When you work in academia, it can be very hard to find a good work/life balance. I’ve always considered myself pretty good at it—so it sort of took me by surprise when in the middle of December, I experienced a mild case of burnout. Burnout is defined as the experience of long-term exhaustion, which can have many causes. For me, I believe the cause was multifaceted and difficult to pinpoint, but in general I think I pushed myself too hard for too long. I also have a suspicion it may have been induced by my close proximity to stressed out college students. My creative juices went dry and things that I normally enjoy doing, such as blogging, felt like an insurmountable chore. Good news, such as finally publishing a research article, yielded apathy rather than joy and pride.
Fortunately, I had the foresight to take a couple extra days off before holiday break in hopes getting a lot of rest and giving myself the opportunity to recover. Thankfully I didn’t travel too much over winter break, so I was able to truly savor every minute. I’ve been back to work for a few days now and I’m feeling much better! I’m optimistic that I kicked this bout of burnout.
Based on my own minor experience with burnout and a bit of research I’ve done, here are a few of my survival tips on finding a successful work/life balance:
Disconnect: When you physically leave the library at the end of the day, make sure your mind leaves it, too. I’ll admit, I break this rule all the time—especially when I have a lot of instruction sessions to prepare for, when I’m working on a research article, or when I’m (ahem) working on a blog post. I have often found that disconnecting helps me find creative solutions to problems I couldn’t solve while sitting at my desk. Unless I’m expecting an important email or phone call, I try not to touch any work on the weekends.
Find another passion: While it is very important to be passionate about your profession, I also think it’s important to be passionate about something outside of librarianship. All the librarians I know have lots of interests and hobbies. Pick one and put some energy into it. Mine is yoga. If I’m not at work, I’m in the yoga studio. I take my yoga practice very seriously and I make sure to carve out time for it. My colleagues sometimes think I’m crazy for doing yoga upwards of 15 hours a week (–I don’t have children), but on the contrary, it actually keeps me sane.
Have compassion for yourself: When you’re not able to do things as quickly and as efficiently as you are used to, be easy on yourself. Be mindful enough to realize that the blockages you are encountering do not reflect your value as a librarian or a person. Know that with time and patience, this will pass. And if it doesn’t, then you need to seek help or make a change.
Do you have any tips on navigating the work/life balance?
3 thoughts on “Finding a Successful Work/Life Balance”
Our bodies speak loudly and clearly. For me, it’s currently a Lyme Disease struggle. My spiritual life is the only counterbalance, esp an “attitude of gratitude” despite the struggles of the day. I am reading the new book, The Myths of Happiness by Lybomirsky. Very practical take on contentment.
There are a number of strategies I employ to keep balance in my life. I realize there are times when the balance may shift a bit heavier on work life and the same can be true for personal life. The important thing for me to keep in mind is to be cognizant of how I am feeling and functioning.
1. Prioritize. This has helped in many ways. My priorities may change some depending on the time of year (for example, mid-semester, I am more focused on instruction, reference, and services specifically geared towards the more immediate needs of students and faculty) and I try to maintain flexibility. I keep to-do lists and often highlight items that are must-do’s for the week. The visualize keeps me on track.
2. Do one thing at a time. I can multi-task, but it can become stressful and I don’t always put out my best effort when I’m scattered between things. This doesn’t mean I don’t have several projects in the works at a time. It just means that when I sit down to do something, I focus on one project at a time. I keep a notebook nearby to jot down ideas for other things. It helps me not forget something I want to go back to later, and it helps me refocus on what I’m doing at the moment. There are times I’ll use a timer because I know I have a few things I want to work on, but not a lot of time to devote to each project. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish in 30 minutes if I am determined to stay focused.
3. Take time off. Research indicates that a break every three months is healthy. There is rarely a convenient time to take a vacation, but when I think about the possible consequences of burn-out vs. a few days away from work…the vacation will always win. I’ve also started trying to schedule a day off before and after conference travel, particularly if I’m flying. It’s nice to have a day to pack and take care of anything (like putting a hold on the mail, picking up odds and ends, etc.) without cramming it into lunch hours or after work. The day after is perfect for sleeping in and decompressing. I will still check in with work so I have an idea of how to plan my first day back. But that time is mostly for me.
4. Say “no.” Sometimes you might even need to say this to yourself. This goes along with setting priorities. Also, I don’t mean this just in the professional setting. Years ago, when I lived out of state and my vacation time was spent traveling between my husband’s family and mine, we finally said “no” to trips every couple of months. It worked out fine. As I get older, I’ve narrowed my hobbies down to a few that I truly enjoy. (I like the finding your passion in the original post.) The same is true with the professional committees and organizations I spend time working for. It’s okay to be specific about your interests and to choose activities that align with them.
5. Seek help. This was a hard one for me. A couple of years ago, I faced a professional crisis that left me frustrated and almost ready to quit. Fortunately, I sought and found help from colleagues, both librarians and elsewhere. They helped provide insight, suggestions, and support that helped me develop new skills and got me through that time. The same is true in my personal life. A good support network is helpful. But, you also have to be willing to use your network when you need it.
20 years of employment have taught me many things. Hopefully you’ll find these few insights helpful.