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The Balancing Act

Balance? In academic life? What’s that?

We all know it’s hard to attain. Though academic life can provide us with a great deal of flexibility, it seems that our work is never finished. There’s always something we could be working on–and often enough we feel like we should be working on it.

We can manage our projects and action lists using a system like Getting Things Done. What about life balance more generally?

Natalie has written about this before, pointing out that balance isn’t something we achieve, but something that that we strive for, making course corrections as we go.

Those course corrections are often the purpose of resolutions that we make for the beginning of a new year or term.

At my institution, we’re just completing the fourth week of the semester, so it’s a good time to reflect on resolutions that I’ve made with the intention of maintaining some semblance of life balance. Here are a few things I’ve tried that seem to work reasonably well, and that may work for others:

  • Set limits to email:
    • Cut yourself off from email at a given time each day (or, if it works better, don’t start until a particular time each day).
    • Consider taking a weekly day off from email.
    • Let people know your limits, so that they don’t expect responses from you during “off-limits” times. (I make it clear on my course websites that I don’t ordinarily check my email on Sundays.)
  • Commit to an exercise routine. If something comes up and you can’t make your usual workout or class, consider whether there’s an alternate you might do that day–it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.
  • Take a little time to unwind at the end of the day–don’t work straight until bedtime. (Lately, I’ve been unwinding just before bed by re-reading Mercedes Lackey’s Mage Storms trilogy.)
  • Commit time to an activity you enjoy. Book club? Choir? Community theatre? Dance? An ongoing service project? Sports? We don’t want to overload on outside commitments, but one or two activities can be energizing and enriching.
  • Make time for friends–even if it means scheduling appointments!
  • If you have a spiritual practice–formally “religious” or otherwise–be faithful to it. It’ll help keep you grounded.

Of course, these only work for me when I keep at them, and I’m not always successful in doing that. Restarting the practices above is something I have to keep doing on a regular basis (there’s that constant course correction again!).

I don’t use GTD in any kind of systematic way (perhaps I should reconsider that), but I plan to add actions associated with some of these strategies to my action list. That way, they’ll be in front of me as things I need to do (and which are arguably as important as some of my more clearly “work-related” tasks), and I’ll get the satisfaction of checking them off when they’re done.

Are there other practices that readers find helpful for maintaining balance? Let’s hear about them in the comments.

The photo in this post is CC-licensed and was created by Flickr user lululemon athletica.

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