Boundary-setting is a skill that no one taught me and which I learned the hard way. Along with many other fields, academia glorifies overwork. Having a packed schedule, hastily eating lunch between meetings, writing grants until the wee hours of the night, and working 24/7 are tacitly encouraged and indicative of a 'hard-worker,' someone who is truly committed to their craft. It's not uncommon for many academics to have poor work-life balance, and to feel persistently burned out. This is especially true for graduate students who feel the weight of wanting to be seen as diligent and motivated colleagues who will go the extra mile.
In the third year of my PhD, I took on additional responsibilities as a consequences of staff turnover and ended up overwhelmed and exhausted. Having no experience with boundary setting, I found myself working all the time, neglecting my personal relationships and my own physical and mental health. It took a toll. By the beginning of my fourth year, I was exhibiting all the classic signs of burnout: lack of motivation, cynicism, difficulty concentrating, irritability, low energy, etc. I had a decision to make: go on like this or change something.
Given that it was also roughly 7 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided something needed to change. More specifically, I needed to change. I began to define boundaries for myself including not responding to emails outside of my working hours and making a conscious effort not to work on weekends. Baby steps, but they worked. And you know what? Nothing happened. No one retaliated. No one thought I was a slacker. In fact, my work productivity improved because I was less stressed and more able to produce high-quality work... on weekdays from 9-5 only.
This winter I'll be taking two weeks off and I'm planning to set very clear boundaries -- something I don't think I've ever done so intentionally. Here are my 4 tips for the holidays:
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
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