A PhD Student’s Pre-Easter Thoughts on Work-Life Balance
Dear readers on the Internet, my name is Aaron and I am a PhD student of classical philology. Sarah recently asked me whether I would like to write a post for this blog, the topic being a PhD student’s negotiation of work-life-balance. The following lines are what I came up with. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Setting yourself up for success with good habits
A (fiction) reading challenge
Doing a PhD completely changed my attitude towards certain things like nutrition, sleep, stress level, and social life. Now I try to eat, sleep, feel, and socialize in a healthier way, of course only thus far as the actual pandemic situation allows. This turned out to be not as easy as I had expected it to be, for obvious reasons. But fortunately, approximately one month ago, I discovered yet another method that has helped me out a great deal in improving my work-life-balance: a reading challenge. It looks like this: On every Saturday I would search the bookshelves of my local bookstores and buy at least one book that I expected to tell an intriguing story, which had to be read until Sunday evening. From the retrospective I can say this was a very good thing to do. Not only did I allow my mind to get some rest from the usual work-related contents, which it is bound to all week long, sometimes even up to sixteen hours daily. But also, the quality of my sleep has improved massively and I have been feeling full of energy and ready to experience a great day. All the worries and problems of the week suddenly seem to have gone far away and what remains is a relaxed self who, for a period of two days, dives into fictitious worlds.
Reasonable work hours and screen-free time
I had decided to stop working at the weekend for good already before, although, admittedly, I occasionally did it in the past, even if not for too long, because my stress level got so high, that I could not lower it down again without taking one or two days off. I had also decided to stop doing tasks connected to work after coming home from the office, because without a clear distinction of working place and resting place I am not able to relax at all. When you work devotedly on your dissertation and future academic career, you must not overdo it – this thought has become part of my personal mantra, among other things for the following reason: Regularly coming down after sitting hours and hours in front of a computer screen is way more difficult than one might imagine. It has already happened to me quite a few times, that, due to excessive PC work, I was lying awake in bed for over two hours with my heart beating at a scarily high rate. I did not want to experience such a situation ever again, so I decided to limit myself to a reasonable maximum of six hours per day in front of my laptop. Considering the fact that one daily invests a certain amount of time in chats with colleagues, coffee breaks, and ways to the bathroom, six hours appears a realistic number to me. I’ve never believed those people who claim limitless working schedules for themselves, for, I am sure, they ultimately are not superhumans.
Another decision of mine was to eat more healthily, that is self-prepared meals whenever possible, and to keep an eye on my coffee consumption. I am a sociable person and therefore prone to the consumption of fast food and socially accepted stimulants in company of my friends. Thank God, I am aware of it! Both life and work have been improving ever since together with my well-being. They could be even better if I did more sports. I know that, for the period of the latest Corona lockdown, I have not moved enough, mainly because I am the gym guy and all the gyms are currently closed. But what shall I say, going for a run outside or doing exercise at home is simply not my cup of tea. I am hoping that my gym will open sometimes really soon. Otherwise, I fear for my current beer consumption never to be reset to the former degree of pre-pandemic times, although these occasions are more social ones. I regularly try to see other people and have a beer with them, because it gives me the feeling of not being alone and having more things to care for in life than only work.
Being social (as much as possible)
I have a similar feeling when I am surrounded by my family, so I try to visit them as much as possible. Tomorrow morning, on Easter Sunday, I will take the train to their place. This journey will last over eight hours and cost myself some nerves, but it will definitely be worth the shot. I cannot wait to have a coffee with mum, a white wine with dad, a go at the Sony PlayStation with my youngest brother, and a race with the family’s cat Gino! Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to see some old friends, too. If not, there is smartphones and Skype. The only thing there will not be for sure is my laptop, e-mails, and work-related books.