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As a research student, I spend most of my time working on my research career, even when I am at home, I am awake until 3 or 4 A.M just doing my research-chores.

As a matter of fact, long-term having not enough sleep, putting myself under huge amount of stress and hard work and more important, not getting enough exercise will directly put the person's health in to danger.

My question here is how should a researcher balance his life to both maintain his health and do his academic job?

I am wondering whether professionals and scientists really hardly worked this much and how their healthy and balanced academic/work life-style is.

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@enthusiasticstudent I highly recommend you to change your lifestyle. I've experienced the same for over 12 months. The consequences will appear later on. In my case it started with back pain, hemorrhoids and ended with disgust (psychological feeling) towards the work. I think the way to change it is to know that you dedicate a fixed amount of time per week on your research, and use this time as good as possible. Use tools tools/addons to avoid distractions and make sure to keep the promise you give to yourself. "This amount of hours per week" –  Kristof Tak Aug 4 at 11:55
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I am not sure what your exact question is. Are you looking to maintain a healthy work-life balance, or are you interested in polling how much other people work (and how healthy their life is). The former looks similar to the linked question, the second one is probably out of scope. –  xLeitix Aug 4 at 13:00
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That being said, if you actually work until 3AM every day, you need to stop this pattern now or you will be burned out in (at most) a few months. –  xLeitix Aug 4 at 13:03
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This doesn't seem specific to academia. –  StrongBad Aug 4 at 19:27
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I'd say this is pretty much standard, whether in academia or business or the military or wherever. When I was a fresh-caught young naval officer there were times I was up for more than 48 hours straight, what with operational commitments, watch-standing, "normal" work stuff, multiple underway replenishments a day (I was stationed on a supply ship) - it was just Business As Usual. The more senior officers got a decent amount of sleep, but us "kids" were go-Go-GO! Today (at age 57) I wouldn't do that ever again - that's why there's "kids" to show us oldsters How It's Done. :-) –  Bob Jarvis Aug 5 at 2:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

First of all. Sleep. And sleep well. Increasing sleep hours increases productivity and not the other way around. Sleep early (people are not supposed to work too late at night) and wake up after good-solid 8 hours of sleep. Then when you wake up, you will realize that you have amazing clarity and excellent productivity. Also, two hours before sleep abandon work and do something relaxing, such as listening to music or spending time with your significant other. Work or stressful activities before bedtime, disrupt your sleep and its quality. So, that leaves you about 24-(8+2) = 14 hours to work which are more than enough.

Devote at least one hour per day on average for exercise. Any sport, workout is better than nothing. Also, try walking. One hour of walking per day does wonders for your heart, lowers stress and you can still think about research while doing it (I do not advice this though). It also alleviates headaches (stress or work related). Also, mind what you eat. Keep your weight steady and do not eat too salty or fatty foods, that inhibit body and mind performance. Use a multivitamin every two days (after consulting your doctor). Also remember that a healthy body always performs better, including mind activities. Also maintaining a good, healthy appearance increases your chances for a fruitful social life, which will prevent you from overworking and overstressing yourself.

And just a reminder. You should not spend too much time on Stack Academia as well :-)

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Why did you say this: And just a reminder. You should not spend too much time on Stack Academia as well :-)? –  Enthusiastic Student Aug 5 at 19:44
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It was a joke. But spending time on any website when you are missing sleep should be avoided. –  Alexandros Aug 5 at 19:59
    
I am not missing sleep because of spending time on any website (as stated in my question). :) Thanks for your answer. –  Enthusiastic Student Aug 5 at 20:03

I put my health first by committing to healthy activities that involve other people, so I will have to stick to them.

For example, I

  • Have a standing weekly running appointment with a faculty member at my school. I won't cancel this appointment because she will be disappointed.
  • Have a standing non-academic volunteer commitment one afternoon each week (giving back to my community is essential for my mental health). I won't cancel this because there's a classroom full of 12-year-old girls waiting for me to come help them with their homework.
  • Spend 25 hours each week, from Friday night to Saturday night, completely disconnected from the Internet and anything work related. (I do this as a religious observance, but it's definitely good for my physical health, too!)

All of these things are non-negotiable to me. That is, no matter what how busy I am or what deadlines are coming up, I will not compromise on any of these things. They're essential to my health and well-being, I arranged them so that other people are depending on me, and so I prioritize them.

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Sounds cheesy, but having a hobby really helps. I played table tennis at a club during my PhD, which meant regular training, league games, and tournaments, all entirely non-negotiable (can't let down your team just because you are terrible at time management). –  xLeitix Aug 4 at 13:08
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including other people is great, because it forces the person to stick to the plan –  Kristof Tak Aug 4 at 13:26
    
Agreed. Hobbies and friends are good. Some kind of stress management like meditiation or, in my case, powerlifting is also invaluable. –  Shion Aug 4 at 16:28

I know that for myself, regular running has helped a lot in the past.

The miraculous thing about regular physical exercise is that even though it takes time, you suddenly find that it seems like you suddenly have more time overall.

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You are only as busy as you want to be. How many hours you can put into work activities without affecting your mental well-being depends on how much you enjoy your work. Given that you describe your work as chores, you should be trying to adjust the cause, not mitigate the symptoms.

There is no way that you can realistically handle the kind of workload you describe long-term. Putting in that many hours to the point that you're basically pulling all-nighters might be justified at crunch time: when a project is due and external factors or bad planning prevented you from finishing in time. The first step to improving your situation is to give yourself a realistic workload, likely something between 40 and 60 hours a week. Then set up a plan for your research that takes into account the hours you have available and set your goals accordingly.

You can try this for a week to see if it helps with your mental fatigue and what the impact is on your research. There are any number of studies that prove the importance of work-life balance for productivity so while you might feel like you're working much less than you should, you should be accomplishing much more with your time.

In other words: Work smarter, not harder.

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Prioritize you're health, happiness and relationships first. Nowhere is it written that a graduate student needs to work insane hours, answer every email the minute it comes in, etc. Frankly, if I worked for someone that had that expectation I'd leave. In fact, I did work for an advisor who was like that and I switched after a year. Life's too short. The stress, fatigue, unhealthy eating, lack of connection with other people outside of academia... it wears on your health.

Don't fall into the rat race. I don't know your field, but in mine it's common for grad students to work insane hours because they just work inefficiently, so just work smarter.

Also, under-promise over-deliver... always.

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You should work less and take breaks, for the sake of the success of your research! Out of experience, most, if not all insights/breakthroughs came while taking breaks/ holidays etc…

These breaks allow you to take some distance and give you perspective w.r.t. to your current work. On top of all the good reasons given by the other answers.

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