Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries are essential to maintaining a positive work-life balance. These boundaries are in relationships with others, and with yourself. This section will signpost to other resources about setting boundaries with others, and look in more detail about setting boundaries with yourself.
Boundaries with others
When you have worked out what you need to do in order to have a positive work-life balance, you often need to communicate that to others. This includes where your boundaries are, for example when you will be working (and not working), when you will check email (and not check email), and how much you take on in all areas of your life. You may need to set these boundaries with a number of people in your life, including your supervisor, family, friends, and colleagues. Sometimes these conversations can feel challenging, particularly if you’re not sure if the other person supports you in what you want or need to do. These are some useful resources for thinking about and having those conversations:
- Working with supervisors online resource, particularly the difficult conversation templates which are useful for difficult conversations with anyone, not just supervisors.
- If you feel your supervisory team are not supporting you in the way that you need, you can speak from your pastoral tutor.
Boundaries with yourself
One thing people sometimes forget to consider is that you also need to set boundaries with yourself. One of the fantastic things about a research degree is there are a number of other opportunities you can get involved in, beyond just the research, including teaching, peer support, engagement activities, events, conferences, seminars, and many many more. In fact, it can be argued that a research degree isn’t just about the research, but also about these opportunities which can be helpful to whatever you want to do after your degree as well as interesting. This means it can be very easy to say ‘yes’ to doing too many things, or to feel a pressure to say ‘yes’ to everything. Inevitably, you can then end up with too much to juggle, making you feel stressed or unable to have the work-life balance that you want. You also need to make sure you allow yourself the time and space to do the work.
PhD student in Drama and Philosophy, Giorgia Ciampi discusses the importance of not forgetting your beginner’s mind here, getting seduced by every new theory you come across or trying to please everyone else:
You can download a transcript of this podcast.
One way to tackle this is to make some rules for yourself about what you say ‘yes’ to. It’s very hard to say ‘no’ to something what it’s something you really would be interested in, even if you don’t actually have the time, so making some rules can help you come to a more balanced judgement.
Your ‘rules for yes’ will depend on your personal circumstances and interests. An example of questions one Exeter PGR uses when a new opportunity arises is listed below:
1. Am I interested in this? Do I want to do it?
2. Will it help my future career plans?
3. Is it paid?
4. How much else do I have to do in that time frame?
5. What is my chronic health condition doing right now?
This PGR considers the balance of the answer to those questions to decide if she should say yes. For example, she might be really interested in something that would also help her future career, but have too much else to do in the timeframe and be in a flare-up of her health condition, so says no. Or she might take a job that’s unpaid because she’s really interested in it and has the time for it.
Write a list of what your ‘rules for yes’ or ‘rules for no’ are, or what questions you need to ask yourself before you decide whether to do something.
Make this into a checklist or question list you can look at whenever a new opportunity arises. Look at your list if you’re ever stuck for whether you should say yes or no, and especially when you really want to do something despite, for example, time pressure, as that’s often when it’s hardest to say no!