Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Work-life Balance

A while back, I attended a seminar on work-life balance. This was conducted during a conference (experimental biology 2011). Here is a quick summary of the seminar, I hope you will find it useful.

1. How do you find better balance?

  • Track your time. Find out how much time you spend on activities ranging from FarmVille to calling your parents. 
  • Drop activities that are not fun, sap energy, or take loads of time away
  • See if there are things that your friends or family can help with
  • Use the time you save, for important activities that you so far devoted less time to.

2. Which "work" is important?
  • Divide all your professional (and academic) activities into two categories; "your work", and "their work". "Your work" is what helps you graduate, advance your career, or at the very least what keeps your position (as TA, PostDoc, whatever). If what keeps your position does not help with the other two, prepare for a change.
  • Drop "their work" wherever you can, and focus on "your work.

3. Learn to say "no"

  • Make sure that your schedule represents what YOU want to do, not what others want you to do.
  • You have a right to say "no", do not feel guilty about it.
  • If you are still not so good at saying "no", find a partner who can do that for you. But remember, you need this skill; the earlier you learn it, the better.

4. Edit yourself personally, and professionally
  • Regularly have a good look at how your time is spent; make adjustments 
  • Example: If you seem to spend too much time on Facebook, divert half of it to LinkedIn; you will get a professional network with similar effort
  • An easy-to-get-in conference in a pacific island is tempting, but think whether the time spent on writing a paper with the same old work, getting visa and other travel arrangements done, getting rid of jet lag etc. worth it. If you really need a break, meeting the family is probably easier, and most likely much better.

5. Set time frames, and have small goals
  • Writing your thesis in 3 months is not realistic when you just finalized your topic; try surveying 50 recent and related papers in two weeks, instead.

6. Communicate and ask for help
  • If you feel that your advisor asking you to reinstall Windows Vista on his age-old desktop every week is a waste of your time, say so.
  • If you cannot find a free version of an important research paper, and your lab does not have a subscription to the journal, write to one of the authors.

7. Collaborate IF AND ONLY IF there is synergy
  • Synergy is not wasting your time in more meetings, or letting others get longer publication records when you do all the work.

8. Know what is important for your career
  • Spend one hour a week, learning something that might help your career

9. Meet deadlines
  • Every time you miss a deadline, both you and somebody else suffer
  • When there are deadline extensions, stick to the old deadline and use the extra time for more important work

10. Additional tips for a more balanced life
  • Don't have desk lunches; eat at a place where you can see far, using the time to rest your eyes.
  • Spend another hour every week, learning something totally unrelated, but fun
  • Don't miss breakfasts.
  • Sleep early, and sleep at least six hours.
  • Make sure you spend some time every week, if not every day, with family, friends and loved ones.

I kept that pretty short. Hope this helps!

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