time. I use the "Bedtime" function on my iPhone's alarm, which reminds me when it's one hour before my bedtime so I have time to prep for the next day and get to bed on schedule.
In that hour before I go to bed, I accomplish my nightly routine: I pack my lunch, I set out my clothes for the morning, I shower, I do the mini crossword on my New York Times Crossword app, Chris and I talk about our days and what tomorrow looks like, and we read. This ritual helps my brain settle down and know that it's time to sleep.
The food I eat directly correlates with how I feel. If I eat sugar, wheat, corn, and dairy I experience brain fog and stomach cramps; I get eczema on my face, arms, and legs; my temper has a shorter fuse; and I feel more anxious about little annoyances. If I eat healthfully (whole foods like lean meats, eggs, veggies, and fruits), I rarely experience these issues.
Since I have noticed this connection with food and health, you'd think it would be easy to eat only what helps me feel my best. Well, it's still hard to say no to yummy foods that are easier to grab-and-go when I am busy.
In order to help myself eat healthfully, I plan out my meals on the weekend for the work week so I don't have to wonder about what I should pack for lunch or make for dinner. I spend Sunday afternoons making my lunches and I take a few minutes each evening to pack my lunch and snacks for the next day.
Step 3: Decide on Your Non-Negotiables
When I set my goals for the year, I've only started the process for attaining them. In order to follow through, I have to decide what I will need to accept or decline.
For me, this means I start saying no in August. I can loosen up as the school year progresses, but I am strict on myself at the very beginning. I say no so I can say yes to starting the school year strong. It can feel lame or limiting, but these restrictions are necessary to feel my best and help me accomplish what is important to me.
Do I want to get to work an hour early each morning?
An earlier start time is saying yes to a quiet morning so I am prepared for my day; it's also saying no to going to bed later or sleeping in. It may also mean saying no to watching, say, Game of Thrones on Sunday night so I can be my best self at work on Monday.
Do I want to eat healthfully so I feel my best?
I must say no to even glancing at the sugary snacks in the breakroom. If I look at those foods with interest, I'm already half-way gone. Sometimes I give in — I'm human; but I feel so much better when I say yes to food that nourishes my mind and my body.
When I take the time to reminisce, plan, and decide on my non-negotiables, I am able to return to work with a good attitude. I hope that hearing about my process for going back to work is helpful for you to do the same!
How do you plan to return to work with pep in your step? Do you plan like I do, or do these steps come naturally? Please share what works best for you!