Finding the balance

When you start the final year of your PhD, it may seem like your research is your entire life. It might even seem that way from the very start. What makes a PhD so unlike a “normal” job is that there are no days off. You might leave the office at five, but your project is always in the back of your mind. Because you know that you have a limited amount of time to actually get it done. It is not a permanent position. You have three (or sometimes four) years to finish your research before your funding runs out or your project is terminated. So time off is not really time off at all, but simply small breaks between working on the endless tasks of a PhD project. And while other people envy you the flexibility of your job, you know that until that thesis is submitted, you are still on the clock.

But perhaps it shouldn’t be this way.

Yes, my PhD is very important to me and yes, I want to finish it on time. Above all, I absolutely love what I do and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. But does that mean I will sacrifice everything else and dedicate this year only to PhD work?

No. Because there are other things in life I enjoy as well.

So here are some of my tips for how to live each day with intention and actually enjoy the final year of your PhD.

Do something else

This is probably the best tip I can give you. No matter how much you love what you do or how much passion you have for your project, spending all your time on only one thing can get monotonous, repetitive, and boring. Life is too short to spend a whole year (or three) on just one thing. (Ironically, life can also seem very long when you are spending it this way). So find a hobby that is separate from your research (or whatever job you do). Take a class, learn a new language or a skill, join a sports team, find a hobby. Basically, anything that gets you away from even thinking about your research for a few hours each week.

Change your scenery

Additionally, if your life revolves around just two or three places (the library, the office, and your house), you are literally missing out on 99.9999999999% of the world. Even in the last year of your PhD, you are allowed to travel to conferences, workshops, and even go on holidays. My family and friends who are reading this blog post will obviously find this the right time to point out that I made a promise to myself not to travel anymore until I submit my thesis. Well, you guys win, because I am breaking that promise today. Life is too short not to travel and a year is way too long!

Prioritise your health

I feel like I repeat this mantra to everyone, in any conversation, and all the time. Mental health comes first. Physical health is obviously up there as well. So no matter how busy you get, make sure to cook and eat good food. Move your body. Spend time with your friends and family. Spend time alone. Meditate. Take evenings, days, or even weeks off. Don’t lose sleep. Remember that a PhD is temporary, but your health requires a daily commitment.

Focus on the good stuff

And finally, remember why you started your PhD in the first place. Undoubtedly, there are aspects of PhD life that you find good or even enjoyable. I love the flexibility and the freedom to make my own work schedule. I love being able to research a field that I am genuinely interested in. I love writing. I love constantly learning new things. I love being at the forefront of knowledge. I love teaching. I love meeting other meditation and mindfulness professionals. I love travelling to conferences. I love waking up at 10 and working late in an empty and quiet office. I love reading mindfulness books for my thesis. And I love being a student.

Ultimately, I think life is about finding the balance between the things you have to do and the things you want to do. And, if you really listen to your mind and your body, there won’t be a separation between the two. In fact, the things we have to do and the things we want to do are actually all things we get to do. We are lucky to have the opportunity to do them. Because we all have the choice to do what we love or to love what we do. The trick is to not sacrifice one love for another.

Finally, I want to thank my wonderful friend Tereza from NoBox for a conversation that inspired me to write this blog post. Please check out her website at www.mynobox.com.

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