Hacking Your Personal Life

party animalHere at ProfHacker, we encourage balance between the mind and body. See Kathleen’s “Prioritizing Exercise,” Nels’s “The Whole Life Grid,” and “Nurturing the Mind-Body Connection” by guest author, Meagan Timney for just a few examples of these posts. Today, I want to think about a slightly different kind of balance: the balance between the personal and the professional. Maintaining a life outside of our professional obligations and responsibilities can be challenging for all of us no matter what stage of our careers we have achieved. These challenges can vary depending on several factors: our own personalities and the kind of institution where we spend our time are perhaps two of the biggest variables, but in addition, whether you are partnered or single, whether you have children or not, and whether you must commute to campus and how far also all contribute. Finally, whether you are new to your location (and/or your job) or you have been there several years also makes a difference. With all of these points in mind, here are a few ways that you might give your personal life a boost.

Leave the office. I love my office, and I am grateful to have a place on campus where I can meet with students or close the door and get work done. But as useful and necessary as sequestering can be, it is also important to leave that space of isolation and get out into the larger community every once in a while. Or just leave your door open on occasion so that you might great people who pass by. One of my favorite perks during my lecture year was the fact that my office was across from the faculty lounge where the fancy (and free) coffee machine drew colleagues form all across the rather large department. If I didn’t want to be disturbed, I kept my door closed. But if I needed a bit of a break, I could prop the door open or go across the hall. Water coolers and coffee machines are often-overlooked points of contact, and I remember some of those conversations fondly still.

Leave the department. If you are lucky, you are in a department that is supportive and collegial, but even still it can be a nice change of pace to socialize with members of other departments on campus. At a small college, this can be relatively easy. There may even been opportunities for this kind of exchange built into campus culture. But whether you are at a big school or a small school, such opportunities matter not if you ignore them or don’t make time to attend. Whether a campus workshop or a weekly happy hour, socializing with colleagues from different fields can lead to not only great conversation, but also other kinds of opportunities like team-teaching or interdisciplinary research projects.

Leave campus. Maybe you live in a location where there is more than one college or university. If so, you might try to meet people who teach at those institutions by attending events on those campuses. Or maybe you would like to interact with “civilians” instead of academics. It is likely no surprise that there are lots of ways to get involved with one’s community and meet people who share similar interests. Volunteer at a local organization. Join a local club whether an environmental conservation group or a community orchestra. Take a (nonacademic) class: yoga, pottery, photography, horseback riding, rock-climbing. Attend events in your community that interest you: a poetry reading, an art opening, a concert, a wine tasting, a group hike or bike ride…

Ultimately, how we spend our time and how much of it we dedicate to a life away from work is an individual decision that will vary with each one of us. I have found that not only am I happier when I make time for myself amidst my professional duties and obligations, but I am also more efficient and productive when I am working. Moreover, I’ve met some great people through various activities on and off campus. Some of these relationships have paid unexpected professional dividends; others have rewarded me in different currencies, the most important of which is the reminder than the world is bigger, more diverse, and more complex than my perception of it.

Do you have suggestions for ways to hack a social life? What activities do you enjoy when you are off the clock? Please share in the comments section below.

[Creative Commons image licensed by Flickr user Frédéric de Villamil.]

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