Work and family and “one night a week”

I know there has been a lot written about academia and work-life balance – this recent post in Inside Higher Ed tries to get at why academics work so much. In general, the meme about academics working constantly doesn’t really resonate with me [I should also mention that the meme about professors never working also does not resonate with me]. College professor has been ranked as one of the best jobs in America and the least stressful, though both of these rankings have been debated. In general, I have found it possible to have work-life balance as an academic. Part of my strategy has been to try to make my time at work as productive as possible, so my time at home can be as fun and relaxing as possible.

So, my next post in my “how do I do it” series is my strategy of “one night a week”. While on the tenure track, I often found that it was difficult to find time to focus on my research and writing during the day when I was meeting with students, going to meetings, teaching, etcetera. So, I started staying at work one night a week, and working late, often until 10 or 11.  I would shut my door, order in some food, and work on my research and writing for several hours. This really worked for me, and I got a lot done. I tried not to let teaching or service creep into this time, and I would just work on analyses, coding, and writing. I should also mention that there were very few distractions after 5! Note it doesn’t always have to be at night – I have a friend who worked every Saturday morning on the tenure track.

Some academic parents I know did not like my strategy because they did not like missing putting their kids to bed or seeing their children that evening. [Reminder: I had two children my entire time on the tenure track, and I gave birth in my second and sixth years, so for much of it I had three children.] In terms of my children’s long-term development, I think they are going to be fine, and having special time with their dad is definitely positive for their development.  Further, by taking one night a week, I didn’t work other nights and I rarely worked after my kids were in bed.  I don’t like to working after my kids are in bed because 1) that is when I try to do the work of our house – like packing lunches or picking up, and 2) that is when I spend time with my husband. I have the best husband ever, and keeping our relationship strong is one of my highest priorities. Having time to spend together without the kids is important for our relationship, and I do not like sacrificing this. Finally, I might mention that I did try to work at home at first, and it never worked for me. I would be distracted by the kids, and when I heard someone crying I would feel the need to help out. So, for me, it was just easier to stay at work.

Try out my “one night a week” and let me know what you think.

4 thoughts on “Work and family and “one night a week”

  1. This is a terrific idea, and something I’ve seen another academic blogger mention (she and her fellow academic husband each took 1 night/week to work late). I agree with you that it’s undesirable, if not downright impossible, to work at home when the kids are there, or even work in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed. D and I should try to figure out how to make similar strategy work, although we only have 1 car, so that makes it a bit more difficult…. Thanks for this post!

  2. I think this is a great strategy Claire! I did this during grad school and it really worked. I would go to the office every Sunday evening. I also like your idea because it acknowledges that for many jobs, you simply need to put in some time beyond the 8-5 – and your approach compartmentalizes that to one evening a week, which is manageable and also lets you be disciplined about not working other evenings.

  3. I agree that this is a good strategy, and some semesters I have used it effectively except that my extra work time has come on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, though, this semester has just become unmanageable for me. I would like some tips for setting better boundaries and letting oneself “slack off” in some areas!

  4. As T said, we’ve tossed this idea around (but that is as far as we’ve gotten). It is very helpful to hear from someone I know and who is a good parent that it is *okay* to take “one night a week for work” and then to have that separation on other nights and weekends. Thanks, Claire!

    Now, if I could just overcome the guilt I feel about the idea of it, maybe we could move from “thinking about” to actually “doing” this…

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