Lifestyle Balance & the Academy: Be The Change

In academe, every scholar has a recipe for success. Some are more effective than others–each of us has a unique experience and methods for getting things done and surviving–but we can still learn from each other. I am going to share a handful of my secrets that help me to stay healthy, hard working, and happy.

I have seen this meme pop up over and over during my graduate education experience. I think a lot of students feel this way about trying to balance their work life with their family and social lives. Even I have felt this way at times, which is a shame.

Why is it so difficult to strike a balance? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately, and in the spirit of a “new year, new you” I have been incorporating new practices into my daily routine that so far seem to be helping me get more things done, feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally, have time to connect with friends and family, and stay on top of my responsibilities in general.

I am going to talk about each of the lifestyle changes I have made in hope to start dialogue about what makes for a healthy, holistic life in balance. If you are reading this and there is anything you would like to share about your own experience, I would love to hear from you–comment below or send me an email because I am always interested in hearing about what works for other people because I know I still have a lot of room for improvement, myself!

Unplugging from the TV

First and foremost, this has been one of the biggest challenges for me (I love my shows!) But, they were a terrible time-sink for me, and also terrible for my health. I have a relatively sedintary lifestyle: between the time I spend commuting, sitting at my desk in the office, and sitting in class, I spend the majority of my time in a passive physical state. Addressing my TV-watching habits has freed up a ton of time in my daily/weekly schedule for other, more meaningful activities. I still catch a little TV here and there, but I am no longer “committed” to watching a weekly show or binge-watching series over Netflix or Amazon.

Device & Technology Synchronization

We are fortunate at Virginia Tech to have a contract (I guess?) with Google for the campus-wide use of their products and services. It has been set up to help students and faculty alike become more efficient and organized individually while also providing limitless opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing across campus (and beyond).

When I first started here, I was doing good to have Gmail on my smart phone. I didn’t use a digital calendar because I have been in the camp of carrying around a physical planner for over 20 years now.  I kept only paper lists of tasks, things to do, grocery lists, and assignments, which cluttered every corner of my office, car, and apartment due to my inability to throw anything away that I might need again later or could still be useful. (Some lists are long-term, so they rarely go away, even if I’m not working on that list anymore actively…)

So, for me, I have embraced Google and many of their productivity apps and it has resulted in an amazing turn-around for me. I fully rely on Google Calendar, Keep, Drive, and Gmail as my primary means for communication. I’m also using the Canvas app, the BT4U transportation app, and an app called Moment that is helping me to manage my screen-time and cut down on my mindless browsing of social media. It’s great. If you aren’t utilizing the FREE tools right in front of you to help you get things done, well, you might want to reconsider.

Meal Planning + Prep

This one was a little challenging at first, but the more I do it, the better at it I get. I plan out the meals I want to make for my family for the upcoming week and after that, I form my grocery list.

Some people may choose to do this in a notebook, but I’ve found that my $1.00 thrift shop refrigerator dry erase board is really all I need to get this task accomplished.

I plan the weekly schedule and then figure out what groceries I need to make it happen.

When Saturday rolls around, I go on and get all of my grocery shopping done for the week. Sunday afternoon, I spend on average 3-4 hours in the kitchen and I go ahead and cook/prepare everything that I planned for the week. This may not appeal to some people–I NEVER thought I would be the type to do this, but it is totally working for my family. Since there are two nights this semester that I’m out with a class, it’s really great for us to already know what we are going to eat–and to have it already prepared in advance. That way, every day when we get home from work/school, we can just pull out what we’re having, warm it up, and PRESTO! Dinner is served.

You’re looking at my lunches for the week! I make 5 salads on Sunday and then pop them in the fridge. Every morning, I just pull one out, put some dressing on it (extra virgin olive oil & apple cider vinegar), add a handful of tomatoes, and then I’m ready to go!

The other part of this that is important to mention is that I’ve started being more mindful about the foods that I eat. I had gotten in the bad habit of overeating, stress-eating, and indulging in high calorie/high fat/high carbohydrate foods more frequently than is recommended by any nutrition expert. So, for almost a month now, I have been very measured, literally, with my portion sizes as well as being mindful about how many portions from each food group I consume on a day to day basis. This has helped out tremendously and I find that the more care I take with my meal planning, prep, and portions, the better I feel in general AND I am craving junk or large portions less and less as time moves forward.

Daily Exercise

I exercise 30 minutes every day. I am working towards being able to wake up and do it (but OMG that’s hard since I’m typically getting up a few times a night to soothe my daughter back to sleep). So for now, I have been working out in the evenings, and for the most part, I am working out after I get my daughter into bed for the evening.

I never thought that I would have the time or the energy to do something like this on top of everything else that I am doing between school and my other responsibilities, but now that I have been at it for almost 3 weeks, I am hooked! I really look forward to the time that I get to spend working out because the self care is invaluable. I mentioned before that my lifestyle is pretty sedentary throughout the day, so I have really grown to love these workouts. It gives me time to think and reflect while also setting a personal intention to work really hard toward toning and burning fat, and of course there are the chemical rewards of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine to look forward to!

