How do you manage all of this?

I get this question a lot: How do you manage all of this? I posted a thread on Twitter with an attempt to answer this question, and because it got a lot of attention, I decided to extend this into a blog.

For those who don’t know me: I have two young kids. I do a PhD with extra side projects, I teach swimming lessons and help my husband with his business (besides his full time employment). So, I had my first daughter half a year into my PhD, the second daughter at the end of year 4. I love the articles that I am writing for my PhD, but I learn just as much from my other collaborations and projects that I do on the side. To relax and to get completely distracted, I teach swimming lessons every Saturday morning, sometimes also on Wednesday evenings. And I support (just as he supports me) with the career path that my husband choose. He has a full-time employment, but he enjoys setting up small businesses (he has two) on the side. For one of the businesses, I help him out with the practicalities. Of course, I also have a social life and I spend time being lazy or unproductive, besides all of this.

How do you manage all of this? I don’t know, not sure if I ever find out. I can tell you with WHOM, WHERE, WHEN, WHY.

I know with WHO I am doing this: with my husband and a support system of my parents and in-laws and a few neighbors/friends. Really, can’t do it without them! Not just support but also distraction, motivation and perseverance! You often hear that doing a PhD is a lonely process, and that might be true in terms of your topic and content, but there so many others that are in the same boat. Speak up! Find them. I would be literally nothing without my husband and those who have aided in help at any time. Peers, colleagues and sometimes even someone unexpected will come to help/support you. You need support, you can’t do it all on your own, especially not if your doing difficult stuff (some analyses) or when it involves others (your kids). I have learned to ask for help, even when I feel stupid/weak. I often realize, that I am not stupid, the question was hard. Or it not a sign of weakness, but a sign of good thinking – and no one has thought of a solution. When you don’t ask for help/support, you drain yourself in trying, you spend precious time and you can’t figure it out, because you may simply not be the next Einstein. In the mean time, it’s okay if grandparents, good friends, and fun neighbors take your kids on. In my case, now they are very used to being taken care of them, they are safely attached and very sociable. Just as long as when it comes down to the real taking care and bonding stuff, you are there as a parent! So, it takes a village to raise a PhD?

I know WHERE I do this: I work at a place I feel SAFE and comfortable. You CANNOT grow if you don’t feel safe. Sometimes at home or at the office, sometimes in a garden or in the woods. Find out what relaxes you, find out where you feel warm and cozy. And this is different for everyone, due to the smells, the sounds in the background, the light. In the developmental psychology and pedagogics, this is the main rule: you thrive as long you are safe.

I know WHEN I do this: sometimes in the evening or in the weekend, because my mindset is different or I had time for relax (and no emails/meetings to interrupt). This helps for my balance in work/life. And this is a personal preference, so before judging when your co-workers work, think of why they have to do this (try not to judge them in the first place). I used to have my thoughts about working in the evening, until COVID happened and I could not get to work until the kids were in bed. Also, some of us work part-time (quite common in the Netherlands) and have different days in which they are off (Mondays for me, so I’m okay working a bit on Saturday). Really, after the COVID pandemic, you cant really be judging on the time.

I know WHAT I am doing: I go with the quote “start with the end in mind” (S. Covey). ‘The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’ is worth the read with your academic glasses on. What is it that I want done, what’s the step before that end goal and the step before and so on? Find your way of chopping the big tasks and be conscious of the interim goals for each step. This makes it more feasible to achieve it. Big steps, in small pieces. Yes, you might spend years finding out what works for you, but at least invest in this. And your tactics might differ in different tasks of phases of your research (I have a different approach for my writing than for my teaching). For me, it works to write and read a little every week, to be structured when I write/analyze, and to work according to to-do lists. Ask how persons with a similar personality/work as you, they might have tactics that you find useful!

I know WHY I am doing: I want to obtain a PhD and I like doing this type of work. Does it bring out the best sides of yourself? Are you not able to stop yourself from doing this? Then channel that energy in achieving the goals. Prime yourself to the more positive parts and try to let the negativity fade quickly, in stead of lingering on it. I know that is difficult because our brains like to remember the bad things, but practice! Since doing a PhD is a personal and transformative process, I believe intrinsic motivation is key for your success. But you have to allow this transformative process to change you. And change is scary. Although not always present on the main stage, my intrinsic motivation and my curiosity drives me though the tougher times. When in doubt, when down, just think of that spot on the horizon that you want to reach. If its not there, then you may have to think of that point or evaluate your position. For me, I want to inspire my daughters. I want to show them that you can do something that you WANT to do, and to achieve it even when it’s difficult.

But HOW really, I don’t know.
I guess the how is the combination of all the elements mentioned above in your own version. The how is a personal combination key that works for you. This is not just in your PhD or parenthood, this combination key is for all the relations and roles you have in your life. It makes you unique. Breaking this key combination requires a lot of energy and may well physically be impossible to break. It’s up for you to simply show the world HOW you do it.

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