I’m coming into the final few months of my PhD. Some of the stories I’ve heard from recently finished students can be quite horrifying. I know of one person who spent basically three straight months writing and revising, only leaving the computer to sleep (briefly) and go to the toilet. I know of plenty of others who have had to go into extension because they didn’t finish in the three (or four) years expected. I don’t want either of those to be me.
I just returned last night from a lovely weekend away in the countryside. A board gaming group I joined a while ago had a country retreat to hang out and have fun for the week, which only included the weekend for me. As this had been in the planning for months, we were really lucky to have had great weather for the majority of my time there — there was a bit of a storm yesterday morning/afternoon, but otherwise it was sunny and warm.
Just because we played a lot of games didn’t stop us from being outside, though. We brought some smaller games outside to play, had lunches, drinks, conversation or went for walks outside, too. If we had done a little more planning we would have brought (or maybe bought) a football, but thankfully someone had a frisbee that served as a suitable replacement to get a bit of physical activity. A few of us even went into the local city, only a few miles distant, to explore its medieval history and, honestly, get out of the house. I had a great time with a bunch of fun people. I didn’t work on or even think about my project for almost four whole days.
I mention all of this because I know of some people who would be horrified of even evenings off, let alone four whole days. But time off from work is almost as important as work. There have been plenty of studies and articles written (like this, or this, and there are plenty more; UCL even has an HR page dedicated to it) about how building downtime into work not only gives you more energy, but also decreases stress and makes you feel healthier and happier. Yet knowing all of this and acting on it to have a balance are two different things.
Everyone, of course, will have different needs and desires on achieving balance. Some place a premium on sport, others on time with family, still others on a hobby or something else entirely. I know plenty of people who have joined clubs and societies (both on campus and off) that have weekly football matches or athletics classes or yoga. I know plenty of others who play a musical instrument or read a non-academic book or see the latest film. None of these, of course, are mutually exclusive either. Nothing says you can’t have a weekly yoga class and read a novel before going to bed. I certainly do a lot of these.
I spent most of the traditional ‘working hours’ at the local library or, when I’m on campus, in my office. I don’t work from home a lot, though I know that will be changing soon once I get a desk for my new office area. So I am a member of a weekly board gaming group, I play guitar when I can (I’ll unpack it from the move one of these days), tend to read novels on trains and in bed and, as you may have guessed by reading previous posts, watch a lot of TV and movies. Perhaps I spend more time than other PhD students doing outside activities, but it works for me (I’ve always had good time management skills). When it’s time to work, I work (you may remember this post about writing goals), so I’ve managed to keep to my self-imposed time-frames. I am still on track to finish this PhD near the end of September (which someone recently informed is about 16 weeks away now, not to freak anyone else out). It is going to be a lot of work between now and then, but I’m certain I can finish it. If I have to watch a little bit less TV to achieve that goal, that’s not such a bad thing (especially as there’s very little new, good TV on during the summer months). What I’m not going to do, however, is completely abandon having a life. Part of me is even considering getting a part-time summer job, maybe 10 hours a week, to replace some of that TV-watching time with income (which will also make up for not teaching), but I’m still debating that.
The point is, even nearing the end of my PhD, I’ve actively decided to maintain my work-life balance. I’m not going to give up having a life to pursue work completely. On the other hand, this past weekend I spent gaming is probably the last sort of ‘holiday’ or extended time off I’m likely to take until completion. The balance will change a little, but there will still be ‘work’ time and ‘life’ time because both are incredibly important. Finding and maintaining that balance is key, though, especially for PhD students intent on finishing.