How to Create a Work-Life Balance in Grad School

By Joshua Samba: Wondering how to have a life when all you have time for is work? Here are 3 great tips for establishing a healthy work-life balance!

Rice University

How does that old saying go? "All things in moderation." No matter what it is, too much of a good thing is never a good thing. And that's especially true when it comes to working. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've realized that after 10 straight hours of lab work, I forgot to eat breakfast….and lunch. 

In the pursuit of being the best grad student you can be, it makes a lot of sense to want to dedicate hours upon hours of your time to get work done, whether that be classwork, lab work, or meetings with advisors. But if you keep going down that path, you're setting yourself up to burn out, and burnout hits harrrrd (take it from someone who's made that mistake many, many times!). So if missing meals or pulling endless all-nighters sounds familiar to you, consider using these 3 tips to work on establishing a healthy work-life balance:

Establish strict boundaries


One of the most important components of grad school is the advisor-student relationship. When looking for an advisor, be sure to ask them (as well as their grad students) what the work culture is like and whether they believe they encourage students to have a healthy work-life balance. Then speak with your advisor about the time commitment that they expect from a grad student. Some may expect students to maintain a 9-5 schedule, while others are a bit more hands-off as long as the work is getting done.

During that conversation, make your needs (work-life balance is a NEED, not a want) clear and non-negotiable. If the faculty member responds positively to this information, then that may be a good sign that this will be a healthy and productive environment for you!

Set work hours


We all know that work in grad school usually isn't a 9-5 kinda thing, but that doesn't mean it should be a 24/7 activity either. If you don’t already have a fixed work schedule, come up with a start time and a stop time for your work day and write that down in your planner, calendar app, or somewhere you look frequently. Let this serve as a reminder that there's a time for work, and a time for the other things in your life. Of course there will be all-nighters and deadlines that need to be met, but don't let those exceptions become the rule, or else you'll quickly find yourself drowning in a pile of work that never seems to shrink.

Dedicate time to your passions


Just like you schedule class time, work time, and lunch time, schedule ME time. That way, you'll have a visual reminder that time for yourself is just as important as time for work and class. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day, having that time to explore what you truly love will help you ensure that work doesn’t take over your life. And there’s no better way to recharge your batteries than doing something you love.

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that time spent not working is time spent unproductively, but that’s so far from the truth. Doing things you love, hanging out with friends, and getting rest are all essential things that enable you to give it your all each and every day. I hope these tips help you be the best grad student you can be. 

Best of luck! And if you’re reading this at work, don’t forget to eat something!