Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Balancing Act "Thirsty"

Lately, my life has become extremely busy. I teach (mostly) Freshman Comp at a community college. My minimum load is a 5/5, but I'm teaching an extra section this Fall. On top of it, I'm on several committees, continuing to work on my degree, attempting to be an attentive spouse, managing a household (with the help of said spouse), and purchasing a new home (and all that goes with it - moving etc.). I often work 12 hours per day. Some days, I feel like I've no time to catch my breath.

I try to take one afternoon per week to relax and do something I enjoy completely unrelated to any sort of responsibility. I might go for a walk, shop for clothes, watch a movie, read a book, browse CM, or even take a nap. It just seems that one afternoon is insufficient to keep me sane.

This brings me to my question: How do you all manage to balance? Is there a trick to it, or is this just it?

Post answers as comments, please!


  1. a) for God's sake don't take on a sixth class ever again

    b) schedule sex like you would committee meetings, and about as often

    I'm afraid "this is just it," but don't make things harder on yourself than you have to.

  2. You have to carve out that space and make yourself stick to it barring any genuine catastrophes. I too have done the six-course load. This is the first year in several that I haven't, but I have enough committee work to where it more than compensates for what I gave up. I set a rule for myself that from Friday evening through Saturday evening, I will take time for myself and my husband. I stay out of college email and Blackboard during that time.

    It also helps to plan holidays when you know you'll be out of pocket. A conference is great for this purpose, preferably one someplace fun that will give you great diversions when you're not in session. An occasional weekend break altogether is also a good thing to plan.

    I don't claim to have great balance, but I learned pretty quickly if I don't guard that space as my own, my body and mind will reclaim it for me in ways that I'd prefer not to happen.

  3. Also, avoid every committee you can possibly avoid. If your college has a service requirement, do the bare minimum to fulfil it, and have some reason you can't be on any other committee. If there is no service requirement, then you're just busy, sorry.

    I find work-life is a little easier now that my children are a little older. But the real thing that helps me is knowing that the term is 13 weeks long, and then there's another 13 week term, and then I'm done. I can handle this insanity for 13 weeks. My work-life balance stretches out over the whole year.

  4. You should also have a veg-out mental health time-out every evening. For me, it involves feet up on the couch, a cup of tea and two Arrowroot cookies, even if I'm going to sleep an hour later.

  5. The best thing anyone ever did for me was INSIST that I take one day off per week, on penalty of divorce. Maybe you need two afternoons. Then there's also things like: no e-mail except between 9 and 5, no extra sections, and yes, minimal service till tenure (here is a good way to say no: "I'm honored that you thought of me, but I have enough on my plate that I'm afraid I would not do a good job with [whatever it is]."

    But honestly? My life was completely insane till tenure, and there was a lot of collateral damage to my psyche, my personal relationships, and my health. So if you're not on the tenure track, think about what you don't owe the institution and proceed to withhold it, because there will be no end to this.

  6. Overheard advice from an MIT professor speaking to a new professor at another school:

    "Embrace mediocrity."

    Words to live by.

  7. I suck at balance, primarily because I live in mortal terror of being discovered as a mentally ill and thus incompentent person (must! work! more!)

    However, Atom Smasher's work at the Laboratory of Magical Tiny Particles has taught me some stuff, much of it overlapping with suggestions above.

    1. The day starts at X time and ends at Y time. After Y time, no more work unless there is a super-duper emergency and that should not happen more than once a month.

    2. Schedule sex and smooshy hug time.(I like sex, but the therapist says I also need smooshy hug time.) All the sex books tell you to "be spontaenous" but they are clearly not written for academics.

    3. No email from time X to time Y and tell the students that. They are suprisingly willing to respect this, in my experience.

    4. Do not watch TV. It may just be me, but I find that TV (a) makes me sleepy and (b) is ultimately unsatisfying. Your mileage may vary.

    5. Consider sleeping, eating, and exercising as critical to survival. Again, given my "Status Crazicus" I regard these three things as being akin to taking the medicine I need to function. Without them, I do not function. And therefore, I'm doing everyone a favor by doing them and making my time AT work more efficient.

    People have pointed out to me that I am a selfish child because I do not have a spouse (just the Arrangement with Smasher), I do not have children, my parents are not yet in their dotage, and basically I can "ignore adult responsibilities." This may be true, and I make my peace with it by reminding myself that my craptastic genetic material does not belong in the next generation of snowflakes and that life is pretty good on a day-to-day basis.

