The festive season is a wonderful time to take a guilt-free break from one’s research and academic work to spend time with loved ones, plus to just relax (also generally known as living). Most people acknowledge the importance of striking a balance between work and everyday life, but how many people actually follow through in implementing such a balance..? Answer: very few. People often take some time off only to ‘punish’ themselves when they get back by returning to their work with the objective of catching up with the work they’ve missed. Does this sound like you? Come on, be honest… One of the issues is that we all have things we “have” to get done asap (as soon as possible). It also doesn’t help how ‘sexy’ it’s become for one to be “busy”. One could argue that a person who is always “busy” is simply bad at managing their time – that’s just me playing the devil’s advocate.
A little fact I sometimes have to remind myself of; we aren’t machines. We aren’t meant to work 24/7 with no rest. If anything, the limited attention span of human beings (approximately 20 minutes on average) reaffirms our need for variation in life. We often advise our loved ones, friends and colleagues that they should not overwork but we often fail to follow suit. I understand this dilemma all too well. Maintaining work-life balance and managing to have more of a life outside my research was a lot easier at the beginning of my PhD; I call those the good ‘ol days. Naturally, progressing through my degree meant I had more deadlines and work I had to get done. Admittedly, there were times when I had to work a lot later than usual to get things done but I tried to not let those instances become my routine. But why? Well, I’m glad you asked: D
I have found that there is a non-linear relationship between my creativity and productiveness, to the length of time I work in a day, or for a specific time period. That was the science/researcher in me kicking in… What this practically meant was that the more time I spent working, particularly even when I felt spent or tired, the less effective I was at completing what I wanted to do. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re doing something and feel like you’re on a roll, by all means push through and finish what you want to get done. However, if you are feeling like you’re forcing yourself to focus or get things done, especially after you have already put in a good amount of time doing it, stepping away and doing something unrelated will probably do wonders at helping you to refocus and complete your task.
Now working towards completing my PhD, I have realised the importance of making time to do things that are totally unrelated to my research. Sometimes this takes the form of me having to actively force myself to stop working. I have found creating some sort of work-life balance has allowed me to better deal with work stress. The deadlines and stress of things not always going to plan doesn’t magically disappear when you take some time to actually live (read – take some time to have a work-life balance), though the distance and taking some time to relax does allow you to better deal with the situations.
So…yes, having a work-life balance is important. Being the responsible adult that I am, at this point I should mention that not planning out your time and actually putting in the work does not count as taking ‘time off’ or striking a work-life balance; that’s just asking for trouble.