August 28, 2013

Tips and Tricks from SSCP Student Members to Create a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Set a Schedule for Yourself – and Stick to It!
One student shared how they use scheduling to maintain work-life balance on a regular basis:
“Setting a schedule for myself and protecting all of my time equally is crucial. In grad school, I had my classes, TA slots, therapy sessions, meetings, etc. all blocked in to my calendar, but I also added in writing time (so crucial!) and times I planned to attend a yoga class, go jogging, meet friends for a drink... whatever. Once it was in my calendar, barring something emergent or incredibly important coming up, I protected it. That really helped me to budget my time and to find specific times in my day to accomplish my work and to make time to have a life.”

Another student described balancing longer work days with work-free weekends:
“My trick for maintaining work/life balance is to work 12-14 hour days Monday - Friday. This allows me to have at least one weekend day clear to enjoy time with family and friends. I’d rather have one or two full days free than, say, every day after 5pm. Having the weekend clear allows me to … spend quality time with important people without feeling rushed. Although it can be grueling to work nonstop from 9am to 11pm Monday through Friday, it allows me to cross a lot off my To Do list so when the weekend rolls around, I’m able to maximize my time and maintain a healthy social life.”

Prioritize Self-Care!
Several students suggested that making sure self-care is #1 on the to-do list is crucial to ensuring a healthy balance.
“The most important part of balancing life in graduate school has been to set aside at least an hour every evening for self-care (e.g., running) except in the most dire of circumstances. I also try to set aside the better part of a full day on the weekend for fun non-school-related activities. Doing this makes me feel more whole, keeps me healthy (and therefore more productive in school), and forces me to use my time on work-related projects more efficiently.”

Another student sent this suggestion for graduate students:
“My advice would be to prioritize self-care at specified periods throughout the week. By “self-care” I mean engaging in activities that you find fun, relaxing/rejuvenating, and that serve as a good distraction from work. My approach this semester has been to set aside (at least) two nights in the week where I schedule in enjoyable activity time and then I honor that time just as much as I’d honor an important work meeting. It’s easy to justify doing work instead of a fun activity, but do everything in your power to set your foot down and give yourself permission to have that free time. … I find that after one of these relaxing nights, I feel refueled and ready to take on my to-do list for the next day.”

Being a parent while in graduate school has its own set of unique challenges. Several of you wrote in to share what works for you in balancing the roles of graduate student and parent.

Katrina Ostmeyer, a student at Viriginia Tech writes: “As a mother of a 1 year old, I’ve learned a lot about this subject in the past. What I’ve done that is helpful is write down my short-term and long-term professional and personal goals. I then develop a schedule taking both into account (i.e. I need to write 2 pages/day and I need to pick my son up from daycare at a certain time). I then work on that plan for a couple of weeks and re-evaluate. The key is re-evaluation. I have to decide whether my goals are feasible or not and whether they are worth it. For example, I may be meeting my goals but am miserable because I am trying to be super-mom and super-student. I then have to decide what changes need to be made to benefit my career and family while maintaining my sanity and I start the process over again.”

Another SSCP student member shared the following: “The biggest thing that has helped me maintain work/life balance is setting strict boundaries. For the most part, I don’t work once my day is over and on the weekends (not possible all of the time, but overall it’s possible). The tradeoff is that I strictly adhere to a consistent work schedule, otherwise I would fall way behind. No more procrastinating like in college! Actually I’ve found that having a family has helped me stick to deadlines and goals better. I know that I have a set amount of time in which to work, and there is no room for procrastination.”

Anne Zhang, from the University of Iowa, discussed approaching work-life balance from an acceptance and commitment perspective: “Over the years, I’ve become a bit more adept at recognizing the “felt sense” that comes with “I have to’s.” For example, if I’m pushing myself to the limit with research, I may begin to feel like it’s no longer meaningful/enjoyable and I get this sense that work is dull/deadened. Or if I’m seeing too many clients and I don’t feel connected, I may begin to blame my clients or resent my clients or just get bored listening to my clients. Or sometimes I’ll even be spending time with my significant other, and I’ll begin to resent them for taking time away from important work that I need to be doing, just a little bit. These are all little flags that my behavior is rule-governed. That’s when I really have to stop and ask myself what’s most important right now. Because obviously, both work and life are important, but right now I have to choose which to act on, realizing that there will be opportunities in the future to act on the other value. I will put a time limit on how long I’ll work, how much time I’ll allot to socializing, how much time I’ll allot to time alone, etc. I try to keep in mind that old adage about fitting stones into a jar. A smart person will put the big stones in first, and then pour the little ones in to fill the spaces. But if you put in the little ones first, the big ones will never fit. So it really is an exercise in prioritizing… If I value my friends/partner/work, I’ll make time for them. If I don’t make time for my friends, then I’m not really valuing them. I guess it’s figuring out what my big stones are, what my medium stones are, and what the little stones are… which is tough in and of itself!”

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