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Grad school time management: If you *must* work weekends, work on Sunday

When I was in graduate school, right about after my comprehensives, people told me that they were working 100 hours a week. Heck, I was told I needed to work 100 hours a week! There is no way in hell I can put in that much work, to be perfectly honest. While I know many people will shun the idea that academics can work only 40 hours a week and not overwork (which is an idea championed by Dr. Meghan Duffy, Dr. Sherri Rose and Dr. Tanya Golash Boza), I understand that there are times when we need to work beyond the normal workload. Finishing my doctoral dissertation required me to work well beyond 60 hours a week, and closer to 100. To do this, I also had to work on Sundays.

To-Do list handwritten

And YES, I know. I’m the one who champions NOT working on weekends and NOT overworking. I’m the one who advocates against glorifying busy. But I am also well aware that in graduate school, *sometimes* you need to put in a different kind of effort and you may need to work 6 days a week. When I was finishing up, my PhD advisor told me “DO NOT WORK AT LEAST 24 HOURS PER WEEK“. What he meant was, “take at least ONE day fully off“. I usually took Sundays off, so I played volleyball, had brunch with my brother, then spent time with my partner for the rest of the day.

UNTIL… I realized this practice left me really discombobulated because I had no plan for the week ahead. I was arriving to my office on campus and had to start the day off by creating a list of To-Do items. Which of course, took at least a solid hour of my morning and left me even more discombobulated.

So about two years before defending my PhD I changed my habits, and when I need to work 6 days a week I try to do this as well: If I must work on a weekend, I’ll work on the Sunday. The rationale for this is quite simple: I will be tired from the week on Friday, so I’ll need Friday night and Saturday to recover. I can spend Saturday with my parents, and have dinner with my friends on Saturday night. Then, Sunday I can easily have breakfast with my Mom and then drive up to Aguascalientes, land at my office on campus, and work for a few hours, get a few items off of my To-Do list, and head home at a relatively early time (usually I’m home by 5pm, when I arrive to campus at 1pm).

Everything Notebook and travel kit

If I work on a Sunday, I use the last few hours of the day (early night) to write my list of To-Do items in my Everything Notebook, my priorities, check my weekly and monthly calendars, and evaluate where I am. I also catch up on reading on a Sunday. If I try to do work on a Saturday, I know I will be exhausted from the week and my productivity will be very low. That’s why I recommend to my students and colleagues that, IF and only IF they must work on a weekend, they should do so on the Sunday.

If you liked this blog post, you may also be interested in my Resources for Graduate Students page, and on my reading notes of books I’ve read on how to do a doctoral degree.

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