Life – Ph.D Balance

Finding a balance between life and work can be really difficult. Especially when work = doing your Ph.D.

I’m starting my third year as a Ph.D student and I still struggle with this everyday: that guilt feeling after I have set aside some hours of the day for just being with my loved one or by myself.

When I just started my Ph.D, I remember reading in some blog posts that the Ph.D is not an 8 to 5 job, that it required a lot more dedication, time and effort than that. I cannot agree more with that; however, I do not think it is a 24/7 job either.

Last year, I went through my workaholic period. I worked nonstop from early morning until late at night (I would say that I was in my office at 8 am already and I would not leave before 11 pm/midnight). I was so into working that I stopped going to the gym, I did not pay much attention to what/when I should eat and I would cancel on most of the invitations from my friends… My “life” was work. I would get lots of things done and I had the idea that I was extremely productive. However, I was not happy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my research! (I will soon write about it) but the fact that I did nothing besides work was making me miss on many other things that could have definitely bring a positive balance to my life.

After that period, I decided to start experimenting on what is my best time to work. When I started my undergrad studies, I stopped being an early bird. With classes from 4 pm to 10 pm (most of the days) I would say that my brain got used to be more alert from the afternoon up until as late as the projects/homework/studying required. In fact, it was easier for me to pull an all-nighter than to wake up at 6 am. The same went for my grad school period. Most of the classes were in the afternoons, so I didn’t quite change the pattern. The challenge came when I was not taking classes during the Ph.D and I had to manage my time throughout the day without falling into a workaholic period again. I decided that I had to leave room for exercising ( I should write a post about that too!), for preparing healthy meals and also some extra “me time” in which I could see friends or just chill.

The first experiment took place during last summer. I realized that I was not as productive, research/work-wise, as I wanted to be during the mornings. This didn’t mean that I would sleep in, this meant that perhaps it was better to spend my mornings on those activities that I wanted/needed to do, but did not require me sitting at a desk and reading/writing/coding. I started going regularly to the gym, in the morning, and then I would get back home, do the random tasks that I needed to complete, have lunch and then head to school, all-ready for my research tasks. Since I had taken out of the way many things that I had to do, already during the morning, I could stay until a bit later at school.

After that summer, I had a pretty good idea of how productive I could be without leaving aside things that were not Ph.D-related, but made quite a great difference on my daily living!

I am currently trying to adapt this to a non-summer period, when there are way more research tasks and assignments to complete. I still feel that I am way more productive during the afternoon than during the morning; however, I am still experimenting and adapting changes to my daily routine. At this point, I am fighting with my non-early bird self and trying to get up a little bit earlier everyday. Getting up earlier gives me time to get a few things done even before I go to the gym (I haven’t been able to hit the gym at 6 am yet, but it is one of my goals). Among those things are think about my day ahead and plan it out, read or perhaps check something out of those things that appear in red from my previous day to-do list. In this way, I start the day feeling that I have already completed something. And… there is one extra reason why I am still working on this early-waking up process, and it has to do with the feeling I got after trying it for the first time. It is a feeling of accomplishment, a sign reminding me that there is no such thing as “I am not made for this”. There is only, “I haven’t tried it enough and I haven’t given it a good chance.”

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