You Can't Do It All And 4 Things I'm Doing Instead

You can't quite literally do it all, but why do so many academics believe they should? In academic culture it's an all too common scene to see the exhausted, sleep deprived, scurrying around, over-involved undergraduate. Similarly, it's all too common to see the overworked, exhausted, and frustrated graduate student slumped over their workbench and/or desk. So why do we glorify and reward these sorts of behaviors?

During my time in undergrad, I was the described undergraduate that was completely fuelled by coffee and anxiety. Now that I'm in graduate school, and have successfully completed my first year, I'm determined to remain cool, calm, and collected for the rest of my academic career.

Here's what I'm doing instead:

Make a Game Plan the Night Before

Before I go to bed I plan the next day by compiling a list of my "Top 3 Must Do's" that are things I must complete that day. I also make a running list of things that need to be done and try to tackle as many of those before 7pm of that day. 

By differentiating my to-do lists it helps me prioritize goals and non-important objectives. For my Top 3 Must Do's I usually have time-sensitive projects and papers prioritized above everyday tasks such as grading or errands that could be done over the weekend or whenever I have random free-time or a burst of energy.

Sticking to a Morning Routine

Morning routines vary for everyone. I prefer to wake up in the morning and take my time getting ready for the day while my boyfriend lives to sleep in and rush through the door. There isn't a one size fits all routine.

I definitely recommend waking up at least 2 hours before you plan on beginning any serious work. This ensures that when you are ready to settle down and get on task that you're awake and not procrastinating until then.

Within those two hours, I boil the water for my coffee and steep it in the french press; get showered and dressed for the day; sit down with my coffee and check the emails that accumulated from the previous day. By the time I'm finished sifting through the emails I'm ready to move to a designated workspace that is rather my home office or my desk in my lab. However, there are other morning activities that highly productive people incorporate into their routine, such as the following:

  • Drinking your morning coffee later
    • Most people's cortisol levels peak approximately from 8-9am. Research has found that drinking coffee before or during these hours could decrease your natural production causing you to become dependent on your immediate morning coffee. But if you wait until after your peak you can naturally wake up on your own and reduce the amount of coffee needed to feel awake and alert (1).
  • Skip breakfast
    • Intermittent Fasting is a new diet that shows promising results for people that have a hard time committing to traditional diets. The main idea of the diet is to eat within an 8-hour window and then fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when compared to traditional diets, fasting was comparable in amount of weight loss, heart rate, and blood pressure (2). 
  • Move Around
    • If you have an apple watch do you ever wonder why it's reminding you to move around for a couple minutes every hour? Well in The British Journal of Sports Medicine experts found that walking for approximately 2 minutes every hour decreased the risk of premature death by 33% (3).  
  • Dress to Impress
    • Although I love my comfy clothes and sleeping in late; I also hate running into my peers and looking like I rolled out of bed. Not to mention, when I dress nicer I'm often more confident throughout my day. And with that confidence I love the immediate shock when I get to tell someone I'm a chemist and they almost don't want to believe me.
No matter how you plan it, the main goal of a morning routine is to ensure that by the time you sit down in your workspace that you are ready to start working.

Committing to Commitments

Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. - Vince Lombardi 
If you're not going to do something wholeheartedly why are you going to do it at all? All too often I have a couple students at the end of the year asking for extra credit so that they can pass my class. However, my class is structured so the vast majority of the points are rewarded for showing up, participating in class, and giving an honest effort to attempt the homework problems. Then I'm left pondering why students are paying thousands of dollars to fail an effort based class.

Therefore, the one thing that I've learned from my students is to commit to my commitments. No matter how long the project or class is, it's better to work wholeheartedly and complete the project in a timely manner than not care and continually have to amend different aspects or redo the class/project completely.

Setting Up a Work:Life

For undergrad, I went to one of the most beautiful campuses that sat in a national forest, was 1 mile from the beach, and 1 hour from San Francisco. It was beautiful and I never got to fully enjoy it. During my time there I spent all of my time studying, volunteering, and working as much as possible. When I graduated, I realized I didn't get to do a lot of things I had wanted to experience while living there. After that, I decided that when I moved back to the Central Valley I would have a better work:life ratio so that I would focus on spending time on myself.

Currently, the best system for me is working 10-12 hours for 4 days and then spending 1-2 day working from home and 1 day completely void of anything work/school related. During the 4 days of work, I try to spend most of my time collecting as much data as possible so that on the 1-2 days that I spend working from home I can analyze and organize it. This schedule has really forced me to work wholeheartedly and then also sets some time aside for my boyfriend and dog. But most importantly I don't feel like I'm missing out on my life.

What are you currently doing instead of trying to do it all?




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