“It is the end of the year, and my dissertation is not quite finished”.

Is the festive season the time to “push” your dissertation, or is it time to take time off from your studies to recharge?

“A perfect storm!”

As universities close down for a week or two, corporate offices effectively also close for a week or so and you have, by no coincidence, a week or two’s leave – well, what a quandary?! To add some additional pressure, your family has convinced you to take leave to “recharge”. A “perfect storm” for any postgraduate student!

Then, as your leave is approved and everyone is excitedly looking forward to a few relaxing days, a nagging little voice tells you “two weeks will be a great time to push your dissertation”!

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“Feeling Guilty?”

Feeling guilty about all your conflicting demands is natural. To ignore those feelings is not. If you don’t think this through carefully, you will most likely feel mentally drained by the end of the “wonderful” few days leave – feeling guilty that you could not progress with your studies, nor spent proper time with your family and loved ones.

Everyone and everything is desperate for your time and you can quickly end up neither rested nor ready for the “New Year”.

The pressure today is “always-on!”

I can likely surmise that as a postgraduate student, you are an “achiever” type of person. A person that realises very well that the pressure of today is to be “always-on” – relentlessly and likely to breaking point if you are not careful.

Balance – easy does it

“Balance” – the magic word, whatever it means to you personally. Perhaps you can consider three main approaches or options here:

1. Take time off from your studies

By taking a few weeks off from your studies can make a big difference to your academic success in the new year!

Yes, time to get distance from your studies and to recharge your batteries, perhaps to reflect and think, to come back energised and to tackle your dissertation head-on.

Why will it work? Balancing your “studies” with “life” and your “work” is complicated. Taking a break is a great way to clear your mind and to ready yourself for the new year!

When will it work? If you will allow yourself to relax and enjoy the few weeks off, spend quality time with family and loved ones – way to go!

When will it not work?  If you take your laptop with, or if you feel guilty for taking time off.

2.Write, write… Move your studies meaningfully forward

The rationale is that if you can spend a focussed few weeks, you will get your dissertation done quicker and “off your back”. The quit pro quo: “I will spend double the quality time with my family once I am done with my studies!”

Why will it work? Overcoming the “guilt” of not having progressed “sufficiently” with your dissertation during the past months.

When will it work? If you have a solid project plan and working in a targeted manner. Time is precious, and you must know precisely how you will maximise your time.

You must, however, have your family fully on board with your decision or it will undo all the potential good of this option.

When will it not work?  (1) If you cannot potentially finish your dissertation by the next holidays. Remember the promise to your family – “just this last time”. (2) If you do not have a proper project plan for those study weeks. If you waste time, you will feel even more guilty! (3) Your family resent your decision and your studies. You may end up without a support system…

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3. Balanced – Write one week, family the second week

The rationale will be that you will split your time to address the academic “necessity” of maintaining writing momentum, but you acknowledge that your family and friends miss you and the need to spend time with them.

Why will it work? You get the best of “both worlds!”

When will it work? If you are disciplined to stick to the plan – focussed writing with your dissertation AND then to put your laptop away and to focus on your family and friends for a relaxing time (with a BIG PS-note – to enjoy it whole-heartedly and without guilt!)

When will it not work?  (1) If you are going to worry about your studies during the family and friends part – let your hair loose! (2) If you split the time unevenly (whichever way)!

In closing, I guess you would like to know which option I chose with my last studies (which was my MBA)? Option Two. Do I regret it?  Yes. In hindsight, I should have chosen Option 3, a balanced approach. It is simply amazing how important it is to recharge for the new year!

Dr Christiaan Mostert

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