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Academic Coaching & Writing

Work Life Balance

Faculty members have multiple priorities to balance—commitments to research and teaching; commitments to the department, college/university and the field; and, most importantly, commitments to themselves, their friends, and family.

Managing these competing priorities so that you are successful, productive, and fulfilled can be challenging. There is no single path to balance, and your version of balance will look very different from somebody else’s, and may even look different to you from time to time. While the feelings associated with being in a balanced state may feel familiar, the actions that get you there change over time. Here are some tips to help you find your way to balance.

Balancing Research, Teaching, and the Rest of Your Life

Identify what commitments are most important to you. The key to balance is not spending equal amounts of energy on everything you have on your plate, but focusing your time and energy in a way that reflects your values. Getting clear on what your values are, what values are being overworked at the expense of others (and throwing you out of balance), and how your choices align with your values will help create balance. Creating balance requires making choices, and this clarity serves as an internal compass to help you make the right choices for you. For example, if you value research less than teaching, it is sign of balance that you are spending less time on research, and not something about which you should feel guilty. If you find that you value research but are spending more time on teaching, your path to balance will probably require that you make adjustments to do more research.

Remember that balance cannot be achieved in a single day, week, or even a semester. A day may seem skewed towards teaching, but over the course of a week or month, balance emerges when you have days that are skewed in a different direction.

That said, you are the best judge of what balance looks and feels like for you. Some people create balance by spending long stretches of time focused on one area. For example, they may focus on teaching during the semester and shift their focus toward research during the summer. Others prefer to work on multiple priorities throughout the year. Learn when you feel most balanced and productive, and create a workflow that supports your sense of balance.

Identify what commitments are important for tenure and promotion at your institution. Finding the places where your priorities align with your institution’s priorities will make it easier to make sound decisions about which institutional priorities to commit to.

  • The table below is a tool to help you visualize balancing individual and institutional priorities. One axis indentifies individual priorities as important or not important, and the other axis identifies institutional priorities as important or not important. Make a list of all your commitments, individual or institutional, and place them in one of the quadrants, based on their importance to you and your institution.
  • Tasks that are in Quadrant 1 should receive the bulk of your attention and those in Quadrant 4 should receive the least. Once you have identified which tasks lie in each of these quadrants, balance may be achieved by giving the right amounts of attention to them. The challenge to creating balance comes from Quadrants 2 and 3, where your priorities do not align with your institutional priorities. Your matrix will differ from others, but common examples of priorities that fall in Quadrant 2 are family and health, which are important to you as an individual, but less important to your institution. Tasks such as serving on university committees and chairing students might be Quadrant 3 tasks (for someone who does not enjoy either and does not see any personal benefit from them). To create balance, move between Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 3, and spend varying amounts of time and energy on these tasks. Identifying your priorities, keeping track of where you have focused, and moving between the two in a careful and intentional manner will support you in creating balance.
  Institutional Priorities
    Important Not Important
Individual Priorities Important Q1 Q2
  Not Important Q3 Q4

Learn the Two Most Important Skills to Create Balance

Once you identify your important commitments, create balance by learning:

  • How and when to say “NO”: Say NO to any Quadrant 4 tasks or any tasks that prevent you from effectively performing Quadrant 1 tasks. Move between Q2 and Q3 depending on where you are spending the bulk of your energy. Say NO politely but firmly. If you have trouble saying NO, ask to think about it, and respond later.
  • How to say “YES”: – It is often the projects which excite us that cause the most problems with balance. In our excitement, we say YES with few limits and boundaries, which can lead to overload. Learn how to agree to projects, while still setting boundaries. Clarify what is expected of you and be very clear about what you can commit to. Ask about the deliverables/outcomes and when you can expect them. Since projects change and roles evolve over time, you should periodically evaluate if your commitment to the project is the same as it was when you began, and if the project is still beneficial to you.

Create a system to check in with yourself. Typically, the beginning, midterm, and end of the semester are good points to reevaluate your goals, reprioritize your commitments, and reexamine your balance. To create a system of accountability and to check and rebalance your priorities, work with a trusted mentor or coach who can help you honestly assess where you are.

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