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Avoid Burnout

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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The average amount of time from entering grad school until getting tenure is more than 18 years! Wow!Remember this daunting figure when you tell yourself that you'll take time off as soon as you jump through the next hoop. Instead, seek to develop a rich and relatively balanced life while you're still a student or junior faculty member.


The posting below has some very good advice on managing burnout . It is by Mary McKinney, Ph.D. of Successful Academic Coaching. Please visit Mary's web site at for additional tenure track tips and dissertation writing strategies. email: Copyright © 2000-07 Mary McKinney, Ph.D. - All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Lessons Learned as a Department Chair

Tomorrow's Academic Careers


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Avoid Burnout

How Long Have You Been Keeping This Pace?


The average amount of time from entering grad school until getting tenure is more than 18 years! Wow!

Remember this daunting figure when you tell yourself that you'll take time off as soon as you jump through the next hoop. Instead, seek to develop a rich and relatively balanced life while you're still a student or junior faculty member.

In order to avoid burnout, it is just as important to make time for relationships, relaxation and recreation as it is to schedule time for your work.

Beware of the fate of Don Quixote:

In short, he so busied himself in his books that he spent the nights reading from twilight till daybreak

and the days from dawn till dark; and so from little sleep and much reading his brain dried up and he lost his wits. -Cervantes

Balancing Work and Play

Down Time - Everyone needs regular periods of relaxation to recharge. Getting together with friends, going to movies, listening to your favorite music, or taking a long, steaming bath: I'm sure that you can imagine many excellent ways to rejuvenate and everyone has their own best way to relax. Just remember that zoning out in front of the TV is not true "down time." To really replenish your creative juices, learn the challenging art of doing absolutely nothing.

Days Off - In my workshops and coaching practice, I strongly recommend that people take at least one day off each week from any form of academic work. It is surprising how difficult this assignment is for most scholars. Yet, again and again, people who follow my suggestion are amazed at how much more productive they are during the other six days. Plus, they revel in sharing the new movies, plays, sports events, concerts and festivals they've attended.

Social Life - As one academic told me: If I get tenure, but no longer have my marriage, what good is tenure? Nourishing close relationships is perhaps the most important aspect of your balancing act. Sometimes, when coaching, I help academics make time to seek romance and new friendships. Many scholars need to schedule social time to make sure that they keep in touch with friends and family. For example, you may want to reserve Sunday evenings for phoning people you've lost touch with or neglected.

Joy Breaks - This term is used by Ann McGee-Cooper in her fun book Time Management for Unmanageable People. Joy breaks are mini-activities that will renew you by taking your mind off of work for a few minutes. Often they are tasks that relate to future, larger treats. For example, if you'd like to see a movie later in the day, a joy break during your morning writing session might be to look up movie reviews on the web, check the time a show is playing, or call and invite a friend to join you.

Artist Dates - This term was coined by creativity guru Julia Cameron. She defines an artist date as a pre-planned and scheduled block of time, perhaps two hours a week, devoted to "nurturing your creative consciousness." Artist dates, according to Cameron, must be taken alone rather than with friends or partners, and consist of activities such as visiting a museum, attending a concert, exploring an "ethnic neighborhood" or taking a long walk in the wilderness. An artist date is "quality time with yourself". Yes, her style may be "new age" but her suggestions are still useful.

Vacations - Take vacations, vacations, vacations. In workshops, I always ask participants whether they've ever gone on vacation and taken a heavy backpack filled with their laptop and 20 pounds of books and articles. They nod. Then, I ask them whether they have taken this backbreaking load only to leave the books unopened, the articles unread, and the laptop used only to play solitaire? Inevitably, many in the group get sheepish smiles and blush as they nod. Stop taking work with you on vacations. Resist the urge to open work-related email. Commit yourself to a completely guilt-free break. Have guilt-free fun. I guarantee that you'll work with greater productivity when you return.

Managing Stress

Health - Want to work more productively? Make sure that you are taking care of yourself. This includes: getting enough sleep; eating well; staying in shape; making time for an annual physical; and getting professional treatment if you are suffering from depression or chronic anxiety. Of course you already know the importance of good health, but are you following through on your knowledge? Eighteen years is a long time for an unhealthy lifestyle.

Exercise - It is essential to make time for exercise. Of course you know you should, but are you balancing those long hours in front of your computer with vigorous daily activity? The endorphins will boost your mood, the blood flow will clear your mind, and the results will boost your self-esteem. Make your body a priority. (Beware, however, of signs and symptoms of eating disorders - a growing epidemic in today's weight-obsessed society. If you are exercising compulsively, dieting obsessively, bingeing or purging, please seek professional help.)

Mindfulness and Meditation - There are so many benefits to a practice of mindfulness that I will soon devote a separate section to the topic. In the meantime, try reading the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Relaxation Techniques - Shallow, chest-level breathing rather than abdominal breathing, is a hallmark of stress. Tight, sore neck muscles, frequent headaches and insomnia are some of the other signs that stress is getting to you. If you are chronically tense, or have ever suffered a panic attack, I highly recommend The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne. This comprehensive book covers the assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders and provides instructions for many relaxation techniques.

Visualization - Close your eyes and try to vividly imagine a soothing outdoor scene. A deserted beach with rhythmic waves stroking the sand. A narrow mountain waterfall wending down a fern-lined pass. See the colors, hear the sounds, smell the scents, and feel the sun. Regular practice of visualization, even for a few moments as a break during a work session, is a revitalizing way to relax.

Crafting a Meaningful Life

What is your definition of a successful academic?

True success is more than passing qualifying exams, finishing your dissertation, publishing in topflight journals, or getting tenure.

Authentic happiness may include the following components:

* A range of passions rather than an unbalanced obsession with work

* Attention to personal as well as professional development

* Intimate and mutually-supportive relationships

* Dedication to making scholarly and practical contributions to the world

* The quest for a personal spirituality that includes compassion and curiosity

* Laughter and playfulness

Are you finding ways to create a meaningful life?

(If not, please remember that improving your general satisfaction with your life is often an essential component of coaching.)