Early Career Psychologist Column

Work/Life Balance

Advice for balancing the demands of a career with the essentials of a well-rounded life.

By Diann Gaalema, PhD, and Adriana Falco, PhD

One of the greatest challenges of an early career position is finding a balance between work and everything else in your life. Somehow we must be epically productive while also maintaining a social life, raising children and not becoming more potato-shaped. Do I really have time to make a nutritious home cooked meal? How can I make it to the gym when I have these revisions due? The mantra of “I should be doing X” is never far from mind. For me, one of my daily challenges while in an academic position is trying to get even a modicum of exercise. If there isn't enough time in the day to get all the other stuff done how can we make time for exercise? First of all, stop making exercise the bottom man on the totem pole, we all know that a healthy person is a productive person. So what can we do? Two ideas come to mind: first, maximize the work you accomplish while you're doing it so that you can set aside some time for exercise and second, find time throughout the day to get some incidental exercise. Of course as a big fan of technological solutions I'll talk about some ways that these things can be accomplished.

First: Maximizing efficiency. Number one, while working avoid distractions. One easy way to do this is to turn off audio/visual notifications of incoming email, chats, texts, etc. I can't count the number of times I was working on a paper when I hear the *ding* of incoming email and I make the rounds, checking various inboxes only to come up for air five-ten minutes later having completely lost my original train of thought. Number two, do you find yourself wasting time on particular websites? It is far too easy to get sucked from link to link to link. This is such a widespread problem that people have actually written software to control access to time-wasting sites for you. Programs like Freedom and Anti-social are designed to help.

Second: Incidental exercise. Breaking up the day to move around a bit has the benefit both of helping you refocus and getting you some much needed exercise. Take the stairs whenever possible, walk down the hall to talk to someone you might have just instant messaged. Want to set some goals for daily exercise and keep yourself accountable? Invest in a pedometer, or get fancy and go for a Fitbit , Jawbone, or similar activity tracker. Also schedule some breaks in your day to get up and move around. You can set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes to stretch or every 60 minutes to actually get up and walk around for a bit. You'll be surprised how much 5 minutes here and there throughout the day adds up.

Need some stretches/exercises to do at your desk? May I suggest the sun salutation? Too much? Even some brisk marching in place or some simple stretches should help fight the sedentary lifestyle of academia.

Hopefully through a combination of efficiency and incidental exercise you'll find yourself just as productive with some health benefits on the side.