Work-Life Balance, A Follow-Up: The Guilty Academic

What perfect timing!  A friend recently shared with me an article from GradHacker.  The author of the article talks about the guilt that he or she feels while attempting to do any non-dissertation-oriented activities.

This definitely struck a chord with me.  It’s hard to label what we’re feeling sometimes but, yes, I do believe that that was guilt that I felt last night when I took a study break to head to PetSmart for some desperately-needed kitty litter (which, by the way, was free after rebate: a necessity on a grad student salary).

The author suggests that a core reason for this guilt is the lack of structure in a grad student’s day.  There is no leaving our work behind.  It is always accessible.  We could always be doing more to become better students, researchers, and instructors.  The natural cure, the author concludes, is to put limits on our days.  We should begin work promptly at 9am and end promptly at 5pm, working to accomplish three major goals by the end of each day.

I very much like this idea, but I have trouble recognizing how to apply it to my life.  This time last year, I suffered from what I’ll affectionately call “Hell Mondays”.  These days generally began with data collection on 3-year-old children at 8am.  Soon after came a haze of meetings, colloquia, data analysis, and classes until I finally retreated home after my last class ended at 10pm.  I had a similar Monday experience the following semester.  This semester, I transitioned to a Hell Wednesday.

In the past, I’ve tried to compensate for these long days by allowing myself to work on personal goals during the morning following my hell day, but I quickly realized that the lack of structure in the following day was doing me more harm than good.

I recognize this as something that is certainly not a uniquely graduate student problem.  Have you ever tried to schedule a defense with a committee full of tenured academics?  If not, then I highly recommend it, because it will definitely squash out any stereotypes that you may hold of those coveted tenured ranks.  It’s extremely lucky to find any two-hour period in a two- or three-week span when all committee members are available.

Our students, too, struggle with finding balance.  My feelings used to be hurt on those days, beginning around midterms, when class attendance starts to drop.  I see now, though, that I should instead be overjoyed by, and grateful for, those days when I have a full classroom.  Students, in an attempt to fend off student debt, work long hours at their part-time jobs, and they frequently overload their schedules in order to graduate early.  On top of this, they participate in countless clubs in an effort to improve their marketability on that ever-approaching job market.  They have a lot on their plates, and I should be honored that they choose to attend my lectures on top of all of this.

For this reason, I’m sure that I’m not alone in my quest to find more balance and to impose more structure in my life.  So I ask you, dear blogosphere, what strategies do you have for combating the irregular academic workday?  And how do you combat the chaos and guilt resulting from this lack of structure?

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