Summer plan workshop
Workshop facilitators Chris Hyun, Sarah Christofides, and Debra Behrens

By Chris Hyun

For grad students, the summer has so much potential. Like a balloon, it’s colorful and pretty. We imagine summer as elastic, expanding with so much time and so many possibilities. Until, it just can’t get any bigger and it’s suddenly gone.

Maybe it’s better to think of summer less like a balloon and more like a basket. It’s still pretty, but there’s limited space. And often we want to fill that space with a comfortable distribution of work items and what we would consider non-work items—or a basketful of items balanced with work and life.

Balancing your summer doesn’t just happen. It takes good planning and help along the way. But how do you plan for work-life balance during summer? This is something I had been thinking about as I helped prepare a workshop for GradPro called “Your Summer Plan”.

To start, the most important question to consider is: What is “work-life balance” anyway? One of the most cited studies on work-life balance measured it by asking respondents to rank this statement: “My work schedule leaves me enough time for my personal/family life.” Accordingly, to achieve balance, grad students would need to set aside enough time for non-work activities. But how much is “enough”? What we consider as “enough” could change monthly, weekly, or even daily. Well, then maybe we should plan that way, by first setting aside non-work time on a monthly basis and then eventually doing it day-to-day. Here’s how.

First, block off time considering all of the summer months. Pull out your calendar and physically block out days of set summer events: conferences, weddings, family visits, etc. The days add up and can lead to our summers suddenly shrinking. What remains gives you a more realistic sense of the weeks and days left for additional work, personal, and family events.

Next, try blocking off days regularly each week. The most sensible is often the weekend. Katrina Onstad, author of The Weekend Effect, has us reconsider, “What is a weekend?” and calls for us to reclaim it. Is it possible to regularly block off one or two days a week to fully unplug from work, to be on our own or with family and friends? Consider this a “weekend warrior” approach, where you adventure away from work and return refreshed and ready.

Third, block off time within each day. There are a number of studies on the importance of taking breaks, not skipping lunch, and getting enough sleep. Could lunch and sleep hours be set aside as sacred? How about making it a goal to be home by a certain time every day?

Not every grad student has the luxury of blocking off time for enough personal and family activities. “Enough” then is not a measure of hours but an indication of our level of contentment. Instead of pitting work and life hours against each other, you can consider how much you can make the most out of work. One way of doing this is reflecting on the relationship between your work and your values.

Finally, the key to truly blocking out personal and family times, aligning your work with your values, and increasing happiness at work is planning and—as you experience roadblocks—adjusting your plans. That’s why at GradPro we offer semester planning workshops as well as peer check-in groups. So please do sign up for our summer check-in groups and look out for our planning workshops throughout the year.

About the Author: Chris Hyun is a Professional Development Liaison at the Graduate Division and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Energy and Resources Group with a designated emphasis in Development Engineering.