Burn at Both Ends, But Don’t Burn Out

Going to grad school full-time while working full-time can be a lot to manage. As I type this (which I’m submitting late, by the way), I’m sitting on a friend’s couch after the first day of an intensive research methods workshop. I’ve been mulling over what I might have missed at work by being here; what I would have missed for my research by staying at work instead of coming. While I still wrestle with these questions, I handle the workload I have in a much healthier way than I used to. For some of you, the second stressor isn’t school, but it’s another job, an internship, a family. Regardless of what’s increasing your workload, I wanted to take a minute to share some tips to cope with burning the candle at both ends while maintaining your mental health.

  1. Turn off your email notifications. Anyone who is dedicated enough to keep a job in this field checks their email regularly both on their laptop and their phone. You don’t need a push notification or banner to remind you. Making this small change has gone so far to help me actually read and respond to emails in a timely manner, because I’m looking at them when I have a chance to do so instead of instinctively swiping away an unwanted red bubble. Set a few dedicated times in the day to check and respond, but don’t let your lock screen dictate your mental bandwidth.
  2. Keep a space where there’s no work. Ensure there is at least one space in your life that work can’t come to. For many people, church or the gym is this space outside the home. I suggest having a place in your house as well. Let there be a way for you to shut the door on the workday and genuinely unwind for a while. And please, please, don’t work in your bed. When your brain associates the place you sleep with the place you work, it makes it that much harder to turn your mind off at the end of the day.
  3. Take one day off. It can be tempting to fall into the trap of looking at how long everyone is in the office while ignoring how much of that time has been productive. This is true, in my experience, of both grad students and government folks. I have come to see that having (at least) one day off a week helps me keep the work I’m doing in the larger perspective of my life and the goals I want to be achieving. If you’ve got the capacity, I recommend taking day trips on these days whenever possible–Atlas Obscura can help you find cool places in your state that you never would’ve thought to look for.
  4. Set your hours (and keep them).  I’m a better writer in the morning. That will likely always be true for me. Since so much of what I need to be successful professionally relies on writing, my workday needs to start by 8:30. And no matter how much I need to get done, I stop working at 10p.m. (more on that below). I encourage you to set boundaries like this for yourself as well. If you know you’re a night owl, great! Don’t start your work until noon. Give yourself space on either side of the workday to warm up and cool down. In the same vein as taking a day off, this can feel rough at first. I’ve had to train myself to stop apologizing for responding to emails in the morning that came in after 10, but like anything, it’s easy once you’ve built the habit.
  5. Go to sleep. Seriously. Earlier in my grad career, I was talking with my doctor about the trouble I would have getting to sleep (and how early I would need to wake up because I had so much to do!). Turns out, I was hurting myself twice. Like I said, I’m a more productive person in the morning, but I’m only as good as the sleep I get the night before. When I was working until right before I wanted to go to bed, I couldn’t get my thoughts to stop racing in time to get a good amount of sleep…and I would almost always have to redo my work the next morning because I was unsatisfied with the quality from the night before. Learning the value of sleep might have capped the times of day when I’m working, but it boosted my ability to think clearly and work effectively in a massive way. I guarantee it will do the same for you.

The moral of the story is, if you want to be productive and keep up in a hectic career field, you have to be healthy. You have to ensure that the work you love doesn’t turn into something you’re completely burned out from in a few years. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the items on it can benefit everyone. If you’ve got more tips and tricks for remaining a person in a field that runs folks like robots, reach out and let me know!

Kelly Stec is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Really important piece, as I think many lose sight of their own wellbeing while striving for personal or professional goals. Major props to you for taking so much on while writing for GovLoop, and thank you for posting 🙂