'Clean Your House' and Other Ways to Find Work-Life Balance as a College Professor
March 10, 2021
How do you find balance when faced with a busy schedule and potentially, a family to care for? For one, try your best not to spend your time outside of work haphazardly. As for your relationships, communication is critical.
"It must be hard," a single colleague once said to me. "You've got a spouse and kids… don't they hold you back?"
"Not at all," I replied. "They're my secret weapon."
After all, even single and childless professors suffer the overwhelming task of teaching multiple courses, being available and responsive to students, conducting and publishing research, and attending department meetings, which are just a few responsibilities of the profession. And did we mention the pressures of the tenure track? It's not uncommon for these demands to lead to work-life imbalance issues and, ultimately, burnout.
As a Political Science Professor at LaGrange College, I have enough experience to know that it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some lessons I learned throughout my career that educators can use to strike a healthy balance between work and life outside of it.
1. Find joy in activities that have nothing to do with work.
People who are prone to left-brain thinking are generally very structured, logical, and reasonable in their approach to handling and interpreting information. In my profession, these individuals primarily work in areas of study like science, engineering, medicine, and finance.
In contrast to the organization and realism of left-brained professors, those who are predominantly right-brain enjoy infusing creativity and big-picture thinking into their work. They also tend to process information and experiences with intuition and empathy, making right-brain thinkers most likely to focus on subjects like the arts, teaching, psychology, and the humanities.
Okay, so it's likely that you already know that there are two sides to the brain. But did you know that stimulating both can help you feel more balanced between your life at work—and the one outside of it?
As an educator, devoting time to activities that don't require your brain to use the same processes and skills as it uses during the workday is an energizing way to lessen the stress of work and avoid the sensation that work is something that continues at home. Not to mention, you'll have another thing to look forward to outside of class.
Hobbies for left-brained thinkers
I'm a political scientist by trade, and my work tends to be heavily analytical. Hypothesis tests, research design, and statistics govern a lot of my teaching and research, and I love it. But when the workday is over, it's time for a different pursuit. Aside from running and helping coach my son's baseball team, my life outside of work involves creative pursuits. I took some drawing classes at my college years ago and find that sketching is an excellent way to de-stress. I also like to write, not always about politics.
My sister-in-law, a physics professor, reads plenty of fantasy and satire. A colleague of mine who also works in political science likes watching "The Walking Dead." A physicist at my college writes and performs songs on his guitar as a hobby. Rather than cost me valuable time, I've found that sketching, writing, and running helps my brain to process the day's events, even when I'm not consciously thinking about them. The same thing happens while you sleep; why shouldn't it when you're exercising or enjoying yourself?
Hobbies for right-brained thinkers
For those who find themselves working with the arts, literature, theater, and the humanities, consider involving analytical pursuits into any activities you might do in your spare time. For example, my wife, an English teacher, relaxes with Sudoku puzzles and brain teasers, firing up the analytical counterpart to the imagination and writing skills she uses daily. A Shakespeare professor at my college is into "being green," maintaining a garden and riding her bike almost everywhere.
So, you've got hobbies down pat, but how do you truly find balance when faced with a busy schedule and potentially, a family to care for? For one, try your best not to spend your time outside of work haphazardly. As for your relationships, communication is critical.
2. Set expectations with loved ones about how you'll spend your free time.
Structural functionalism is a social science theory which states that all societies have functions that their members must perform for the survival of the group. Most relationships come with responsibilities or expectations, whether you're spending time with a significant other's family or accepting an invitation to a conference within your field.
In any relationship, you've got to talk to others and steer clear of assuming that something will happen simply because you or someone else expects it to. When making plans for an upcoming weeknight or weekend, let those close to you know whether you want to spend a chunk of downtime alone or to involve them in your plans for leisure.
3. Know that you don't have to get everything done.
I'm not sure that "housework" is something many professors would mention when describing their passions outside of work. Nonetheless, cleaning and organizing is often a great way to clear your mind and decrease stress. It's also a chance for professors to feel a sense of success, which is often rare in a scholarly field where longterm projects make it much harder to measure accomplishment in short periods of time.
Getting a room cleaned, a cake baked, or a meal cooked can provide that sense that you got something done, and stimulate your productivity once Monday rolls around.
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