  8. I just received tenure at Forgotten Corner State University, and I cannot say that I have at all worked out a way to balance everything. I have two children who seem to be doing a good job of raising themselves, but the teen years are looming. Our finances are a mess (debt up to HERE, no college funds for said children and no free tuition provided for children of faculty at FCSU), and our house (a rental) is in such a disheveled state as to warrant calling in child protective services. My spouse, a grad student in an unrelated field at nearby Respectable Major University, came within millimeters of walking out on me at the end of the summer. We are carefully navigating a minefield every day. To make it worse, my workload has increased after receiving tenure due to getting that major federally-funded grant, so there will be none of the promised post-tenure coasting.

    I guess I have no advice for you, but will gladly share in the misery. I raise a glass to you in a toast of solidarity.

  9. I have a ritual for ending work. I tend to work from wake up until about 7 or 8pm. But once I start dinner (or, if he cooked, start the dishes), the work day is over. I unwind over the sink (cleaning something mundane is sooo therapeutic), then go for a walk at dusk, watch whatever show I want, have a beer.

    Sometimes I'll even go back to work, but only if the TV is on in the background and a beer by my side. It's my time. Cataloging research after dinner in order to meet a deadline must be done with beer.

  10. I teach a 4/4 schedule but with no TA and no marking assistants so it's pretty grueling. Good time management and excellent organizational skills are crucial. I know exactly where each book, file, lesson, and record is. Take the extra time to get yourself well organized and you will save yourself a lot of time further down the road. For instance, when I teach an online course, the entire thing -- with every lesson and every week ready to go -- is done before the semester; then, during the semester, I've more breathing space.

    While you're working, don't procrastinate and don't take breaks. I work my ass off during the week, working through lunch, not chatting in the halls, replying to emails right away, etc, but I do not work evenings and I never ever work weekends. I don't check my work email in the evenings or on the weekends and I tell my students this; I've never had a complaint because, during the week, I'm very available.

    It goes without saying, too, that you should not be on too many committees.

  11. I wish I could help you with balance, but I currently am T-T and working as an adjunct at another university because I am supporting a family member. I will tell you NOT to do what I am doing.

    I am T-T at a CC. My load is usually 5-5. I am doing 8 because an adjunct quit 2 weeks before the semester began and they "opened" more sections due to an influx of students (enrollment rose 25% across all campuses). I am also teaching 4 classes as an adjunct. That makes 12 classes to be taught. On top of that, I am finishing my doctorate at Large State University that is 2 hours away. SO, I get to drive 2 hours to the LSU, sit in class for 3 hours, and then drive back for 2 hours...all after a full day of teaching. My personal life is suffering. I am falling apart physically and emotionally. I have been hospitalized for a condition that is triggered by stress. I just pray to make it through this semester because I will NOT be doing the same thing next semester.

    The only advice I can give is to set boundaries, turn things down, and schedule "me time". I have a personal trainer that I see 3x a week (yes, on top of all this I am dieting) and I know I don't necessarily need her, but I need the appointment for accountability. I don't like exercise, but the interaction with my trainer and the 90 minutes away from "everything else" is heaven. My mind is blank and I am just doing something for my body.

    Please take time to slow down, be firm with boundaries of emailing/student interaction/expectations, and let your administration know that you can't serve on ALL committees.

    I am not sure this has helped you at all, but please learn from my mistake and make usre you don't over-extend yourself as I have. It is destroying me physically, which is doing no one any good.

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  15. Never under any circumstances agree to teach more than a 5/5 load. That alone is a 40-hour work week, including time for grading and class preparation that responsibly taught classes require. This includes no time for any other job functions, such as doing research, or university service, which includes sitting on committees.

    If your higher-ups want more, they are going to need to reduce your teaching load. The maximum teaching load that is compatible with a research program that is competitive at an R1 university (and therefore of course is externally funded) is 2-2, and that's a stretch: faculty at many R1 universities get 1-1 loads, or less. Funding agencies such as NSF often won't fund researchers with heavier teaching loads. They'll say they don't believe you'll have time to run a program that generates the desired results, and they may be right.

    If your Dean says you should be doing more, just laugh. Think of the dream scene in "Crime and Punishment" in which a peasant beats a horse to death, and then keeps on beating it.

  16. I had a lengthier comment, but blogger gave me an error and deleted it. Blogger hates me.

    The gist of what I wrote is, "Thank you for your responses."

    I'm glad to know I'm not alone, and am going to start working on setting those boundaries.


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