I’m back! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. My invited research presentation in England went super well and I had a great trip to Italy—amazing places. Today we’re going to talk about five ways to prevent burnout. Four of them have to do with living a balanced life.
Sharpen the Saw: Live a Balanced Life
Stephen Covey (1989) describes the concept of “sharpening the saw.” After repeated use and without proper care, a saw will become dull and unable to perform its function of cutting wood. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to cut down a tree with a dull saw? It can be just the same with us if we do not take care of ourselves and live a balanced life—we become like the dull saw and are not able to effectively tackle all the tasks that surround us. We have to fight our natural tendency to want to throw every ounce of our time and energy at the daunting tasks ahead. Instead, we need to take out some time each day to be balanced—these investments will pay large dividends for your overall ability to be productive since a sharp saw can cut infinitely better than a dull one. I believe there are four main areas in which we should try to spend some time to stay in balance: physical health, intellectual stimulation, self-introspection, and social interaction. Here are some ideas for being balanced in as time efficient manner as possible:
Our normal work does not require much in the way of physical requirements, in fact, we’re pretty sedentary. In Publish and Prosper, I point out that “Putting off adequate physical exercise will catch up to you both in the short term and in the long run. In the short term, physical exercise is always worth the time that it takes because it helps relieve stress (for a review, see Salmon, 2001) and helps your mind to more effectively process information. In the long run, keeping your body in shape will extend your life and the time you have to pursue your career goals” (p. 67). Here are some ideas for fitting exercise into a busy schedule:
1. Bike to work. If you live between 1 and 5 miles from campus, you may consider biking. With the parking situation at most universities, it could save you money and may be just as fast or faster than driving. Plus, you ensure that you get a workout each day that doesn’t take extra time out of your busy schedule.
2. Use university health facilities. Chances are that you are paying for these amazing gyms, why not use them. You could bring a book or article to read as you do a cardio workout.
3. Get enough sleep. If you are sleep deprived, you probably aren’t working to your capacity. Doctors recommend 7-8 hours.
4. Pack a lunch. You will be amazed at how much money you can save and how much healthier you will eat if you regularly pack a lunch to work. Make sure to include some fruit and veggies in your lunch.
You are probably already doing a lot to work your mind. However, don’t limit yourself to just your area of research focus or even your particular field of study. You’ll be a much more interesting conversation partner and will keep your mind sharp with new ideas through audio books or podcasts. You can keep up on current events and burn through several books that will help you improve yourself and your perspective all while exercising, commuting, cleaning, or doing other mundane tasks that you needed to do anyway. Your public library will be an excellent resource and you can also download books that are in the public domain for free through sources such as LibriVox. Keep reading both within and outside your discipline.
According to Socrates “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Take some time each week for reflection and self-introspection. This could include journaling, going out in nature, meditating, praying or reading religious texts (if you are religious), or doing some other activity that will help you engage in self-introspection. Looking at the broader picture of your life will keep you going and pay huge dividends.
Research can be very isolating at times and we all need to recharge our batteries by regular interactions with people who care about us. You may consider joining a volunteer organization to both broaden your social network and provide you with a meaningful way to serve other human beings. Consider building your talents and gifts while interacting with others by joining a public speaking club (www.Toastmasters.com), a sports teams, or a choir, taking art or music classes, etc. These types of opportunities can enrich you both personally and socially. Finally, remember that close friends and family members spell love T-I-M-E. Just as a garden will wither and die without water and attention, your most important relationships will not last without your time and attention. Nobody on their deathbed ever wished that they’d spent more time at the office.
Keeping up with your physical, mental, self-introspective, and social needs will be worth the time you invest and will refresh you and keep you going on your career path!
Celebrate Your Victories
Space is limited in a blog, but in my book I go into a lot more detail on each of these points and also discuss how attending academic conferences can do a lot to prevent burnout for three key reasons. On Thursday I will discuss the power both in being mentored and being a good mentor and how you can excel in both roles.
To prevent becoming like this guy in the picture, take action now! On my website you can access a free download that will help you to apply the principles I discussed in today’s blog post. These exercises will guide you through the process of becoming more balanced and celebrating your victories. From the website, click on "Book Exercise Downloads" and then click on "Chapter 10 Wrap up Exercises." Until Thursday, happy writing!