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Brad Cokelet

Yes, these challenges will continue and intensify so you are wise to start tackling them now!

Here are some things that have worked for me - good luck and keep experimenting to find what works for you.

**Plan a way to make the psychological shift**

Build in some time and activity that will help you transition from philosophy mode to family mode. You have different roles and different dispositions are required for you to play them well. Our minds are not built to naturally switch from one mode to another just because we are in the different environment.

I have found that to make the transition it helps to take a walk on the way home and to get into a habit of shifting my thinking around a half way point. On the first half, think about what you did at work, what you want to start with the next day, etc. Focus on logistics, not ideas or big picture to-do items. At the half way point on the walk turn your thinking to logistics related to your family role. This can be things about what you will make for dinner, what you want to ask your partner about the house, what you might have fun doing with your kid when you walk in the door, etc. Again focus on near term logistics and things you want to discuss, not long-term issues. Then you can get yourself literally thinking in the "family" mode on the way to the house. And you can then enter the house primed to help or interact with someone who has been doing heavily lifting at home & not feel like this is such a hard shift for you.

I think the physical activity helps, but presumably you could do this at the gym (with a timer for the half way point) or you could go for a short walk after your drive home.

** Realism about trying to play several roles well **

You are trying to develop and embody dispositions that will make you a good scholar, good teacher, good parent, and good spouse. (at least). Be realistic. You cannot pull off all of this at once. Accept that you might not be the ideal kind of parent, scholar, teacher, and spouse you would like to be.

- Try to be honest about what it would take to fulfill these roles in a *decent* or *passable* way. If you find yourself obsessing about work at home or home at work as yourself whether the standard behind the worry is (e.g.) "excellent/good scholar" or "decent scholar". Many of us are perfectionists and we are neurotically worrying about meeting the ideal when that might not be realistic or a wise goal given our overall values.

- Try to figure out which roles you care about/value the most. If you care more about being good or excellent in one more than the others then you might have to accept not being totally happy with how you fare in the other domains.

- If you are doing a decent job at playing all of these roles, do not beat yourself up when you are struggling to be good/excellent in one or more domain.

** Mindfulness **
I second Marcus' recommendation of mindfulness meditation. You might like *The Miracle of Mindfulness* by Thich Naht Hahn because it features, in the early more practical chapters, a man who is trying to find work life balance when he is a father.

4/4 loader

I echo what Marcus has said, especially about hobbies.

On the other hand, for a counterpoint...

OP wrote,

“As a grad student, I know I have it the easiest now as I ever will. Should I be lucky enough to get a TT job, I will only be teaching more classes, with additional service duties, and more publishing pressures. Keeping a work/life balance will be even harder.”

I think OP is right about this in the sense that, when you have a TT job, you have a lot more stuff to do—your list of things you need to accomplish is longer. That has been true for me. However, there is no question that it’s also been much easier to maintain a balance in my life since I got a job. The reason is that my to-do list isn’t tinged (=drenched) with anxiety about not being able to provide for my family, and everything else that goes along with that. I used to have a really hard time not thinking about work all the time, but I see now that that was because I was so worried about not getting a job. Now I can go home and be peaceful and it’s a lot easier to turn off my brain.

Just my experience, anyway.

OP grad student

This is all very helpful. Thank you to everyone who has chimed in so far.

Marcus, you bring up some very good points about hobbies and socializing. I used to play music myself, but have barely touched my bass since graduating undergrad -- nearly 10 years ago. I've tried picking it up again time and again, but I've found trying to practice effectively was causing me more anxiety (another thing to add to my to do list) and I was so rusty that I couldn't just play and have fun. I used to play competitive rugby, but retired due to injuries and the time commitment. I occasionally play board games with my friends outside my program, but it's been several months. I need to pick that back up again and make it a regular part of my schedule.

Brad, I really appreciated the suggestion of making the psychological shift by thinking about concrete logistical things that I did at work and that I will do with my family. I tried that as I walked my daughter home from daycare today and it had an immediate noticeable effect on my frame of mind. I'm also committing myself to practicing mindfulness. It's slow going (as to be expected), but I'm keeping up with it.

4/4 loader, it is very reassuring to hear your perspective, thank you. I never even thought about the connection of my anxiety to being able to provide (or more equitably contribute) to my family's finances, but it makes a lot of sense.

Thank you all!


I post here a lot about how, depending, on your life situation, it is okay to work a lot, i.e., more than 40 hours a week and it's okay to work on nights and weekends if your personal life allows for it. I never have worked 9 to 5. However, I still think that however much you are working, if you are unhappy and feel like you are working too much then your probably are, and you almost certainly aren't working smart enough. I get 9 to 5 is a schedule that works for a lot of people, especially with young families. So if it works, good. But something for some people to think about is if different hours fit your personality better, then try it it if this is compatible with your situation. Take advantage of academic freedom in a way that helps you, since the job is pretty stressful for most.

For this poster:

I took on too many responsibilities this year and I am very much regretting it. But I have no choice but to get through because the consequences of not doings so are too severe. It will probably take until May. I have never been a position before where I don't have time to see friends, and where I flake out on people who are important to me. It is not good. Right now the only thing I do consistently besides work is exercise. This completely refocuses my mind and makes me feel much better, probably better than I should feel given my dumb life choices. Evidence suggests exercise does this for most people. Some people don't like exercise and for them I think they just need to think outside the box - go hiking, take a class, go kayaking, I think most people can find something they like. I would suggest the poster try to get in30 minutes to an hour of exercise after work and seeing if that will help you be less stressed and more present with your family. Also if you can afford an hour a week of therapy that might help too. Many grad insurance packages are very generous so take advantage of that. Good luck.

a philosopher

I want to second what Amanda said, with a few additional thoughts.

The OP grad student says, "While I have found that I am decent at following the letter of the law, I am not so good at following the spirit of the law."

While you need to give everything an honest try, perhaps this is now a sign that 9-5 isn't the most effective strategy for you. Like Amanda, 9-5 isn't for me, and perhaps isn't for you? I'd take advantage of the flexibility in my schedule: family and friends time doesn't just have to be after 5 and on the weekends. I would focus on weekly family events (e.g., picking kids up from school, kid's orchestra practice, whatever) that really matter. Try structuring your life around those, plus your grad school deadlines. However the timing and hours fall is how they fall. That might mean working some late nights after family events, but if that kind of flexibility allows you to clear your mind for a quality few hours in the middle of the day or early evening with your family, why is it bad?

The idea here is the whole point of the 9-5 schedule is to achieve work-life balance, i.e. being able to focus on work when it's work time and life when it's life time. But if letting yourself work late at night (new work time) allows you to focus on family earlier in the evening, aren't you achieving the same end? What's bad, and drives the 9-5 advice, is working all the time. I'm not suggesting you work all the time, but that you instead divide your day up differently: don't structure it by the clock, in terms of times, but by events and deadlines. If I know that I'm supposed to meet a friend for a beer at 8pm, I make sure that I end my work at a time and in a way that lets me relax for that beer.

I guess the idea is: It would be hard for me to stop thinking about work just because it's some arbitrary time (5pm, the end of the work day). But it's easy to stop thinking of work when it's time to do something else, like meetup with friends, visit family, etc.

I also second the exercise stuff, which largely changed my life at the end of grad school. For years people had told me that it would help, but I blew them off. It was one of those transformative experiences. Nothing clears my head quite like vigorous exercise. It could be a good sort of transition, e.g. work 9-5, exercise, then family the rest of the night.

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