I've been on campus for a few things recently, and while it's nice to be missed (it really is!), the downside is realizing that the sabbatical is coming to an end. There's still the summer, but still.
Although I haven't done All The Things, I've done enough to feel reasonably good, though it still seems as though I wasted a lot of time. I'll keep working on All The Things.
But the main thing that the sabbatical did was to give me back a sense of joy and curiosity. If something interested me, I could follow it and read about it and above all think about it, often to good effect.
I know that this isn't the path to research that GetALifePhd and other efficiency experts, like Paul Sylvia, recommend, where you state that you will have 15 points to develop by 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday and you just do it. Maybe if you have data, that's the way it works.
But maybe that's the difference between the humanities and the social sciences. We really have only a few weapons in our arsenal: curiosity, knowledge, and the ability to think about the two together in productive ways to see what's been done and what needs to be done in terms of research.
When you're pressed for time, as we all are during the school year, we're a little like our students. We don't have the time to follow those winding paths, or Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit holes, so we try to answer immediate questions. Our students use the first results on Google, and though we might not do that, we use the same process of working for efficiency in an answer rather than for complexity.
During the sabbatical, I learned a lot of things I needed to know, but I also learned a lot of things that I didn't need to know, or at least that I don't need immediately. That's not a waste of time. That's the point of a sabbatical.