Holidays and grant deadlines: not a good combination

December. The end of the semester. The end of the year. A time for reflection on what I have accomplished and a time to plan for the next year. On a personal note, I get to take a break, travel to a fun place, catch up with friends and family, and generally decompress after the end of a long semester.
OK, who am I kidding? Given the confluence of multiple grant deadlines in January, end-of-semester madness, a January conference, and preparing for teaching next semester, I find myself frantically moving from grading final exams and papers, to preparing proposal #1 due in January, to proposal #2 also due in January, to working on my conference presentation, and then back again in one vicious cycle. To some extent, having a lot of work is normal and no big deal these days- I’ve adjusted to the multiple demands on my time. But for those submitting grants to funding agencies with preproposal deadlines in January (like me), December is now a time of added stress and work. And yes, I know that the deadlines are the same every year and I could have been working on the proposal through the fall semester. And I have been. But there are always things that come up along the way: collaborator constraints that change the schedule, new ideas that move the project in new directions, and always the last push to finalize everything, made more tricky with institutional office closures over the holidays.

I would really like to spend the holidays fully engaging with my family and not sneaking back to my room to check email, run analyses, or draft up a grant budget. Even as I dash off this blog post, part of my mind is calculating the tradeoff between spending time with friends tonight or pushing through with work so I can more fully take time off next week when I’m with my family. Do I prioritize going to see The Hobbit with friends today over a free day with my family next week, or is that a false tradeoff because work will always take whatever free time I give it? Rationally, I know that the latter is true, but it’s so hard to convince myself of that right now.
I know that many of you are stuck with a similar dilemma. So what tricks or tips do you have for me and other readers? How do you balance the added stress of the impending January deadlines with the holidays?

14 thoughts on “Holidays and grant deadlines: not a good combination

  1. Seriously.

    So far I’ve been batting away collaborator suggestions that ze will work over break during the holidays on the grant– I’ve been saying that I can’t and we need to get the bulk done before I have to drive to the rural land of little internet access. We’ll see if it works or not. If not I am going to be so miserable early January when I get back.

    • That was my original plan too. Unfortunately, for various reasons, all of us on the team did not get as much work done as we hoped prior to NOW. So I’m pushing through this week and early next to try to clear some space. Sigh.

  2. I sympathize with your post: I’ve spent holiday breaks with a laptop perched on a motel sink working on grants after the kids are asleep or holed up while visiting family to work on a proposal. However, NSF DEB posted an explanation of why they have the deadlines set the way they are at . The scheduling is done deliberately based on various constraints. I haven’t run through alternate schedules to see ones that might be better in terms of a true break at holidays while meeting their constraints, but it might be worth investigating to see if it’s possible. It’s at least clear that they’re aware of the issue and try to respond to it.

    • Yep, I’m aware that there is not really a particularly *good* time. And I really appreciate that the DEB deadline is a week (or two even) later now than during the first iteration of the preproposals. My particular issue is that the other programs I typically apply to (that still have full proposals) also have January deadlines, and they are earlier in January than the DEB deadline. But I also know that no deadline will work for everyone, and each person has their own particular set of scheduling challenges.

    • Even DEB can’t follow their own schedule. I’m still waiting on notice of a full proposal due the first week of December– we’ve been told that if we don’t hear anything by December 31st, to prepare to submit a pre-proposal (presumably without any reviewer input, which rather seems like it defeats the purpose).

  3. I don’t think anyone who is passionate about their job balances life well. Although one thing I have learnt is that in order to meet deadlines and plan for teaching, you yourself need to be healthy, relaxed and happy. The only way to deal with this is to take a break. Have a great Christmas! Enjoy the Hobbit.

    • i once heard someone say that there is no such thing as perfect balance, we would be more able to cope if we thought about “embracing the imbalance”…. it is true, we can’t do everything, we have to prioritise and sometimes that is because of deadlines, and sometimes because of a child’s school concert, and sometimes just to unwind and read a book or dead-head the roses. It is difficult not to feel guilty when you are doing A when you think B also needs doing, but it is more difficult if you think you need to always be in balance. It is easier not to feel guilty if you just accept it is “imbalance” and that is a fact of life.

      Doesn’t make it any less busy, just helps the state of mind.

      • Yep, I agree, I think the dichotomy between “work” and “life” is wrong- it’s all life! Consequently, I’ve spent most of my weekend working, but am happy to know I can take off a few days for Christmas, both physically and mentally, and recharge both body and soul.

  4. work will always take whatever free time I give it — that’s so true! But it’s easier to keep pushing through and think “oh it’s okay, I’ll get enough done, then I can really relax next week”. I’m a final year undergraduate student so your schedule is a lot more full-on than mine, but even so I find myself wanting to get everything done before Christmas: finish the coding and analysis of my fieldwork data, fill out my grad school application, apply for my university’s award for finalists (employability certificate), get started on the piece that I’m writing for a linguistics magazine, register to present my undergrad fieldwork at a conference in the spring……. And it’s just not realistic for me to get all of that done in the next four days, even though I’ve been setting my alarm earlier and earlier each morning!

    Good luck with your deadlines and I hope you manage to find some time to relax during this festive season.

    • Same to you, Grace. You sound like a fairly busy, dedicated, and capable undergrad (coding and analysis of fieldwork data? Wow!). Remember to pace yourself, especially if you’re planning on grad school. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we want wonderful undergrads such as you to succeed, not get burnt out!

      Happy holidays!

  5. Pingback: I get by with a little help from myself: making self-care a priority when times get tough | Tenure, She Wrote

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