As a fifth year doctoral student in the sciences, I’ve had a long time to hone my time management skills. When you’re laboring under a heavy research load—combined with teaching responsibilities, classwork, preparation for comprehensive exams and dissertation proposals—it’s not surprising that many grad students end up working 80 hour weeks.
Now add being a professional writer and a newlywed on top of that.
Yeah, it’s kind of a lot.
Most writers can probably relate. Most of us aren’t full-time novelists, whether that’s a long-term goal or not. We have full-time jobs. Some have multiple jobs. Many have families. Most have other hobbies, friendships that need attending to. We start to feel these little knots of stress tangling up in our guts. But when do we find the downtime to decompress and relax? It seems like there isn’t any time left!
And yet we’re aware, on some level, that if we don’t figure out a way to balance the professional demands on our time with our need to have, you know, real lives, it’s not gonna end well.
And that becomes a whole stress on its own: figuring out work-life balance before we figuratively implode.
I’m one of those people who thrives off productivity. I like being busy. I like tight deadlines. Too much free time can make me anxious. It breeds procrastination: oh, I have all the time in the world to turn in this draft, I can work on it next week. Being in grad school on top of writing can help in that way. I definitely don’t have a lot of free time.
But I’d like to do other things with my life, too—like hang out with friends, take my dog for a walk, practice piano. Read a damn book. I’ve learned that I have to schedule in free time the way I schedule in everything else. I like cooking, so I tell my partner I’m committed to cook on X days of the week. I like reading, so I always read while I’m in bed—it’s part of my falling-asleep ritual. I found a form of exercise I actually enjoy: muay thai kickboxing. Even better, I have a friend attending the same class, so I feel compelled to go; if I don’t, she’s going to have to be there alone! (I’ve found having that commitment to another person can help—with the muay thai, and the cooking. I’m beholden to someone besides myself to get that decompression time and exercise.)
Another habit I’ve tried to instill in myself is to say “yes” to social invitations. If my friends ask me to go out and do something, I always say yes. There are a few exceptions, of course—if I’m really sick, or have other plans I’ve already committed to. But mostly, it’s yes. This is a habit I got into when I was living abroad and wanted to make sure I didn’t self-isolate and miss out on exploring my new city and country. It worked well then, and it still works now. Bonus points: I develop a reputation for not being a flake. (My natural condition is flakiness.)
Oh yeah, and therapy. Therapy helps. I’m a huge proponent of therapy for everyone, and especially for busy people. It’s one hour a week—you can do it!
Are there still weeks where I don’t fit in much downtime or “life” stuff? Of course. But on average, I’m slowly finding that balance. It’s been a process of trial and error—no one method will work for everyone. But it’s worth experimenting. After all: you’ve certainly earned a little fun.