This chat was hosted by Katie Wheat and was the first of our new monthly 8pm UK chats. Katie is a postdoctoral researcher in cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University. She can be found on Twitter as @KL_Wheat, and blogs at Life After Thesis. Here is her recap of the chat.
Work/life balance is an important and popular concern in academia. We know it is important, but we don’t always remember or feel able to take care of it. So, here are the top 10 hints I picked up from this week’s #ECRchat (for the whole chat, including many more tips and links, see the Storify).
- Decide on what you want from your work/life balance
Everyone has a different idea of what makes the perfect work/life balance, so the first step to obtaining a good balance is to decide what you want from it. What are your priorities? Making more time for your family? Safe-guarding personal thinking time?
- Be flexible
Remember that these priorities might change over time to accommodate deadlines, changing family commitments, new responsibilities at work, a new job, etc.
- A poor work/life balance has consequences
Poor work/life balance can impact negatively on relationships, health, energy levels, and productivity. It can increase feelings of guilt about spending too much or not enough time at work. You can find it more difficult to prioritize leisure time, or family and other obligations can take too much time and attention away from personal or work time.
- Make the flexibility and variety of academia work for you
The opportunity to do a variety of different types of work and to set our own schedule can be some of the best perks of being an academic, but it is important to make these work to your own advantage and fit them in with your own priorities. The flexibility to work any time and the competing demands on our time can also turn into too many late nights and overwork if not kept in check.
- Flexibility – part 3
Remember that flexibility and variety can be found in many other careers. Also keep in mind that swapping the flexibility and/or variety of academic in favour of a more stable routine might fit with your priorities better (now or in the future).
In an already busy schedule, it can be difficult to squeeze in time for exercise. We didn’t come to a consensus on the best way to do that (some of us are morning people, and some are not), but we all agreed that there are physical and mental benefits to carving out some time for exercise.
- Try to maintain perspective
Many of us agreed that this is important, though can be difficult. Try not to lose sight of your priorities. Make time for the things that are important to you, such as children and family time. Avoid being sucked into the competitive overtime culture.
- Spend time planning
Create plans that work for you by being realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have. Have a stop time, especially for tasks that have no obvious stopping point. Shared calendars can be useful, especially for dual-academic families. Plan your time so that you work smarter not harder. Remember the power of saying “no”.
- Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to start a family
This is an important tip that could be applied to so many other areas of life. Remember not to put your life on hold for an academic career that may never materialize. Enjoy life now; not just when you finally get a permanent position.
- Move to Scandinavia
This was the number one conclusion from the chat, but not necessarily to be taken literally. The point is that work/life balance is strongly influenced by the people around you. This can be the local culture of your lab or department or the wider national culture. These cultural influences can mean the difference between feeling pressured to stay in the office until midnight, or to leave the office every day by 3pm. So remember that academia is not always the same; if the local or national culture doesn’t fit well with your priorities, you might be able to find a better balance elsewhere.