One of my friends is a BeachBody Coach and she has gotten me involved in a Women’s Challenge Group via Social Media. That has helped a lot too–there is accountability for me since I have a group that I check in with, get motivation from, and try to motivate in my own way through hard work and persistence. BeachBody On Demand is an App that I downloaded to my phone–so I can literally do my exercises anywhere, anytime. I don’t have a gym membership. I don’t go anywhere to get my workout done–unless I choose to do it outside–and that’s been really great for my productivity. Convincing myself to get it together to go work out is so hard! It’s a challenge for many reasons, but having a family adds another layer of complexity to the issue. I love this BeachBody program that I am doing now and I am eager to see how it continues to change my life and improve my health.

Scheduling Time to Write

For graduate students, finding motivation to write might be one of the most difficult things to do. At the end of my third semester here at Tech, I was feeling frustrated and disappointed with myself for not taking more time out to get more done on my own research. Sure, I have been making slow, but steady progress, but there is still a long road ahead of me in terms of getting through this Ph.D. program.

So through talking to some of my peers and mentors, I learned a tactic that some employ: actively schedule the writing into your calendar AND then find a buddy to write with. I am fortunate to have a friend in the college with me who is in a similar boat; she and I have committed to writing together every week for 4 hours. Of course we talk a little when we first get together, but not long after that, we are practicing deep focus and working hard on our research. It’s really nice to have the company and I am looking forward to seeing how it impacts my productivity this semester and in my academic life going forward.

Transportation Efficiency

This one has really been bothering me for a while. I have been using the BT bus system when I can, but the routes don’t always match up with where I have to go/when I have to go, and that’s been a bit of a problem for me.

I definitely enjoy the long walks that result from traveling between academic buildings, but there are new challenges for me this semester. For instance, on my MWF days, I have class from 9-11 on one side of campus, and then I am also scheduled to lead technical workshops in the LAR studio for the 2nd year students in the class that I am GTA for. So what did I decide to do? Bringing my bicycle to campus, of course. I’m not great at it yet–the hills here are tough for a flat-land-Mississippi-girl like me, but I appreciate the opportunity to get stronger through practice. Having my bicycle on campus on the days that I have back-to-back appointments is going to help me a lot. So far, I have been able to shave a considerable amount of time off of my treks back and forth across campus.

Daily Routine Prep

This might be one of the more important lifestyle changes that I have made. I am trying to be more purposeful with my activities in general, and I am becoming more efficient because I am setting myself up for tomorrow the night before.

I pack mine and my daughter’s backpacks in the evening. I set out our clothes so that I know what we are going to wear. When I wake up, I am able to just grab what I already know I want (vs standing in front of my closet trying on outfits for 15+ minutes while I decide if I’m in the mood for one top or another, etc.)

When it comes to making myself ready in the morning, I was having trouble making time to put on makeup or fix my hair–I was sacrificing my ability to look professional because I was too busy fussing with last minute tasks! I have done a complete overhaul on my personal care products because I am passionate about knowing what is in the ingredients of the products I use. For the last year, I have embraced a new brand of personal care products called BeautyCounter, which is a safer, minimalist beauty brand with a mission of getting safer products into the hands of everyone. There is a “Flawless in 5” makeup routine that they offer and I am so in love with it. Not only are the products I use safer for me, but I am only using a handful of products and the result is a beautiful, professional, minimalist look. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the kind of time I used to now that I am a mother, so a routine like this is perfect for me.

As a sidebar, I did opt to become an independent consultant for BeautyCounter, because I thought that I would be able to make some extra money by sharing the product with other people, but for me, I have discovered that sales are somewhat challenging. I wish I was putting more time into this part of my life, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a priority and I have accepted that. (If you’re at all interested in BC, reach out! It has changed mine and my family’s life!)

The last thing I wanted to add in this section is something I did mention before. Since I pack all of my meals in advance, I am saving time by not having to do so much in the morning while I am trying to get ready and get out the door. I no longer chop vegetables or prepare toppings for my salads in morning day in and day out. It’s really great. I am able to achieve a healthier meal plan and dietary regime with just a little bit of extra effort and it has been so worth it. I also prepare my breakfast at night, too. Lately, I’ve been on an overnight-oatmeal kick and have really enjoyed the simplicity of popping the oats, water, spices, and sometimes fruit or yogurt into a mason jar and then setting it in the fridge to make.

Remember, you can do anything if you set your intentions and follow through with them. For me, it is imperative to make it through graduate school and come out the other side happy and well balanced. The same goes for my family. I don’t want to be putting them through hell while I go through this process. We are all in this together and I know that if I’m healthy and happy that all of the pieces can fall into place.

I hope that some of the things I have shared about my lifestyle might help you to think about your own and how you are choosing to spend your time. I hope that if you have any ideas for me–for optimizing efficiency or getting more out of the day in general that you will share. I hope that I have been able to give you ideas that you can incorporate into your routine and that you are feeling motivated to tackle any changes you’ve been putting off.

My dear friend sent me this bracelet for Christmas. I wear it every day; I am trying every day to continue to embody this message.


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