Connect and Disconnect: 5 Tips for Balance

Recent Census data indicates that only 1.8% of the U.S. population over age 25 has obtained a doctorate and 1.5% an advanced professional degree. These figures only emphasize the fact that if it were easy, everyone would do it.  The fact is that it is NOT easy and if you are reading this, you ARE going to do it.  Throw in a full-time job, busy schedule, perhaps a family and the desire to keep some kind of social life – and you have the perfect recipe for mental and physical chaos.  The one undeniable fact is that there will be times when you will get overwhelmed.  You will be unmotivated. You will feel stressed. You may even feel like giving up.  It will be all-consuming, but it does not have to consume you.  Here are a few things you can do to find balance in your work and life throughout your doctoral journey…

1.  Connect with people and networks online

The number one thing you have to remember is that you are not alone.  The abundance of social media at your fingertips is an excellent way to find a support network and connect with others in your same program or others pursuing doctorates.  Look for groups and individuals related to your program or institution on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Other sites such as ResearchGate allow you to build a researcher profile and easily connect you to others in the same institution.  Prefer face-to-face meetings?  Meetup is always a great place to find people with similar interests.  I recently found this Ph.D. Support Group in Charlotte, NC, for example.  If there isn’t one in your town, perhaps you could be the one to get it going.  There are also more robust organizations such as the PhD Project dedicated to supporting paths towards the Ph.D. for African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native-American individuals. 

2.  Attend events and conferences

As a doctoral student you are not only expanding your knowledge of the field but you are contributing to the advancement of that field through your research.  One of the best ways to connect with others in your field is to attend events or conferences.  Nearly every discipline has a national organization attached to it.  They can exist at the state and national level.  Some examples of these organizations are the National Education Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the Council for Exceptional Education, to name just a few.  Many others can be found by doing a simple google search combining your field of study with the word association.  You can view more examples of educational associations here.  

3.  Practice self-care  

Do not underestimate the importance of a healthy lifestyle throughout your doctoral process. You will have less time and you will have to sacrifice a lot of things; but do not completely give up your daily run, weekly yoga class, or whatever it is that helps you to disconnect.  Stay hydrated, eat right, and exercise. If you are completely stressed out and exhausted, the chances are your work is going to take twice as long. Listen to your body, when it needs a rest, rest. Often you will find that you will be more productive if you take a night to rest and start fresh in the morning.  As a rule of thumb, just give yourself what you need when you need it.

4.  Optimize your time and your thinking

Time management goes hand in hand with your health.  The better you manage your time, the more efficient you can be; and the more efficient you are, the less you will need to procrastinate and work under stress.   If you own a smartphone, you have limitless tools and applications at your fingertips that can and will make your life much easier.  Here are some tools and apps that help me to maximize my time and balance the workload:

Inkflow – If you love to map out your thinking then this is the app for you.  Best used on a tablet, it allows you to use your fingers or a stylus to map out your thoughts.  You can add pictures, use a variety of colors, cut, copy and paste … it’s pen and paper with perks!

Stenosaur –  Thoughts can come and go quickly.  A great way to grab your thoughts and jot them down is to use this micro-journal.  The interface looks a bit like a twitter feed, but it’s just a journal where you can write down a thought as long or as short as you want.

Evernote – I have tried numerous notepad applications and Evernote has proved to be the best for me.  Evernote allows you to create separate notebooks inside which you can add multiple notes.  Download the app on your smartphone and computer and it will seamlessly sync with them. You can add pictures, play with fonts, and share notes with others at the click of a button.

Phone Calendars –  Don’t underestimate the power of your smartphone calendar.  Whether you are using iCloud Calendar on an Apple device or Google Calendar from an Android device, these calendars are exceptional ways of organizing and balancing your personal life events, work priorities, and school deadlines. Best of all you can create numerous calendars and color code them for easy recognition on your computer screen.  Don’t forget that you can login to your iCloud or Google account from anywhere to view and manage your calendars on a computer.  Do you use both Apple and Android platforms?  No problem – you can also sync iCloud calendar to an Android device or use Google Calendars on your iPhone with the Google Calendars app.

Voice Memos  – Every phone has a voice memo app that turns your phone into a personal recording device.  It’s simple.  Open the app, speak into your phone and save.  This is the ideal tool for keeping track of your thoughts when you are unable to write them down.  

Kindle and Audible –  Do you spend any time in your car? long commute? listen to music while you’re shopping?  Become a master multi-tasker by downloading audiobooks whenever you can.  You probably won’t want to buy reference titles as audiobooks, but anytime your syllabus includes novels, narratives, or non-fiction works – this is a great way to make the most of your time.

I use the Kindle app on my iPad, iPhone, and MacBook and use the Audible app on my iPhone for easy listening while on my commute.  You’ll also find that the Kindle version of a book can be considerably cheaper than the print version – that’s a perk if you ask me, plus you get to have access to your book 24-7 without having to carry it around!

5.  Disconnect 

It is clear that we spend 90% of our time as doctoral students “connecting” with ourselves, our work, our peers.  So, what do you do with the other 10%?  Disconnect!  Get away for the weekend. Spend time with family. Read a book for fun. Go to a concert.  You get the point!  Do not let your doctorate consume you … sometimes stepping outside of your research and thoughts give you renewed energy and new perspectives.