Top Ten List For Staying Sane As a Professional, Professor, Partner, and Parent
When I got out of graduate school and took my postdoc, I pretty much knew what I would need to do to be a successful researcher: grants, grants, grants, papers, a good lab, and functional students and staff. I also was (am) married to a great guy, and knew that I wanted a family and a good quality of life. The problem was that I had no idea how to do both at the same time, and had no good role models (I trained in an academic department where one of the junior faculty passed out at his desk and had to be rushed to the ER with a perforated ulcer). Although this list is by no means complete, the following 10 items have become non-negotiable parts of my life and are the cornerstone of my ability to keep all the balls in the air.
1. Identify and stick to your priorities: Take the time to make a list of tasks you must accomplish.. With each item on your “must” list, include a deadline or a clear time commitment. Some things may not have a deadline but will still be priorities, such as “exercise 30 minutes each day” or “sit down at the table for dinner with my spouse and family at least 4 nights per week”. Other things, such as “enroll Jack in Summer Care program” or “submit new manuscript” should have firm deadlines.
2. Be organized: Use the list you generated in #1 to organize your life and calendar. Email systems, phones, and PDAs can be a great help in this endeavor and travel with you. Coordinate your calendar with your partner or spouse to make sure ell the tasks at home get covered. Discuss and develop a system for splitting up the domestic musts. For example, my husband and I have 2 kids and both work full-time. We’ve divvied up the weekly chores such that he does and folds all the laundry and I do al the grocery shopping and cooking. Although both of these are big tasks, we both feel like we’re contributing to the family, and all these tasks get done.
3. Keep communication open: As difficult as it may be sometimes, it’s essential to keep channels of communication open both at work and at home. For work this may mean talking to a Department Chair, Mentor, or even trusted peer colleague to say “Hey, I’m really working to do a good job here and at home, but it’s challenging, so it would be really helpful if you could let me know if you think I’m running into problems in getting things done here or contributing to the Department.” Do the same with your spouse or partner, in fact, in my experience, this is even more important as in a relationship initially minor things can fester and turn into big problems if not addressed early. The motto to keep in mind here is Communicate Early, Communicate Often.
Remember also that communication is a learned skill. Practice it until it becomes second nature.
4. Expect the Unexpected: I know this is a cliché, but another cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men are sometimes put asunder” is really true and makes flexibility necessary- Some morning when you or your partner has a really important meeting at work or a grant deadline, you’ll wake up to a flooded basement or a vomiting child and someone has to take one for the team.. Agree in advance that you will trade off these sacrifice days, even though it will never be convenient for either of you. Keep track of theses days, and remember to respect one another’s careers!!! Of course, if its “your day” and your partner has a job interview for a great new position and you’re not under the gun, be flexible and thoughtful and be open to switching things around a bit- in other words, use common sense and be nice.
5. Save time by spending a little more money-In the long run, you have only two things to spend-time and money. If you want to save on one, you’ll have to spend the other. Therefore, think seriously about investing in services that take care of some of the chores, such as housecleaning. Even having your house cleaned professionally once a month is a big help, and saves you a bunch of time! Many cities also have grocery delivery services that allow you to order groceries online and have them delivered to your home for a small (~10 dollars) fee.
6. Pick your battles-Decide what things are non-negotiable for you and which ones really are not that big a deal at home and at work. For example, there are so many things I used to get worked up about that I just don’t sweat anymore.
7. Learn to do two things at once-Help your son with his homework while you’re waiting for the wash to finish. Talk to a friend on the phone while you’re cooking dinner. Plan your errands so that everything in one neighborhood is done in the same trip. Catch up on your email while waiting for school to get out.
8. Learn to say no-This goes for work and school. Clearly, there are some things you can’t say “no” to, such as when your boss asks you to do an important task or your baby needs to go to the doctor, but there are plenty of things you can say no to. One big one we’ve negotiated with our kids is the number of non-school activities they do. Although there are nearly endless options and interests for kids in this arena, our kids get to choose 2 non-school activities (including weekend activities) each semester or school year. This reduces the chaos of overscheduling them and us, and assures that the kids have sufficient time for school work and just “hanging out”.
9. Ask for help-When there’s too much to do, ask for help at home or at work. This totally goes against the “Superparent” self-concept many of us have for ourselves, but we all know, deep-down, that we cannot do it all well all the time. One life-saver arrangement for our family is trading off care with another family on teacher in-service days at school. This reduces by half the number of days my husband and I have to cover when the kids are not in school, but still allows us to take advantage of some of those days to spend time with our kids and their friends.
10. Be kind to yourself and others- Remember the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” Cliché as it may sound, I repeat this to myself frequently when I feel stressed, crabby, or ready to make a snarky remark. This goes double for your spouse or partner; you two are on the same team, and teams never win when there is infighting and dissent among the ranks. Be sure to take care of your relationship by making time together without kids, and without each other sometimes- everyone needs some “me” time, and no one more so that working parents!