As an academic mom of three, I get asked all of the time how I “do it all”. Short answer: I don’t! Long answer: Check out these thoughts, tips and tricks I shared recently in a Twitter thread. 

1) Set boundaries and choose exceptions carefully: Because much of academic work is flexible, creating your own boundaries around when you will/won’t work is crucial. Seek to align boundaries with your core values. Some exceptions are okay – but be judicious and strategic.  And remember, it is okay for boundaries to change over time and in response to changing life circumstances.  For example, when I was a PhD student with very young kids, I did lots of work during off hours (naptime, nights, weekends) because full time daycare was not feasible financially for my family.  Now, in my current position, I keep a strict no nights/no weekends boundary around my work schedule to maximize that time with my growing family, and I work during the day while my kids are in school.  Boundaries are personal and should be set and maintained to maximize the work-life balance that feels best for you in your current circumstances.

2) Recognize that your “could-do” list is never-ending. Instead, create to-list that strikes a balance between “must-do” and “want to do”. Work to identify top priorities based on your position, career stage, long term goals, and personal values. Leave room for projects that bring you joy.  This will (almost) always mean walking away at the end of the day- and the end of the week- with many tasks and projects left undone.  The good (and the bad) news is, those tasks will still be there waiting for you when you head back into work.  Tip: Set aside time once a week to examine your to-do list, compare it your upcoming calendar, and create a plan for yourself for how and when you will tackle the must-do items on that list.  Block time on your calendar to tackle the tasks that need to get done – and don’t forget to save space for writing, thinking, and bigger picture thinking.

3) Avoid the comparison trap. Maintaining boundaries often means turning down opportunities that peers eagerly accept and/or progressing slower on research, writing or mentoring goals compared to others in different circumstances. That’s okay! Comparison is the thief of joy.  To avoid the comparison trap, I try to keep my core values top of mind. It’s true that sometimes I’m doing less than others, but (for the most part) I’m choosing that because I’m gaining more time with my kids or taking time for self-care (adequate sleep, exercise, etc). If I could do it all, I might choose that. But “doing it all” is a myth, not an actual option.

4) Some seasons are just hard. Be kind to yourself. Sick kids, ill parents, relationship challenges, global pandemics. Life presents challenges that no organizational tool or time hack can fix. Maintenance of boundaries and self-care routines becomes MORE important during those challenging seasons.  There are occasions to muscle through challenging circumstances (e.g, defending your dissertation the day after your kiddo was up all night with a fever), but there are also seasons of life during which to extend yourself grace and self-compassion, and to do a little less work, so you can sustain yourself, your health and your relationships over the long haul.

5) Acknowledge systemic barriers that make parenting in academia hard – seek opportunities to challenge biased assumptions, model alternative approaches, and promote culture shifts when possible; and give yourself permission step back from such efforts as needed for self-care.

This thread originally appeared on October 21, 2021.

Additional Resources

Honing Resiliency: Reminders from a Recent Disappointment

Tune Your When, How Much, and What in Your Days

How to Really Manage Your Time

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