Balancing your life and postgraduate study
Postgraduate study can be an extremely fulfilling and rewarding period in your life. If yours is a research postgrad rather than one by coursework, you have even greater flexibility to pursue areas of research interest. With any form of study, it is very easy to become totally immersed in the pursuit of knowledge, because there is so much out there that is interesting and waiting for you to discover!
While postgraduate study is a major and long-term commitment, you quickly realise that you have other commitments such as family, work and friendships that all require some of your time. An important part of successful study therefore is balancing all of these demands. What is required is to sit down and think about your commitments, priorities and the time available for each.
Time management can be seen as a series of cycles. Some cycles are much longer than others, with periods of attention interspersed with periods of no attention. There is your family cycle, your study cycle, your work cycle and your social cycle. You could visualise these all as plants in a garden that need some tending, but not necessarily for long periods of time. Try not to feel overwhelmed by planning for when you will tend the different plants in your garden. It is often (but not always) the quality of time you spend rather than the quantity. Relationships and academic progress will flourish if they are attended to regularly, but not necessarily with long bursts of time.
- Attending to your partner, for instance, may mean going out for a coffee on a Saturday night. Attending to your small children may mean an early trip to the swimming pool and being with them at meal times and bedtimes, while attending to your study may mean working on a Saturday and Sunday for four hours only each day, allowing time for other activities as well. Two-hour, focused bursts can be very productive. Evenings can be spent reading and note making instead of watching television. Your friends can usually survive with phone calls and workday lunches until the summer, when you can relax and do some catch up entertaining.
- Be strategic and practical in managing your life. Consider whether you can afford to pay for help to complete household chores to reduce the overall workload. Take shortcuts around the house - no one ever died from an untidy house! Can you do things more efficiently? For example, shop only every two weeks at the supermarket, have longer cleaning cycles, etc. Can you call on support from your family?
- Remember also that postgraduate work, particularly research, requires a great deal of thinking and this can be done in all sorts of situations while also doing other things, such as exercising, walking the dog, cooking and commuting. A very effective way to work is to record your thinking as it happens in a notebook. (Insights often occur at very unexpected times.) This informal writing can expedite the thesis writing process and provide the continuity of focused thinking that the rest of your life may prevent.
- Of course there will be times and stages where you will need longer, uninterrupted stretches of time for writing, so plan well ahead for these. You may need to use your annual leave. Try to remove yourself from your family if possible, as it is often easier on everybody if the student is at work elsewhere. Can you use an office at uni or a friend's spare room? If these times are planned for, the rest of the family can also plan for them and be enjoying themselves more freely than if you are at home and everyone else is suffering.
So we suggest you plan for your whole life - not just your work and study - and attend to the plants in your garden creatively. People are likely to be much more supportive if you realise that life can't stop totally to wait for your thesis, and that the garden needs input too. Then everyone will join you in celebrating your great achievement, which they will all have contributed to!