A healthy work-life balance. Many talk about achieving this phenomenon but what does it actually mean and can anyone ever truly have the perfect work-life balance? In the world of postgraduate study, being able to master this is one of many key aspects in successfully completing your journey without losing out on the world around us.
I thought I would begin with the work part of this equation. The general population aims to work, according to many, including Dolly Parton, 9 to 5. However, the great thing about PhD is that it’s relatively flexible. So you can switch this up depending on when you work best. 8 to 4? 10 to 6? or even 7 to 3? However, it is what you do during that time that matters.
Working is not just physically being at work, which I can manage without too much hassle most days. It’s more about being 100% engaged with the task in hand and my procrastination often doesn’t make this easily achievable. As work apparently doesn’t include scrolling through Facebook, online shopping or coffee breaks.
In my mind, the best method of dealing with this procrastination is by creating perfectly colour-coded lists and plans. If I’ve created a good list, it’s pretty safe to say that those things will be done. However, there is definitely a knack to creating a list. Lists can’t have arbitrary things like “4 hours of writing.” A good list has explicit outcomes that you can see, such as “write 4 paragraphs of my introduction.” This is a clear-cut target and can easily be ticked off the list when done. And that’s the best thing about lists. Scoring through them.
However, plans are constantly evolving. Something goes wrong, an idea fails and my beautifully sculpted plan goes out the window. And with no plan comes great procrastination for me. Picking yourself up quickly, creating a new plan and not dwelling on the inability to complete the old one is what should happen. I will keep you posted on when I can do that effectively.
Some postgrads may laugh at being able to even comprehend having a section called life. However, it is doable and should be done. Sometimes the endless list of work seems to drown out even a vague prospect of life outside work. So much to do, so little time. But don’t let that happen. If we allow a good 8 hours of sleep, maybe 3 hours a day to do chores like commuting, cooking and washing and finally the 8 hours of working, that still leaves a whole 5 hours free to enjoy life. And that’s not including weekends!! Work may sometimes eat into the spare time but hopefully, this is rare and extra “life” time is in the near future to compensate.
However, same as with work, you need to engage with living in these fleeting 5 hours. Unfortunately, my go-to was (and still is) to slouch in front of the TV and binge-watch until I fall asleep. But writing this, I realise that doesn’t really count as life. Finding something fulfilling to do with this “spare” time may be key to feeling like we have a life. I have tried a few things in recent weeks. One was baking. I found that baking was a great stress relief and having leftover treats was amazing. What’s better is that on the rare occasion I struggled to eat them all, I didn’t have to look very far to find people that could help.
To mix things up a little bit I wanted to try something a little more out there and read about micro-adventures, short inexpensive outdoor challenges that you can complete locally. I decided to try cycling around the Isle of Wight. After going from never really cycling, to cycling my 20-minute commute to uni for a few weeks, I thought I was ready to tackle an island. It was great! Wild camping around with limited internet and phone battery, was a great method to live in the moment.
I am currently leaning, relatively unintentionally, to the life side as my most recent plan was scuppered and I haven’t quite compiled my new plan of action yet. But there is only so much bread and cakes and escaping to islands that someone can do. So, procrastination time is over for me. I need to get going and write my work to-do list.
I know for a lot of people that holidays are far and few between and socialising may have become a distant memory. We have all been there. And it’s important to have something that is for you each day so that your life is maintained. If you do struggle to make time for yourself, maybe you need to switch it up and start writing a to-do list for life. Find your way back into the world.
Have you found any good ways to keep the balance between work and life? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Pippa Richardson is in the third year of her PhD in neuroscience here at the University of Warwick looking in detail at proteins involved in learning and memory. She is also a counselling ambassador for the University. You can find her on twitter @pipparichardso2.