Whether you're in academia or not, lots of people share the struggle of keeping successful work/life balance. Creating a mindset of being kind to yourself and recognizing your own needs, strengths, and weaknesses is important for your productivity and happiness both inside and outside the workplace. Below, you can read about various ways the members of the McAdam lab promote work/life balance for themselves, and also some stuff they wish to improve to keep that balance. Don't forget to follow @mcadamlab and the rest of us on Twitter for more sciencey and lifey insights!
Julia K (@jules_kils): I keep a work/life balance by getting involved in community efforts outside of academia, like social justice activism and advocacy. Doing this keeps me grounded and connected, and reminds me of the bigger picture and of everything that I have outside of my thesis. I think it's important to use my privilege in productive ways, and this also gets me out of the office!
I struggle the most with over-committing myself and getting involved with too many projects, both in and out of work. This is problematic because things that I care about are either not getting done well or are not getting done. I remind myself, "thesis comes first" and try to prioritize my daily tasks with that in mind. I also try to only allocate a certain number of hours a week to activism (usually 5-7).
Sarah GP (@sci_sgp): I strive to keep a work/life balance by spending time with friends and family outside of work. Every week, I prioritize cooking, walking my dog, and at least one hobby (currently pottery), which also serve to help me relax and unwind - this eventually makes me more productive since I do my best work when I am well rested and happy.
As a new post-doc, one aspect of my job I find challenging involves making decisions about allocating my time towards old vs. new projects. I end up spending a lot of time worrying about how to balance these, time which could better be spent working on my research! Similarly, I still struggle with feeling guilty when I take an entire weekend off or when I bring work home in the evenings. I am working towards letting go of those non-productive feelings, and instead focusing on setting realistic goals and timelines for myself, ensuring that downtime is also built in to my schedule.
Simon DB (@si_denbro): Balance for me is helped by keeping a solid routine that involves taking time to do things like read, play music and, in particular for me, make dinner with my wife, allows me to commit myself to taking time away from work in a manner that I know is productive and leaves me feeling positive and fulfilled rather than guilty for not working on my thesis. I still struggle with keeping such a schedule though; this is particularly true in times when many deadlines accumulate at once and I feel the urge to try to "push through it" which invariably leaves me feeling burned out and effectively useless in a few days time.
Jack R (@ecolojack): I'm trying to shift away from considering how many hours a week I work, and instead focus on what I'm actually accomplishing. I set one (or a few) goals each day, and once I've completed those then I'm finished working. Figuring out what is a manageable but still ambitious goal is challenging, but I find it helpful to prevent me from spending hours chastising myself for not getting enough done.
Maggie B (@maggsbain): I promote a lot of the "work" part of work/life balance by doing work in environments that make me feel productive and creative, such as coffee shops and restaurants. Recently, I also allow myself time for self-care without guilt. This includes time relaxing with exercise, hobbies, or being with friends and family, as well as finishing errands and housework. All of this helps reset me and keep me grounded.
I'm a creative person and can get bogged down by forcing too much structure on myself, so I've been working on allowing time to be still and think through problems. This can be hard because I feel guilty giving myself time that isn't "traditionally" productive, but it's what I need to produce good quality science.
David F (@DFofFreedom): To promoting a work like balance I plan fun things and guard them jealously like a mother badger. I go boxing 3 nights a week at 6pm, so I always leave at 5pm on those days, and I do not cancel these due to work. I have a similar philosophy at weekends, they are for things other than work (sadly not always fun things) and so work is a last resort. If I do plan to work at a weekend, I pick a café I like, and try and treat the endeavour as some time in a place I like, with maybe some work getting done, so it isn’t too stressful. Also I say no to things occasionally, like review requests, to prevent my to-do list becoming too full.
I’m bad at taking proper holidays. Aside from taking a few days after conferences, and seeing family over xmas (arguable whether that serves as a break…). I don’t tend to book trips away purely for fun.
Erin S (@erin_sira): One of my primary work/life balance goals is to maintain interests and skill sets outside of academia that help prevent me from centering my entire worth as a human being on my thesis. I love music, which means that I often take voice lessons or other instrument lessons from folks in the community. I also enjoy creative writing, and during nice weather will sit outside with pencil and paper to scribble ideas, stories, or poems. Most recently I’ve taken up Irish dance with a local group in Fergus, Ontario, which is something I’ve wanted to learn since I was a kid. I also enjoy teaching and find it very rewarding to devote time to science communication with local grade school students. Knowing that I have skills outside of science (be it writing, teaching or music) helps me keep things in perspective when I’ve had a particularly rough day.
One of the things I struggle most with is separating my work and relaxation time. I will often sit down to watch a movie with my partner and think to myself-- this is a good time to get some mindless work done (i.e. formatting tables for a paper, checking e-mails, updating my website). Instead what happens is I don’t get any work done and I don’t relax… which just leaves me feeling grumpy and frustrated at the end of the night. This is a problem I often run into when visiting family, and I am trying to get better at working hard for a few hours and then setting aside time purely to visit and relax… with no distractions.
Thanks for the read folks, and we hope some of our strategies and frustrations ring true for others who also wonder how best to keep this important balance.