Recently I was asked to write a piece on work-life balance, describing how I manage to do my PhD (part-time) have time to train and compete in Powerlifting, have a family and a social life, while holding down a full time job. There is really only one simple response:
prioritise, plan and link.
First of all I set my life priorities by asking the question “What must be done?” The “what must be done” life priorities are very individual and it takes some soul-searching to determine what they are. My priorities are:
- Maintain health and fitness
- Spend time with family and friends
- Complete my PhD
- Earn a living – work
Life priorities may change over time. For example I only started my PhD journey when my children were grown up. Before that time looking after my children and ensuring they finish their first level education was my top priority.
Once the life priorities are identified, the planning starts. Usually on a weekly basis I allocate time for each of my priorities. A week seems to be a good timeframe for me; a day is usually too short to fit everything in. A month seems to be too long a timeframe as I might lose sight of one of the priorities. That said, I also have a long- term timeframe, for example for my PhD completion and I will refer to that in another blog. As life priorities are very individual, so is the time allocated to them. Some people want to socialise and spend time with their friends every night, some people only what to socialise twice a week. Some people may want to do sports four times a week, some people are content with once a week, as they might cycle to work.
Other considerations are linking two or more priorities. I think about where I could link my priorities to save time. For example I use the commute to and from work on the train to proofread my research work or clean up a database; tasks that do not require deep thinking. Going to the gym and training gets me together with some of my friends. Also, as research suggests, physical exercise enhances mental capabilities and reduces stress. So my training helps me with my PhD studies and my work. Socialising also helps to keep the brain cells active as we age. I will cover more on this aspect in another blog also.
What must not be done
Part of leading a busy life is eliminating or reducing things that distract me from my priorities. In this case I ask the question: “what must not be done?” For me they would be spending too much time on social media, excessive TV and commuting on the train without doing any productive work.
What can be done
For me is there is also a half-way-house which means there is room for things to be done that do not support any of my priorities directly, but indirectly. I like for example gardening and I enjoy reading PhD unrelated literature. So I fit these things in whenever possible. I could argue that gardening keeps me fit and flexible, reading literature supports my vocabulary for better thesis writing.
So, the answer to balancing/integrating life and work and study and whatever individual life dimensions there might be is for me is to prioritise, to plan and to link, supported by asking the questions; what must be done, what must not be done and what can be done.