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Academic work is never done, or can it be?

This blog post is about the importance of setting boundaries. Many participants, including ourselves, sometimes pose the central question: How do I know when I am done?

Since our research progress, at least for relatively long periods, is often invisible and there is always the possibility to do more, one might leave work on a Friday afternoon with the feeling that one could have, and should have, done more.

I recently asked a good friend of mine, a successful academic who always takes the weekends and evenings off, how she managed this. Her brief answer was the importance of boundaries.

The longer answer was this: She visualizes her work boundaries yearly by drawing a number of boxes in different colors on her whiteboard, based on her experience of past years. One color for the number of Ph.D. students she can advise, another for the number of reviews she can take on, yet another for the academic text she can write, and so on. Once all the boxes in one category is ticked, it is full (regardless of how good the new opportunity is).

The importance of boundaries can be applied to space and time as well. A specific space is a designated work space; another (your home) might not be. Some hours during the day are for email, and others are not.

I am inspired to try this visualization technique for the year ahead. How about you?


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