An Instructor’s Guide To Finding Work-Life Balance

By Christine Goedhart

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A major benefit of an instructor position is having a flexible work schedule. However, without defined work hours, work can expand to take up all waking hours.

This is because there is always something to do. If we’re not physically teaching in the classroom, we can be preparing for class, reflecting on and making changes to our class, meeting with students, developing curriculum, doing committee work, engaging in research or professional development, and of course, there is always marking to do.

We might love our work, but working non-stop can have devastating effects on our physical and mental health, causing stress and burn out, and ultimately diminishing the quality of our work and our life.

As instructors, we have important work to do in teaching and supporting our students, developing our craft, and contributing to the needs of the department and discipline. To do all these things – and to do them well – we need to be well, which means that we need to have a work-life balance that works for us.

Here are 5 steps that can help you create more work-life balance in your life:

Step 1: Measure your current state

Measuring your current state will help you develop awareness around how you spend your time and how certain activities might be affecting your overall work-life balance.

Start tracking how you spend your time. You can do this using paper, an Excel spreadsheet, or some other time tracking tool. As you track your time, consider the following:

    • When, and how much time am I spending on work-related activities?
    • What types of activities am I doing during these times? How long am I spending on different tasks?
    • How many hours of sleep am I getting? What is the quality of that sleep?
    • How much time do I spend in physical activity?
    • How much time, and when, am I spending with family, on hobbies, social interactions, or other “me time” activities?

Step 2: Determine what a balanced life looks like for you

Analyze the data you collected on how you spend your time and determine whether or not you want to make any changes. Here are some questions you can use to help you in this process:

    • How much of my time is spent on work vs. non-work activities?
    • What am I doing too much/not enough of?
    • What is taking too much time?
    • When am I most/least productive and efficient?

You may find that there are certain work-related activities that are taking too much time, are non-essential, or can be handed off to someone else. Additionally, you might notice that you are more productive at certain times of the day.

Step 3: If you decide to make changes, start small

Any change you make should be something you can reasonably manage, otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

For example, you may decide that checking your email constantly throughout the day is taking too much time and is making you less productive. Instead of making the extreme jump to only checking email once a day, you can make a smaller change of checking email once an hour, or even just changing the setting on your computer so that you are not instantly notified each time you receive an email.

Similarly, if you find that physical activity is essentially non-existent in your schedule and you want to dedicate more time to this, it may be too difficult to suddenly commit to hitting the gym for an hour each day. Instead, you might begin with 30 minutes of physical activity once a week, taking the stairs whenever it is an option, or incorporating planned stretch breaks in your day.

Step 4: Organize your schedule

If you are serious about making changes to how you spend your time, the best thing to do is to schedule these changes in your calendar, because what gets scheduled gets done.

You can schedule work activities so that they fit within a certain time frame and are completed during the times when you are most efficient. You can also schedule non-work activities, such as taking a walk, meeting with a friend, or other essential “me time” activities.

Organizing your schedule so that it reflects a balance of “work” and “life” activities will help to ensure that your vision for work-life balance becomes reality.

Step 5: Stick to your schedule

This is probably the most difficult step, but also the most important. Things will inevitably come up that will force you to make difficult decisions about whether or not to stick to your schedule. Here are three things that can help you during these times:

  • Define your motivation – It can be difficult to stick to something if you haven’t developed a clear motivation for doing so. Determine why creating more work-life balance is personally important to you so that you can come back to this motivation when the going gets tough.
  • Learn to say no – Think carefully before taking on a new responsibility at work and don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll think it over and get back to you.” This will buy you some time to thoughtfully consider how this new responsibility might affect you and to gracefully articulate a gentle “no.”
  • Share your intentions with others – Letting others know about your intentions for creating work-life balance will help to keep you accountable. You may also inspire these individuals to seek more work-life balance themselves.

If you find that you absolutely cannot stick to your schedule, the changes you chose to make might not be realistic for you at this time. That’s okay! You can modify your schedule to reflect something more reasonable and then revisit and revise it over time as you learn more about yourself and your work and life needs.

Please know that you are not alone in your efforts to create work-life balance. The monthly UBC “Thriving Faculty” column highlights UBC faculty and their efforts to integrate health and wellbeing into their lives, classrooms, and communities. Here you can learn about the strategies these faculty employ to overcome obstacles and create more work-life balance for themselves.

Overall, creating work-life balance is a process, and while it can be difficult, there is support available to you. As an instructor at UBC, you have access to at least six free sessions with a professional coach through the Coaching@UBC program. I’m also currently enrolled in a coach training program and would be happy to support you through the process of creating more balance in your life. Please reach out if you would like more information about how professional coaching can help you in your quest for more work-life balance.

Are there any strategies you use that I didn’t mention, or any experiences you’ve had using the steps listed above? Please share them in the comments below or send me an email. I’d love to hear them!

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