After more than two years of a pandemic that have taxed us beyond anything we have gone through previously, it is time to take stock of where we are and what we can do for ourselves. If we’ve learned anything, it is that our universities will not take care of us, and that the system as it is, will just keep increasing pressure on all and everything.
We need to remember for ourselves that, at the end of the day, we are employees of an institution, and practice detachment from our identity as professors and researchers. For me, this translates to trying not to work every evening anymore, but allowing myself to relax (although, since bedtime is a struggle again with my daughter, it often means just collapsing after she finally goes down for the night). I’m also trying better to get my oncologist-prescribed amount of exercise in on a weekly basis and find the time to cook healthy meals, and I’m working on lowering my sleep debt.
As such, I think it is important we find our non-negotiables. Which aspects of exercise, self-care, relaxation, sleep, family time, social time, and food are absolutely necessary for you to feel as a human being? I think we all have gone past our boundaries at work, and know what it feels like to be completely overworked (for me, it feels as if I’m a wrung-out towel and have nothing left to give to others). We know that this does not feel good, and that we need to reserve the time for ourselves and our loved ones to feel like ourselves.
Yet, at the same time, work has its way of eating into our brain and pushing us beyond our boundaries. For that reason, I invite you to think about your non-negotiables. What is important for you? What makes you feel you? What do you need on a daily basis, weekly basis, monthly basis, and a few times per year, to feel fully like yourself? Make a list outlining everything you want for these different time frames. Be bold in what you want, even though you may not have had these desires fulfilled in many years.
Then, on a next day, go through these lists, and sort them from absolutely essential to nice-to-have. It’s good to know what you want, and what your priorities are with these wants. Make it visual by sorting the elements on your lists – and often, it helps to have these lists in a physical format.
In a next step, think about how you will honor your non-negotiables. For the aspects that are on a daily basis, consider how you will fit these in a day. Are you currently overworking? In that case, you may need to try and put a cap on your working hours so that you have time to fit in your non-negotiables. The same goes for the weekly and monthly basis, and for the things you want to do a few times a year, you may need to plan in advance to have these booked so that you can look forward to them.
To recap: in this exercise of finding and honoring your non-negotiables, I ask you to identify what you need to feel fully yourself on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and a few time a year, sort these by importance, and then plan for them
Have you tried this exercise? What did you learn? Did you change anything to your schedule as a result?