By Madeleine Kendrick |
I am a PhD student, and I refuse to work this weekend.
Every student, every academic and every professor will remember a time where they heard a peer talking about writing on the weekend. Then they’ll remember a time where they have done so as well. Around assessment due-dates, this behaviour is relatively normal, but what about when it becomes a regular occurrence?
I am not alone in stating that this behaviour is concerning. I personally know at least a handful of senior academics who regularly spend weekends working to ‘meet a deadline’…yet there’s always a new deadline. There’s always a weekend before that deadline. Thus, they always work weekends. I will be the first to admit that I occasionally steal Saturdays from myself to reach a goal. However, I try to limit it, so the only time I’ve sacrificed my weekend to ‘get ahead’ when there was a deadline for the coming Monday – edits for a journal article, a chapter draft for submission, or to complete minor tasks before a long holiday.
Why is this such a commonly experienced phenomenon? Well, the job of an academic has significantly intensified since the creation of the internet and email. Forms are expected to be filled out NOW, grant applications have shorter timeframes for completion, and universities are cutting costs by expecting academics to shoulder the tasks of researching as well as teaching. There’s always another meeting to attend, a phone call to answer, and a conference that requires an abstract by 5pm Friday. The little jobs pile up and the big ones consume every waking minute. In a desperate rush to do everything, academics can overwork…even to the point of becoming a workaholic.
After a month of working every weekend it would be easy to fall into a trap of forgetting how to have a weekend. How to enjoy your time without working? As an undergraduate student I used to attend full-time university and worked a retail job, leaving no time to just be myself. I had the same arrangement during high school – I was doing the ‘overwork’ grind for 6 years before I turned 21. Thus, graduation was a lifestyle shock as I found myself unsure of what to do with my spare time. The only thing I knew was work…so I was incredibly tempted to go back to what I knew instead of learning how to de-stress and unwind. I can only imagine how tempting that would be as an academic to know that you have a pile of work waiting on Monday, and you’re at a loss for what to do on Sunday. Why not work? You’re not doing anything else. This post-graduation confusion over how to relax and enjoy my time outside work was a wake-up call. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life confused about what to do with my free time! So, I resolved to refuse consistently working on my weekends.
Working in your free time can be bad for your physical and mental wellbeing. Not having days off negatively impacts you in the long term as your motivation and energy levels slowly chip away. Someone who regularly overworks can lose their sense of identity outside work, which is a problem in and of itself without considering the repercussions of strongly tying your sense of self to your job. As for physical side-effects; despite being a PhD student of only 6 months, I’m already experiencing eye and back problems from working at a computer Monday to Friday, let alone considering working on the weekends
But is it worth it?
My eyes and my back will attest that yes, I need days off. To literally stretch and unwind. I use my Saturdays as a time to recharge for the week ahead – walks, cooking, reading a novel, watching a film, attending parties – whatever gives me energy, I’ll do. I have occasionally stolen holidays from myself to finish off a project, however I know that behaviour is short-lived. I’ve seen what burnout can do, and I don’t want to become another statistic that had potential, but burned the candle at both ends. Nothing is worth that.
For the longevity of my career and more importantly myself, I’m taking this weekend off. And, next week, I’m going to work Saturday but not Monday. Carving out a Monday for ‘me’ time allows me to enjoy the shops when they’re quieter, use public transport when the buses are more frequent, and use the occasional sleepy weekend for uninterrupted writing while family members are still asleep. There are marked benefits to allocating your work to times and schedules that suit you and your style, and for me that means pacing myself to address the work at hand while still scheduling mornings for a lie-in.
A PhD student studying hospital management in Melbourne, Australia, Madeleine Kendrick hosts her own blog Research and Beyond in addition to being fairly active on Twitter. The use of creative and opinion-based writing helps keep Maddy sane in between hours of data entry and academic prose.
Image 1: Flicker, Images 2 & 3: Madeleine Kendrick.