Finding Work-Life Balance

Published: Tues., November 26, 2019

Between your classes, research work, teaching or assistantship responsibilities, and your personal life, graduate school can be a busy time. Managing all those responsibilities and finding time for self-care can be a challenge. That also means that this is the perfect time to learn how to manage your time more effectively--this way you’ll have great habits when you start your career after graduate school. People who have a better work-life balance tend to be happier overall and more productive in their work lives. A recent study of four-day work weeks in Japan found that people were more productive even though they were working fewer hours, presumably because they have time to recharge and can then be more productive in the office.

Use a block schedule/calendar

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Blank Block Schedule

The first step in finding work-life balance is taking stock of what you have to do and your priorities. Make a list of the major activities you have to do every week. It can often help to see all those activities on a calendar or weekly schedule to see where your pockets of free time are or how you are spending your time. Create a block schedule using either an online calendar that will allow you to see activities broken down into at least 30-minute increments or a Word or Excel file. Fill in everything on your schedule. Make sure to include not just class times and meetings, but also other obligations. This could include things you do for your own well being such as attending religious services, working out at the gym, or other hobbies.

Look at the schedule. Are there open pockets of time you could be using better? Is there any time you seem to be misusing? For example, do you notice you were spending too many hours binging Netflix shows? Is there anything missing? Often people will forget to note things like eating lunch, which are important to your health and well-being.

If you are struggling to write, add that in the schedule. If you have writing time in your schedule, treat that block like a class meeting that nothing can interfere with.

Be reasonable

Not everyone works at the same pace. Maybe it takes you longer to complete readings for class than others in your class. That’s okay. But that also means you need to account for that in your planning. Don’t compare yourself to others. Be reasonable with yourself about what you can accomplish in the time provided. If you truly cannot complete a task in the time given, it may be worth talking with the professor about it and what can be accomplished in that time and to the level of the quality it needs to be.

Be honest with yourself

What is important to you? What are your priorities? One place that graduate students can struggle is by wanting to do everything. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us cannot do all the things we want to do. Sometimes this will mean saying "no" to certain opportunities that may come up. If you are worried that saying "no" to things will hurt you, consider saying “not right now” if it’s something you don’t have time for now but may in the future. Be honest with yourself about what you can do and what you really need or want to do. If you are having trouble sorting your current priorities it might help to think about what is most important now or for your professional goals at this moment. If you have an IDP you can connect your current activities with your goals. If you are really struggling you may want to talk with someone else you trust to help you sort your priorities.

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries is essential. When will you answer emails? How late will you work? Those who have families can find setting boundaries easier since they may often have family obligations that pull them away from the lab at a specific time. Some people find it helpful to say that they will not check any emails after a certain time at night or that they will only do work 8am-6pm but any time after that is personal time. Whatever personal boundaries are important to you, make sure you are clear with your supervisor or students if you teach that you are not available for work or other responsibilities after those times. Some people choose not to have their work email easily accessible on their phone so that they can more easier draw that distinction with their personal and professional lives when they are not at work.

Start small

When you read about time management tips or strategies, don’t try to do everything at once. Try a few small things first. Maybe you just want to start with using a planner more regularly. Maybe you want to start with finding time for one small self-care activity a week. It’s easier to change your habits if you don’t do anything too radical all at once.

Seek help if you need it

If you find yourself struggling with your work-life balance and self-care, find someone to talk to. There are well-being coaches available to help you through the UNL Health Center. Several of these coaches are graduate students just like you so they know exactly what you are going through. Talk with your peers, family, or friends; they may be able to help lighten your workload too. You do not have to do everything alone. Seek out those who who can support you.