A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a friend when he mentioned that he was feeling guilty for having fun. That he knew he had other stuff he needed to do, but he took some time off to hang out with his family instead. And I think this is a super common scenario for grad students. I always feel like there’s research stuff I should be doing instead of meeting up with a friend or when taking a day off.
But, there’s no way you’ll ever make it through your degree if you let yourself feel guilty every time you take a moment off. It’s something I’m working on. This vacation I’m on currently has been good for making me take this physical break from school. It’s giving my brain a chance to rest and focus on other things for a while. I’m also hoping this break will leave me energized to start up again and get back to what I’m doing. (We can always hope, right??)
It’s true that you’ll rarely ever have an empty to-do list as a grad student. In fact, probably the only time you may have that is when you’re waiting for your final defence. But probably not. And so it’s important to set boundaries for yourself so that you don’t let your research take over your life. You need those breaks so that you can gather your thoughts and take a step away from your research. These breaks can give you new perspectives and help you solve problems you’re stuck on.
So what can you do if you feel guilty about work?
- Be productive (find your own definition) during weekdays or during set times/days of the week. When you’re being productive it’s always easier to take time off. But don’t give yourself unreasonable challenges as to how productive you need to be.
- Decide in advance if you’re going to take a day, week, afternoon, off. And then stick to it. If today is your day off, don’t let guilt let you work. Go out and do something else. Watch a movie. Read a book/magazine/something for fun (have you done that recently?). If you want to work during your time off (all motivated for some reason) then go ahead and work.
- If you’re feeling guilty about not working, try to figure out if it’s a specific task that you’re worried about. If you can figure out what’s bothering you, then you should be able to come up with a solution (or partial solution) to help you solve it. Do you need to just sit down and make some progress? Do you need to set up a meeting with someone? If you have a potential solution, you can decide if any of the steps can be done right away (like sending an email to schedule a meeting) or figure out when you can get to it. Now that you have a plan, relax.
- Use your worry and guilt as motivation to make some progress. It’s best if you do so by planing something fun and then setting a goal for what you need to have done first. Then, your vacation or movie or whatnot can be a reward for working. If you find you always give yourself your reward whether or not you make progress, then you need to think about instead doing the opposite and setting up “punishments” if you don’t meet your targets. What this should be depends on you. Maybe you can’t buy your favorite drink for the next week. Or you don’t get to go see that new movie.
What are your solutions for dealing with these feelings? Do you brush them aside and go have fun anyway? Do you make deals with yourself (if I do this, then I need to do that…)?