In our previous post, we learned about why overwork is so prevalent in academia. Today, we are going to focus on activities you can do to achieve better work-life balance.
Note, however, that the reasons for overwork are structural. While we are working at reshaping academia, it will take a long time -I am afraid- before normal work weeks become the norm in academia.
So, while we cannot change the real problems, we can at least try to use a few tweaks to make our personal balance a bit better.
Here are a few suggestions – between things you can do to be as efficient as possible during your workday, as well as things you can do outside of academia:
- Use a weekly template: Clearly communicate your availability to students and colleagues, protecting your research time from interruptions. Having a clear boundary between teaching and research tasks is one of the main ways I can focus on my research during the day and make progress.
- Streamline your teaching: Where possible, streamline the way in which you grade and give feedback. For the type of courses I teach, multiple choice exams are not an option – I need to be seeing the full calculations. However, I have gotten more efficient at grading by knowing in advance how many points I will take away for which type of error, and by grading question by question (instead of exam by exam).
- Innovate in teaching: Experiment with different teaching methods (such as, prerecorded videos or databanks with practice questions) to reduce workload and increase engagement.
- Negotiate balanced course loads: Negotiate with your department for equitable distribution of teaching responsibilities, and for releases during semesters when you have major research milestones upcoming.
- Make a bit of progress, consistently: If you are teaching, it is unlikely you will find an entire day that you can dedicate to writing that paper. However, you can find a few 1-2 hour time slots in your week. Dedicate yourself to making consistent progress in those timeslots to meet your publication targets.
- Utilize sabbaticals wisely: If your university offers the option for taking a sabbatical, use your sabbatical leaves for focused research or well-deserved breaks.
- Evaluate your workload: Don’t take on any opportunity that comes your way. Think about it clearly, and evaluate if you have time available, if it contributes to your academic profile and aligns with your values, and if you are excited about it. Only take on the task if you answer “yes” to all three questions.
- Prioritize tasks effectively: Differentiate between urgent and important tasks to manage your time better. Make it clear for yourself where your priorities lie, and plan your time around your priorities for the semester.
- Foster a support network: Build relationships with colleagues who are in similar situations as you (for example, people from your home country, other academic parents, other tenure trackers, or any other group you identify with for mutual support and advice.
- Get training: Engage in workshops focused on time management and work-life balance, or use a coach at your university to help you with setting boundaries. I know none of us wants another zoom call about work-life balance while the structural overload is real, but some training on setting boundaries can help.
- Set boundaries with technology: Limit after-hours email checking and online work. If you can, remove your work email from your personal phone. If you need to work at night, make sure you have a clear list of things to do.
- Explore flexible working: Explore options like remote work or flexible hours, if feasible. Flexibility is often a double-edged sword in academia: our jobs are flexible, but the flexibility often results in work spilling over into evenings and weekends.
- Unionize: At the end of the day, professors are employees of universities and their rights should be respected and their workload should align with the governing labor laws. If there is a union at your university, join and see what can be done to give professors a humane workload.
- Regular exercise and wellness activities: Incorporate physical activities and mindfulness practices into your routine for stress reduction. Not because it will make you perform better at your job (I hate that argument, as it implies that everything we do outside of work should be useful for our work), but because you deserve it.
- Take full advantage of vacations: Use your vacation time for rest and rejuvenation, disconnecting from academic responsibilities. Again: you are an employee and your employer should abide by the governing labor laws.
- Cultivate hobbies outside academia: Develop interests unrelated to your academic work to maintain a well-rounded life. Hobbies can help you disconnect and help you beat the siren call of your mailbox (although, I think my mailbox sounds like a howling wolf or thundering Norse god, rather than a lovely siren).
- Plan and prioritize self-care: Regularly schedule activities that bring you back in touch with your Self – I’m not talking about manicures here, but about allowing yourself to be the complete human being that you are, which is much more than a professor.
- Reflect regularly: Journal about how you are feeling, and what is stressing you out at work, and why this particular semester may feel extra hard for you.
These are some of my tips on managing your workload and finding time for Life in the work-life balance equation. What do you do to achieve work-life balance?