Tips for Regaining Research Momentum After a Break

Woman peeking out the window through the blinds.

Aaaaah… sunshine, beach days, bike rides, ice creams! (Or for the indoorsy types: guilt-free Netflix and reading!) The long hot Kiwi summer is a thing of glory, but it can make the prospect of going back to work less than appealing.

So how do you break out of holiday mode and get your brain back to some form of productivity? Here are some tips.

Connect with peers

It can be very lonely returning to an individual research project with the university half-empty *gazes at tumbleweed blowing past office.* The campus might not be buzzing just yet, but you can manufacture the same energy by connecting (or re-connecting) with peers in the research community.

Join an AUT Research Students’ Peer Group; participate in our Shut Up and Write! online sessions; or join a professional community related to your research topic. Whatever your chosen mode of connection, some human contact (especially with people who understand the researcher life) can make the transition back to work a little friendlier; and the conversation can inspire new ideas.

Focus on small, achievable tasks first

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of marking ‘tick, tick, tick’ on your to-do list. It’s satisfying, energising, and gets you back into the swing of things quickly. So for your first day or week back, identify some quick wins. What can you achieve swiftly? What are your entry-level tasks?

It might be that something intellectually undemanding like clearing emails, returning library books, or tidying your workspace is perfectly achievable while your brain is still on holiday. Do those easy things first, build up a sense of momentum, and save the big overwhelming tasks for when your cognitive powers are back online.

Do some inspirational reading

When a relationship feels like work, many therapists recommend exercises that remind the couple why they fell in love. Likewise, when your research feels unappealing (compared to, say, a game of beach volleyball), try remembering why your topic excited you in the first place.

A great way to regain your passion is by reading something that truly inspires you. Find out about the most innovative blue skies research in your field, or re-read the book or paper that originally inspired your research. Alternatively, if your research might help solve real-world problems, try reading some personal accounts of how people have been impacted by those problems. Give yourself a reminder of why your research is important and urgent.

Take a long-term view of productivity

It’s hard to get a lot done when you first return to work after a break. This can sometimes feel like failure or under-performance. But think long-term: what do you want to achieve in the next few months? The next year? And what can you do initially to support those goals? Planning and laying the foundation for long-term productivity is, in itself, a form of productivity. So even if you don’t write a paper or make a Nobel-worthy discovery your first week back (and who does?) you can still feel good about gaining traction.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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