The to-do lists and schedules I make for vacations are meticulous and glow with a sense of achievability. Each day is carefully divided between exercise, little projects, schoolwork and meals with friends and family. Every hour seems so full of promise — right up to the one when I pack the books I’ve hardly looked at into my suitcase. Invariably, that initial sense of achievability turns out to be an illusion. Still, I find that each year the awakening is equally rude. Now I’m back in New Haven, with what, really, to show for the past week?

My freshman spring break, I read Madame Bovary and 800 pages of War and Peace and wrote multiple papers. I remember very little from that period, except a tinge of sadism and the fact that it nearly killed off the relationship I was in at the time. Still, in my memory it lives on as a glowing standard I’ll never again be able to match. In recent years, I’ve come back from breaks more frustrated by lack of progress than renewed by time off. This year I’ve achieved no more (perhaps less, even) than in past years, but I’m trying to reframe the way I gauge the time I spent at home.

It’s all too easy to excuse my failure to produce writing, to read, to do research with the time spent with friends and family, in full nights of sleep and homemade ice cream. Though I love my friends and family and the time I spent with them, this still feels somewhat hollow when I have nothing at all to show for it heading into finals.

So instead, I’m trying to think of the break as an experiment in slow-but-steady productivity — papers as pot roasts, not quick breads. There’s a difference between doing nothing and letting something percolate. When I think about an essay through an entire workout class but don’t write a word, I still return to campus better equipped to make an argument in a format that I can turn in to a professor. Talking to my little brother about the paper I should have been writing helped me to realize that really, the topic was deathly boring and I shouldn’t have tried to plow through it in the first place. You can’t return to the drawing board without time to go back there. And I’m trying to believe that I spent Thanksgiving break at the drawing board, and not in the waste bin or, worse, not even trying.

I still want to know if this approach has any concrete payoffs at all, or if the dividends will only be paid over the course of the new few weeks as I do the work I’d hoped that I would have already done. I’m a little bit excited about some of the work ahead. I don’t know if that counts. I’ve cleared some space for real work by doing a lot of productive procrastination. My efficiency at completing silly small tasks and projects — and coming up with more and more of them — is impressive in its own way. The itsy bitty never-ending to-dos and emails that require responses have subsided, hopefully not to return again too soon (the real reason I never write: is there anything more satisfying than a cleared out inbox?).

Even after writing all this, though, I still can’t quite shake the disappointment, the anxiety. It’s hard to really trust that the best way, or even just a way to work here is to work slowly. But I’m trying to keep expectations reasonable, to be excited and not just relieved when an idea takes shape, to get through without rushing through.

Caroline Sydney is a senior in Silliman College. Contact her at