Working in academia comes with a lot of freedom. Researchers are afforded opportunities to shape their research project in a way that allows them to explore avenues that truly interest them. This is often the major draw for a career in research: the ability to get ‘sucked into’ the research and just work away at it.

When your work and life begin getting imbalanced

However, this can sometimes mean that the less desirable aspects of the job are deprioritised, and when deadlines loom ahead, you might find yourself overworking to achieve everything you need to do. Before you know it, you’re in the lab or office way past working hours and can count the hours of sleep you’ll get on one hand.

Let’s discuss how to pursue your passion for research while keeping a healthy balance between your work and your personal life.


a.     Know when to stop working

As with any activity requiring your full concentration and attention, research can make you lose track of time. Things always take longer than expected, and once you’ve started and hit your groove, you don’t want to stop. However, be careful of not getting too immersed and losing track of your own wellbeing. This may sound counterintuitive, but as the hours wear on, you become less effective at what you’re doing and you actually get less done.

Tackling a large amount of work while rested can make a huge difference to the quality of your work, and therefore, limiting yourself to a set number of hours can actually increase productivity. Practically, this can be challenging to do, especially if you work predominantly in a lab, where it’s difficult to stop once you’ve started.

How to do it

The best way to start managing your time is to start each day by putting aside 30 minutes to an hour to thoroughly plan out your day.

·         Set yourself tasks that you can realistically get done within the day. Also keep some buffer time for tasks that ‘just come up’.

·         Be strict with yourself about clocking off once you’ve finished. Resist the temptation to squeeze in another one or two hours of work, or a few other tasks that seem to be clamouring for your immediate attention, because those things add up and you’ll soon find yourself working long, late hours again!

Find more time management tips here: Managing your time as a researcher


b.     Set yourself – and your manager – realistic expectations

A vital aspect of getting your work done on an achievable schedule is to work toward expectations that you previously agreed with your manager that allow you to work reasonable hours and that don’t pressure you into working late. Not only is this essential to your personal wellbeing, enabling you to establish a healthy work–life balance, but also it contributes to a fruitful and healthy relationship with your manager, as it helps you communicate your expectations to them just as clearly as they’ll be able to do to you.


c.    Cultivate friendships and hobbies

As we grow older and become more involved in our research work, friendships and hobbies can sometimes take a backseat to everything else that’s going on in our work and personal lives. These are very important, though, as they form part of the motivation you need to establish an adequate balance.

How to achieve it

Make more plans with friends and take up old or new hobbies. Soon enough you’ll begin to prioritise these essential parts of a healthy life outside of work more. Having something to look forward to outside of work will also motivate you to be more efficient when you’re at work and to better plan your day so that you are purposefully reserving time for rest and play.



Academia has historically attracted hard-working, dedicated people. The downside of this is that your personal wellbeing can suffer if you live up to a perceived standard which in fact is in no way necessary. By not having an adequate work–life balance, you run the risk of decreased productivity, stress and an overall reduced standard of wellbeing. So, make sure that you prioritise yourself and know when to switch off – you’ll thank yourself later.

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