As an undergraduate, my day-to-day existence was a predictable weekly pattern consisting of lectures and lab sessions, homework, shifts at my part-time jobs, and time to just chill and have fun with my friends and flatmates. This prescribed and comfortable routine changed a LOT when I entered the strange universe of grad school as a M.Sc. student; suddenly I was only taking a course or two each term, and spending the rest of my time figuring out how to do this thing called “research”. Now, as a Ph.D. candidate, my time has become very much my own to manage.
It’s funny: at first I assumed that the lack of course work would translate into a nice, stable, 9-to-5-ish existence, similar to the one I had when I was in the workforce and had a Real Job. Then the reality of the enormous amount of work I had to do hit me. Sometimes it seems like there are simply not enough hours in the day to get it all done and that I’m forever juggling how I prioritize items on my to-do list One thing that I am consistently guilty of shuffling onto the “To attend to later – way later” pile – is me.
It’s easy to do, isn’t it? I mean, you have students, labmates, collaborators, volunteers – oh, and let’s not forget the advisors – all depending on you and expecting high-quality output. As if that wasn’t enough, you might have a part-time job. You might have a home that desperately needs a good cleaning and laundry in a pile that can no longer pass the “sniff-sniff, not too bad, I’ll wear it anyways” test. You might have pets vying for your attention: the cat is sitting on your laptop (HINT HINT PET ME) and the dogs are looking at you dolefully as you say, “We’ll go for another walk later – I promise”. You might have a partner who is getting awfully sick of seeing the back of your head as you hunch over your laptop for the 14th hour that day, pausing only long enough to whip up something quick for dinner – which you bring upstairs and eat in front of your laptop. (NOTE: I AM NOT NECESSARILY DESCRIBING MY OWN PERSONAL SITUATION IN THESE HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIOS. BUT THERE IS A VERY GOOD CHANCE THAT I AM.) Some of you have children. I seriously have no idea how you do it.
Trying to fit in time to take care of yourself can seem impossible at times.
This year, I made a decision to do a better job of this, even if it meant I had to do it at the expense of other activities. In the past, I had enjoyed running as a way to stay fit and active, to clear my head and to spend some much-needed time outdoors getting fresh air. I even ran a half marathon. But life got busy, other things seemed more important, and then I got an injury – and that was that. No more running.
I started to feel the effects pretty quickly, and by this past December, my fitness level had denigrated badly. I knew I needed to carve out time in my day to attend to this – and to treat it as a thing of high importance on my long list of daily to-dos. In truth, it was dog-guilt that spurned me into action; I was starting to feel like my beloved pooches weren’t getting the exercise they needed and deserved. So, in January, I pulled out the old running gear, crossed my fingers that the time off had allowed my injury to heal, snapped on the leashes and quickly found myself being encouraged to pick up the pace by two very happy dogs.
It’s been two months now. The mutts and I are putting in about 30-40 kms of jogging every week. We’re all enjoying the fresh air and exercise. I’m enjoying the brain-calm, meditative state (breathe, breathe, breathe) that only running seems to create for me, and the dogs find new and exciting things to sniff and pee on every time we go out. We’re not smashing any speed or distance records, but it’s a Good Thing.
This takes about an hour of my day, about 5 days a week. At first it bothered me and I felt like it was taking me away from Important Time During Which I Should Be Doing Important Work. But something strange has happened. I find I’m sleeping better, eating better, and feeling better, both physically and mentally. I find that my focus and clarity of thought have improved (and this is a lot for me, a person with an attention span of about five seco — oh, something shiny! – wait, what was I saying?) – leading to an improvement in my productivity and how I feel about the work I get finished in a day. And, to top it all off, these guys are pretty happy too.
It’s easy to forget what a positive influence self-care can have on all other aspects of your life, even the huge list of Very Important Grad School Things You Need to Get Finished Today. I’ve been reminded how important it is, and I hope I have the sense to keep this up for the long haul. My suggestion: find something that’s Good For You, and do it. I suspect you’ll be glad you made the time.