Academic work-life balance refers to how satisfied you feel managing work and non-work related obligations while maintaining your health and wellbeing. As a student or researcher, an academic work-life balance can feel like an impossible goal. You might be encouraged to work long hours to ensure a successful research career. However, striving for balance can make it possible for you to succeed in your field while still pursuing a rich personal life.
The Consequences of Poor Academic Work-Life Balance
In an international survey, academics revealed that they feel stressed, underpaid, and struggle to find time for personal relationships and family. This highlights the importance of striving for academic work-life balance. You’ll be better able to manage the demands of an academic career and engage in productive work. One thing to note is that the balance between your personal life and career doesn't need to be perfect. Your academic work-life balance will be unique to you and is defined by how satisfied you feel.
In the beginning, working long hours can feel sustainable and even beneficial for your goals. However, in the long run, increased work can put a strain on family commitments, quality time with friends, and personal self-care. Moreover, a poor work-life balance often leads to lower productivity, reduced career satisfaction, and poor physical and mental health.This highlights why prioritising your academic work-life balance can be essential for long-term success. By striving to improve this balance, you’ll have the health to engage in productive work, and good relationships to help you reset and recharge.
5 Tips for Improving Academic Work-Life Balance
First, it’s important to address your mindset when considering academic work-life balance. Academia can be a competitive environment where working long hours is normalised among your colleagues and peers. This can make it hard for you to take time off or reduce your working hours without experiencing uncomfortable feelings of guilt or anxiety. Sometimes, working long hours is essential for meeting deadlines or completing particular projects. However, this is unsustainable long term and can lead to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. In addition, long hours don’t necessarily result in more outputs or increased activity.
It will be easier to implement change if you can adjust your mindset. You can do this by focusing on the long-term journey to academic career success. Remember building any career takes a long time and pacing yourself can ensure you’re able to work productively, creatively, and produce satisfying work. It can also help to view a well-lived life outside of academia as a necessary component of your success. Being consistently overworked can lead to stress, fatigue, and sickness, which can lead to errors in your work. However, a good academic work-life balance can improve your wellbeing which in turn could mean better focus and work productivity.
Set Clear Boundaries
It can be easy to overwork when the boundaries between personal time and work are blurred. Technology allows you to bring work home without a second thought. Although this can be beneficial for remote and flexible working options, it can also make it difficult for you to switch off. You can improve the quality of your working time and your personal time by setting clear boundaries.
This might look like limiting screen time and notifications for work-related messages and emails. Even if you don’t read or respond to these messages outside working hours, this simple act of knowing you have this pending notification to attend to can take up mental space. If you do work from home, you could create a boundary by having a dedicated space for work. You could also separate digital spaces for work and personal-life. This could simply be having two different log-ins for the same computer. Think about how you stop work from seeping into personal time and make those boundaries a priority. You can ask friends or family to help keep you accountable.
Understand Goals and Values
A good academic work-life balance is unique to you. You can understand how to achieve that balance by reflecting on your goals for your academic career and personal life. Think about what you value in life and how you can make this a priority. This will make it easier for you to divide your time and energy between both work and personal life in a satisfying way. You’re more likely to work at a sustainable pace if you understand the goal you’re reaching for and can plan accordingly.
These goals and values can renew your sense of meaning and purpose. It’s easier to avoid overworking if you have other things to look forward to. You can seek to engage in meaningful social and personal activities that create a sense of fulfilment outside of work. That’s not to say you can’t feel fulfilled through your academic career, however, balancing fulfilment in both areas can help you feel better. These activities can be small things like dinner or games night with family and friends. Or, simply making time or hobbies and volunteering in the community. This can strengthen the quality of your support systems and provide you with ways to recharge and reset.
Rely on Support Systems and Tools
Naturally, both life and work can be filled with administrative tasks and chores alongside your everyday work and personal commitments. By delegating tasks and distributing your workload, you can reduce stress and work less. The Eisenhower Matrix, a task management tool, is one way to figure out which tasks are good for delegating. This exercise helps you to organise tasks based on urgency and importance.
In the workplace, this might be ensuring your workload is shared with another colleague. In an academic environment, it can be ideal to have interns or volunteers who support administrative tasks. Although this might require you to take some time out to train someone, it can benefit you long term. At home, this could be distributing chores between family members, which can reduce the burden on everyone by making things equal.
Additionally, you can turn to technology for help with automating time-consuming tasks and processes. This could be simple things like using recurring to-do lists for household chores, groceries, or any sort of maintenance tasks. You can free up mental space and reduce decision making by having these dedicated lists that send reminders each week. However, you can also use technology for more complex things, such as automation of administrative tasks using technologies like Zapier, or make use of academic digital tools such as genei to streamline your workflow.
Prioritise Time and Energy Management
Finally, you can learn how to get the most out of each day by utilising techniques for time and energy management. By making use of both energy and time management, you can allocate time for completing tasks that align with your natural peak productivity times. Your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day and understanding this can make it easier for you to organise your time. If you lack the right energy and focus, it will be hard to get things despite having an organised schedule and task list. That’s why both can be incredibly helpful. Nonetheless, time management techniques, such as time blocking, can define fixed periods of time for deep work and focus that will allow you to work more productivity.