One of the strategies I often use to help my clients get more done is to time their progress to match up to their vacations. Let me explain what I mean.

Very often, dissertation students will try and use all of their vacation time as a way to “make up” work. They take their laptops, books, papers on vacation with them, with the idea that they will work some each day while on vacation with their spouses, family, friends.

Yes, sometimes this happens. However, more of the time, you end up lugging 10 lbs. of dissertation supplies and never really use them. I think that’s a wasted effort.

On the most basic level, it speaks to ambivalence about whether you are on vacation or you are working. When you are ambivalent about what you’re doing, you usually don’t give your best to either effort- you will neither be a good vacationer (because you feel you should be working on the dissertation) nor will you be a good dissertator (because you feel you want to be enjoying your vacation.)

Living in this kind of ambivalence is emotionally costly- and exhausting.

So, instead, what I recommend, and coach my clients to do is this: Time your progress to match your vacations. Here’s how it works. When you know you have a vacation or planned time off coming up, especially if you are traveling or going to be away, I recommend, as usual, that you set a clear and defined goal for your progress.

I suggest that you tie the completion of a notable piece of work- perhaps a section, a chapter, something- to the day or two before you leave for your vacation. Completing the day or two before gives you some time to pack and get ready to leave, which is also nice- you complete your dissertation work on Tuesday, let’s say, and then have Wednesday and Thursday to pack and get ready to leave on Thursday night.

What this also means, then, is if you finish a notable segment of dissertation work before vacation- you don’t have to take any materials with you on vacation. I’m a big fan of traveling without dissertation materials when you are supposed to be on vacation. This means no notes. No books. No papers. And maybe not even your laptop, unless you use it for other things besides dissertation work.

Even if you have the best intentions of getting work done on your vacation, it is not really common that this happens, especially not at the level you plan. Plus- and this is equally important- the dissertation is a marathon, not a windsprint. If you are involved in the dissertation process for a year (and many of you will be involved longer than this)- it’s not realistic to think that you can work without stopping year after year after year with no real vacation or break.

This is even more true if you have other responsibilities aside from the dissertation, such as full time work, or full time family care. We are not machines, we are people. And people need time to rest, and relax, and to have measurable milestones in the achievement of their goals.

Timing your dissertation work to your vacation is one way of putting in some kind of marker of your progress. Even if you’re afraid that you’ll never return to your dissertation work if you stop working, you should try it anyway. Mostly, anyway, you’re probably spending more time thinking about the dissertation than you are actually working on it. All I’m proposing is that you make your mental effort commensurate with your physical effort.

There is so much that gets tangled in the dissertation process. You think about it all the time, even if you never work on it. You think you have to take it on vacation with you, and deny yourself rest and relaxation that you probably need. Nobody can work without stopping for rest- not even you.

So, if you want to make some notable progress on your dissertation, look at what you can complete before you leave on vacation, and then feel good about you achieve. Have a relaxing break and lots of fun while you are gone, and then come back refreshed, ready to run your next lap.