career break

Sabbatical overwhelm

March 14, 2017

I’m writing this on a Saturday morning. I did half an hour of yoga earlier. Part of me was screaming, ‘What?! You have no time for yoga! There’s too much to do!’ The other part of me, fortunately, won by reasoning with this madwoman that I really needed to move, stretch a bit and put my mind together to calmly face my ‘to do’ list.

There is a lot to do. I haven’t done a ‘over a cuppa’ for February because there’s just been too much on mind. But be rest assured, I’ve had a cuppa beside while I wrote this post. 😉

Before I leave…

My departure marks a deadline for a research output. I need to write one more literature review and these bad boys aren’t easy. Literature reviews never seem to get any easier, no matter how many I do. A literature review is a piece of writing that identifies key studies, discussion points and developments within a field of study. Literature reviews tells a story of what’s been done to reveal the gaps where the current or future studies will fit. Enough about literature reviews.

Some will know I am chair of an advisory committee to the board of my professional association. My vice-chair and the other committee members will no doubt be fine without me. I’ll be on email, though sporadically. But there’s the 2016 annual report and a review of the committee’s manual, and an update to be provided to the board before I leave. I also need to brief my vice-chair on the duties I can and can’t do while away.

A presentation proposal I submitted to a conference in the UK earlier this year has been accepted. Another task added to the list, as I need to have the presentation almost done so there this not much to do on the road before submission in June. This is a very exciting opportunity to make my first international speaking appearance and hopefully make some new connections. I will be presenting on behalf of the advisory committee and the professional association (Australian Library and Information Association) about the issues around engaging the new generation of library and information professionals into conversation about our practice and contribution to the research literature. What’s perhaps even more exciting is that *the* Librarian of Congress is the opening keynote. I will be in such awe!

Then there’s the bits and pieces of travel planning and preparation, like

  • spanish homework and practice
  • compiling and making copies of travel documents
  • finishing tidying and clearing our house for the house sitter
  • organise money arrangements
  • appointments with the exercise physiologist and physio
  • packing and buying last minute things
  • etc

…and all this in addition to the full time job. Phew!

 Feeling overwhelmed

All this past week I’ve felt I needed a paper bag to breathe into every time I looked at my ‘to do’ list. I haven’t felt this overwhelmed in a long time – too much to do, so little time. And I’m known as a productivity ninja. But over the years, I’ve come to recognise this pattern of overwhelm, or train of thought that happens when I reach this point.

Feeling overwhelmed starts with ‘OMG’, followed by procrastination and distracting myself (cue Instagram, Twitter or anything else that’s shiny and has caught my eye) because I can hardly believe I’ll either 1) get on top of it all, and 2) make a deadline.

The biggest reason why I feel overwhelmed is because I don’t believe. This, together with my insanely high expectations of myself that I can’t see a way to scale them back to a normal and healthy level and focus on the ‘done’. Even ‘done’ takes time to achieve.

Here’s an example – literature reviews. I have a love/hate relationship with the little ba*tards. I hate research when I find myself in tears on the floor of my study because I fear I can’t do the task. I’m frustrated that I haven’t broken through the muddiness of theory and data and nothing makes sense. This is similar to how I feel when I’m overwhelmed.

Breaking through the ‘overwhelm’

I’ve come to recognise overwhelm as a break through point. This point is when I’m about to hit my stride. I finally stop with the snow balling thoughts and pull my head in. When I feel overwhelmed, I try a few different things.

  • Don’t look at my ‘to do’ list every 20 minutes, or just frequently, or try to re-arrange the ‘to do’ list so it looks even more organised. This doesn’t get sh*t done. The list ain’t going anywhere, that’s why I wrote it down in the first place. Unless there are things I can push back or take off that list.
  • Think about why I feel overwhelmed. Is it the volume? Is it my own expectations? A deadline? Combination of all three?
  • Have a cup of tea. It’s amazing how much my mindset can change if I just pause, take a breath and have a cuppa.

When we become anxious or overwhelmed, our minds can start believing our thoughts, and these thoughts, when given more and more attention, can snowball out of control. We start to believe those thoughts. Our thoughts are not facts. So the next time you feel overwhelmed, have a cuppa, think about what’s on your plate with a more rational mind and then proceed with a plan of action to tackle that list.

2017, bring it on!

January 5, 2017

A new year brings optimism, opportunity and a fresh start. I’ve been looking forward to 2017. Excited, yet overwhelmed by what’s in store. Keeping well and achieving goals will look like challenging my self-belief (and growing some), balancing and managing my energy across all I have planned, committed to and want to do, and generally, smashing some goals.

After spending the better part of last year wondering about my next career step, next fitness goals and patiently awaiting for 2017, a couple of big, big things came together in 2016’s final weeks.

The first thing is a new job which I start next week. Unexpected opportunity, but awesome.

The second thing is having made the first travel bookings of what will be a sabbatical.

Yes. A sabbatical. A career break. Overseas.

A new job and a sabbatical this year?

Well, the two coincided. The sabbatical has been in the works for over 18 months or so. But I couldn’t, not have applied for this job. The job description could have been written for me, if the comments from colleagues and peers were to go by. And I really hope it is. I feel like this job is an indication of having ‘arrived’ in my career and profession, stepping into ‘big girl shoes’. I no longer feel like an early career professional. I’m now a professional who is hired not only to experience and grow but also to impart my knowledge and expertise and make an impact.

I was up front with my plans in the interview, and was prepared for my plans to be a deal breaker. All I could do was be honest and put my plans on the table, out in the open. I was fine with not getting the job because 1) I knew the sabbatical is absolutely the right thing to do for me and my husband and I’s relationship, and 2) if I didn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be. Turns out, one of the interview panel had taken six months off in the past and she described it as the best thing she’d done for her career. I was not expecting that!

I’ll explain more about the sabbatical in another post, but for now, I’ll just say I’m terrified of this trip, which is all the more reason to break out of the comfort zone and the ‘every day’ routine, to just ‘be’ for a while and come out the other side a better person and a more effective professional.

My word for this year

This year is full steam ahead and is about enjoying the jigsaw puzzle pieces that have finally fallen into place. My word for 2017 is ‘oomph’.



It’s time to embrace and enjoy, be present and commit to all that is important to me. This includes bringing out my best self when it comes to my new job and facing challenges during the travel adventures. I’m ready to give my all.

By living with this word, I hope that by the end of 2017 I will have:

  • developed strategies for sticking to my priorities and not allowing myself to over commit
  • achieved more by focusing on less stuff (not be so scattered)
  • more writing done
  • built self-confidence

My 2017 would be awesome if I make strides in the new job, make the most of the sabbatical by letting adventures unfold, love each day, keep a journal (and this blog) and still have energy leftover at the end of the year for all the homely things I like to do for Christmas such as baking, decorating and hosting family and friends.

Goals for 2017

  1. publish six blog posts a month
  2. climb Machu Picchu
  3. present at a professional conference
  4. make at least one, behind the scenes, international library visit
  5. keep a travel journal
  6. limit the number of freak outs when travels don’t follow the plan

If you haven’t set a direction for 2017 or set some goals, I recommend setting yourself up somewhere quiet for half an hour with a cup of tea, or other beverage of your choosing (mine was a glass of red 🙂 ). Try not to think too hard as this is more about taking a pause to consider your intentions for this year – the ‘what’, not the ‘how’. Consider what might be different for you if you embraced your word; what might stop you and how you can overcome obstacles such as bad habits or patterns of thinking.

I wish you all the very best for 2017.

What do you hope to achieve? Are there any changes you’re looking to make? What new habits will you develop to better take care of yourself?