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Knowing when to STOP

I have been seeing (and reading) a lot of articles on people being overworked and redesigning their lives; working smarter not harder. These articles tend to revolve around how to take away pressure from your own life. Now either we are experiencing some societal revolution and moving away from the 9-21 working day, or Facebook has upgraded their algorithm and they are targeting me, the poor overworked PhD student, even better than before. So how does one know they need to stop? How do you know it's actually just too much, rather than just having had a rough period? Let me explain to you how I know it's time for me to stop.

When one of my PhD supervisor told me he wouldn't be around for a month, I had a near death experience. The world turned dark. My legs felt heavy, my head felt light. He mainly helps me with my coding. Losing 4 weeks of that type of supervision and help was just too long. But obviously, the man also deserves his time to work on his own projects, see his family and have an actual holiday. Next, my other supervisor told me he would have more time and we would go through one of my papers together, trying to beat it into publishing shape. Thank God. I went to that meeting, which tends to be an hour. In that hour, he pretty much told me that as the paper was now, he would not even consider submitting it for publication. It needed another re-write. This is going to be major re-write number 8, if I'm being optimisitc. I was told I could come back several hours later. I felt completely deflated. Hours later, we spend a full 2 hours re-writing about 2, maybe 2.5 paragraphs. Although I was very happy he had made this much time, it was just another punch in the gut. Academia seems to be about telling you in different ways that your work just isn't good enough, and might never be good enough. Then comes along anxiety, the imposter syndrome and then you're asking yourself whether you are, or will ever be, good enough. My supervisor then told me he'd also be away for some weeks and we'd meet again at the end of the month. I just nodded. I was dead anyway.

So from there on I made a plan to make sure I got the re-writing and the coding in. They are full days of nothing but that. No breaks, no lunches, no other meetings, nothing. It's lucky that we are currently on break (Easter) and that all of this fits in, because normally, with WBIT, RLT and regular meetings, it just doesn't. And that's quite dehabiliating. It makes me just want to stay at home, in bed, and watch stupid shit online. And that might be the moment to ask yourself what the hell you think you are doing. I have written articles myself about the consequences of continuously overloading yourself. And it's bad. It seems as if society is getting a kick out of struggling, and persevering beyond common sense. But I'm not having it. I want to finish a PhD with a title and published, or at least publishable, papers. Not with a mental disorder or a burn-out.

I'm not saying that as PhD students (or any other career/educational level) we should just stay in bed and call quits. I'm not a quitter. But sometimes it's just not worth the fight. A PhD is a lot of work sure. But the majority of that work is mental (as in: mentally challenging). The brain cannot work 24/7 and then still produce great results, good analysis and perfect writing. It's not feasible. Instead of working harder, I need to work smarter. And mainly: not get so caught up on every damn setback. I got into a PhD, so someone, somwehere, thought I could do this. So I damn well will. On my own terms, with my own plan. And that plan will not include working 8-20. Because that is insane... It's because I genuinely considered this idiocy that I knew I needed a break. It was time to stop.

So how will you know? Well, it depends. What keeps you up at night? When you are sitting down to plan your week, or even if you're just going through your week in your head, what makes you just instantly deflated, or tired even? If you have had this feeling about a particular set of work, or about work overall, it is time to change something. If you can, take a break. Distance tends to put everything in perspective. I appreciate that not everyone can just get up and go. But something's got to give, right? So, maybe not a change of scenery, but a change of pace. Make a very clear distinction between "work" and "not-work." This means that you can't go home with work, not even with work on your mind. Set seemingly normal hours for work (9-17 is the default), and that's it. When home, no e-mails, no admin, no coding, no research. If this is hard for you, set yourself up with a buddy, or other unbreakable appointments; think of gym sessions, art classes, dinner clubs with friends (or total strangers), etc. Things with a clear starting time, that you do have to meet. I know those things sound like more work, but they do actually reduce stress and re-energise you. If this all sounds a bit too extravert for you and you are in fact able to discpline yourself from the start, staying at home with tea and a good book is also totally cool.

Keeping all this information and all the algorithm-pushed articles in mind, I am literally using this article to announce that there will be no articles in the upcoming week. So, on Thursday 18/04 and Monday 22/04, there will be no articles uploaded. I'm having a break, kicking it in Berlin with my dad. Leaving academia behind for a bit. See you in a week! If missing articles for a week is too much to bear for you, I'm getting closer and closer to having published 100 articles, so there should be plenty of you to read on here!



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