Maintaining work/life balance

When you made the decision to attend Graduate School to pursue an advanced degree, you surely knew that you were taking on an enormous task. Still, you may have been unprepared for the sheer amount of work required and the number of competing interests pulling you in opposite directions. It’s easy to look at other graduate students or professors, see only the work they put in, and think you can’t possibly measure up unless you work day and night, weekends and holidays. While such feelings are understandable, it’s important to remember that you don’t see the whole picture. Nobody—no matter how together she or he seems—can pull those sorts of hours for the years it will take to finish the dissertation project. But graduate school—which includes your classwork and research projects, any teaching responsibilities you may have, and your advisor’s demands—is your job, and you should work at it like you would any other job you accept. Even jobs we enjoy do not demand our constant, unfailing, 24/7 attention. Jobs work better if you set boundaries for yourself, your students, and your advisor; communicate these boundaries clearly; and stick with them for your own peace of mind. We all face deadlines or the work piles up faster than we can move through it, and sometimes we have to buckle down, push aside family commitments and fun, and get the work finished. As one professor expressed, “Sometimes you just have to crank it out.” But those times are not the totality of your graduate school experience—or of your life. You need time to decompress, to see your family and friends, to read a book that’s unconnected to what you study, or even to watch a silly TV show. You can’t forgo sleep for very long! There is nothing wrong with you asserting that need for a balanced life and meeting it for yourself. If you do these things, when you sit down to your job, you can focus on it with a clear and rested mind.

Action Steps:

  1. Take stock of any upcoming deadlines or responsibilities: exams, conferences, grading, and project due dates.
  2. Decide on reasonable expectations for yourself. Communicate them clearly to those people who depend on you.
  3. Know your limits and how hard you can push yourself before breaking.
  4. Within the confines of your schedule, take the time you need to maintain your physical, emotional, and psychological health.
  5. Contact a writing coach if you find that you’re unable to meet your deadlines while finding time for outside interests.