34. Work/Life Balance by Nina Willment

When I started thinking about potential ideas for a new blog post for the PGF website, my mind was swimming with ideas. I wanted to write about something I felt was important and something that I had actually encountered, struggled with and found difficult during my PhD… but should I write about instances where my fieldwork had gone horribly wrong? Or how I’ve had to confront my fears of networking at conferences? Or how I’ve struggled to budget on PhD funding? All of these things I have, at times, found incredibly difficult during the postgraduate study journey. However, on reflection the hardest thing I feel I have had to learn to deal with during my postgraduate study so far, is attempting to keep a healthy work/life balance.  The post is partly inspired and builds upon an excellent blog post on coping with the PhD written by my friend Emily (https://cityascanvas.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/mental-health-awareness-week-tips-on-how-to-cope-during-postgraduate-study/ ). (Thanks Em and all of your participants for letting me steal your fantastic idea for a blog post!)

Emily’s blog post was inspired by Mental Health Awareness Week, whose theme for 2018 was stress. Emily beautifully highlights how stress remains a worrying but increasingly prevalent issue for those undertaking postgraduate study. As a result, Emily asks fellow postgraduate students for their advice on staying on top of stress during PhD study. So, building on Em’s fab work, I opened up the question of: What are your top tips for maintaining a good work/life balance during postgraduate study? to Twitter. The postgraduate community have been so wonderful and have sent me through so many amazing responses! So, thank you to everyone who spent their time giving me some amazing ideas via Twitter. I’ve collated them here into my Top 10 Tips for maintaining a healthy work/life balance during postgraduate study:

Take some time off!

Keep your weekends free! And use them to do whatever chills you out! (@fayeshortland)

Start early, finish early. No weekends. (@ThomasDekeyser)

Take days off. Be strict with your working hours (9-5 is plenty of time if you are sensible with the planning of your work). Take off weekends (you’ll still pass regardless of whether you work weekends or not, so why risk burning out?) (@DannyJamesWard)

Don’t feel the guilt of taking time off!

Do not allow yourself the luxury of guilt for taking a day off, either by choice or forced by illness/exhaustion. View rest as a contribution to rather than a distraction from doing your best work (@PottengerAndrew)

I reminded myself that my research was NOT my identity. It’s something I do, not who I am. I made time for working out, friends, cooking; and my schedule was irregular. When I felt it, I’d work a 15hr day. When I didn’t feel sharp, I let myself slack knowing I’d get back to it (@ProfOfTweets)

I used to work long hours and Saturdays. I nearly burned out in my 1st year. Now I have a strict 9-5 and don’t work at weekends. I’m currently writing up so the time will soon come that I need to work evenings/weekends, but at least I won’t be burned out before I have to! (@sianbeavers)

Establish a routine for working that is tailored to and works for you!

Go for a lot of walks. Use distraction to your advantage. Approach research and writing crabwise, through sidelong glances and approaches. Write in staccato bursts. Rest frequently. Become addicted to TV series. Read. Walk more. (@gwilymeades)

Recently started working with pomodoros, it helps a lot in compressing work time. Respect weekends and nights, spend time with others and be humble about your research (just a microscopic fraction of the world’s knowledge) (@albertovalgris)

Routine matters: Get up/Get glass of H2O/Sip H2O/Close eyes & breathe/Ask self ‘WTF – you’ve got a thesis to write?’/Instruct self ‘Sit your ass back in that chair’/Check twitter/Check Facebook/Mutter#FTS/Cue @josejamesmusic playlist/&write (@UnionProudCWood)

Accept sometimes things won’t go to plan and realise that this is part of the process!

Accept that some days don’t/won’t go the way you wanted or planned. You can still be productive, in other ways, or take a break, if that’s what you need (@ahjackman)

Try stick to working 9-5, Mon-Fri, but don’t expect to work with the same intensity during that time. I wrote best early in the morning and later in the afternoon. The hours in-between I read around, met PhD mates and, when in full procrastination mode, watched YouTube. (@danny_mcnally)

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to get everything done that you want to in a day, you need some time off and flexible time is a PhD perk! (@j_bowles)

Retain your hobby or learn something new!

Find the thing that keeps you sane and make time for it. Lifting weights (kept me sane when writing up), walking dogs, cross stitch, whatever it is find it and allow yourself the time do it. (@CatMahoney1)

Take up a sport/instrument and don’t tell your instructor/classmates that you are doing a phd. This way 1) for X hours a week you can be sure no one will ask how it is going 2) you HAVE TO stop thinking about the PhD 3) You get a sense of progression, at least in something! (@DrSalluminium)

Take up a hobby (I upscale furniture and paint. I also read M R James ghost stories). Stop writing/reading at 6 pm and watch films. (@clairegreen68)

Remember each PhD is different! Try not to get caught up in unrealistic goals or in comparisons with others.

Exercise, fuel, sleep, hydrate, action plan, write, read, set targets, enjoy but look after wellbeing and control the controllable. For example, if data collection has been delayed let it be (@psychedge01)

Don’t set yourself unrealistic goals. Take time off regularly and take care of yourself. (@DrPostDoc)

Don’t compare yourself to other postgrads. Easier said than done, I know, but remember: You are unique, everyone is different, and no PhD project is the same. (@ThomDavies)

Try to build up a good support network and don’t be afraid to talk about how you are feeling!

I would say one of my best mental health tips for surviving the PhD is to try to surround yourself with a good support system, this could be other PhD students, your friends or family, an online community. I find leaning on this support system when I’m having a bad day is invaluable (@ninawillment)

Having friends/hobbies outside of acadaemia. It reminds you that there’s a different world and those people will look at you like you’re a nutcase if you don’t maintain a work-life balance! (@sianmarip)

A 9-5 type work day routine has worked well for me so far. Also, making time to chat to other researchers over tea/coffee/lunch! (@Flemi21)