The Challenge Of Work-Life Balance

On Friday evening, I jumped out of a perfectly good plane with my good friend Dr. Beth, and two of my students, Nic Durish and Marshall Asch. While this was not my first time skydiving, it got me thinking about some of the adventures I have had with my students, the potential benefits of extreme team building activities, and the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone. Mostly, however, I thought about how fortunate I am to be able to do stuff like this, especially with the people I work with.

Despite the skydiving adventure and the time that I have had to spend with Nic and Marshall outside of the office, I am probably one of the worst at managing a sense of work-life balance. Mine is constantly in flux, with work overtaking life more often than I’d like to admit. When this happens because the line between work and fun have blurred – because I am fortunate enough to enjoy what I do most of the time – I don’t really think too much of it. However, when work overtakes life because of administrative tasks or things that are about a million miles in the opposite direction of fun, it’s all I can think about.

Having been on sabbatical this past year, I’ve had a lot of time to stop and think about the work that I do, the work that I want to do, who I want to do it with, and just as important, how I want to do it. I’ve had the time to stop and smell the proverbial roses, and I can’t even begin to explain how fantastic that has been for my mental health and the feeling of connectedness to my research and the students in the lab. I’m not sure if I’m actually working less then when I wasn’t on sabbatical, but it sure feels like it.

This all makes me wonder what life will look like in a few short weeks when the fall semester starts and I return to my regular teaching schedule. With three courses in the fall, I’m trying to best determine how to ensure that I stay grounded and with some sense of work-life balance. I can’t rely on skydiving or bungee jumping with my students to solve this problem – although that would be an awesome (albeit expensive) way to shake things up.

The reality is that I need to put effort into this; I can’t just expect my work and my life to come into some beautiful balance. With that in mind, I have decided to implement the following changes – although I’m not necessarily convinced that these will be sufficient to achieve a balance, so any advice would be welcomed:

  • I will do my best to schedule all meetings between 9 am and 5:30 pm.
  • I will do my best to not schedule more than 3 hours of meetings on any day, and where possible, these will necessarily be scheduled with 15 minutes between each so that I can rest and reset. I don’t do enough of this, so after a day of meetings and mental gymnastics, I’m almost always exhausted (but not the good kind of exhausted).
  • I will block off at least one half day per week to give me time to write papers, grants, blog posts, or whatever I feel needs to be written.
  • I will attempt to spend more time each day clearing my mind and taking a moment to breathe.
  • I will attempt to grade only during the day, and never on the weekend. To do this, I’m going to make my assignments due on Monday mornings instead of Friday evenings. I’m sure this isn’t going to be easy, but I think I need to at least give it a go.
  • I will team grade with my TAs, assuming their schedules allow this. Grading can be an arduous task at times, and I think having all of us in a room together during regular working hours might make for quick work and more fun. I imagine it might also help with grading consistency.
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See @nicdurish fly. Fly Nic, fly.

A post shared by Dan Gillis (@dangillis) on

While managing my work-life balance is absolutely important to my own mental health and wellness, I also recognize that any imbalance I have – even if I am having fun – sets a bad example for my students (both in and outside of the lab). If they see me working until the wee hours of the night or the early hours of the morning, they might mistakingly assume that I expect the same from them. To make it very clear – I don’t. But my actions speak louder than words, which is why I want to do my best to ensure that my students are thinking about their own mental health and wellness.

For this reason, I’m also thinking about restricting the time that my computer will allow me to send emails. This isn’t to say that I won’t write them outside of business hours – but perhaps I can at least limit my questions or responses to my students to a time of day when they likely are to be working (i.e. 9:00 am to 5:30 pm). I don’t want my email to encourage them to work when I’m working, or to make them think that I expect this out of them – because again, I don’t. I just need to find the best tool to make this a reality.

Of course, if none of this works, I guess I’m going to have to find another perfectly good plane to jump out of.

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