Like many of my colleagues, I have been struggling with burnout. I’ve been ruminating about why this is the case, why I have been feeling more burned out lately, and what are some strategies for preventing burnout. I ended up writing a tweet thread about burnout a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to include on the blog. Here is the thread. At the end, I also offer some insights into what I am doing to manage time and stay on top of research. I also encourage academic leaders to consider flexibility as a potential tool to prevent burnout.
A major challenge has balancing care responsibilities with academic responsibilities. This is the context of my thread. My three kids attend three different schools, and all have returned at three different times. The changes to my children’s routines and their K12 instructional models have required a lot from me in terms of time and emotional energy. I wrote the tweet thread after hearing that the school district was once again changing their instructional model for two of my three children. The good news is that my children are doing well at school and I felt a lot better after writing this tweet thread. Feedback is welcome.
The tweet thread
I am a solo parent of 3 and a professor, I am experiencing massive role conflict and am burned out. A thread. #AcademicChatter
Since the winter break, there has been a major instructional change at one of my daughters' 3 schools almost every week. I am the sole parent who handles their education with a full time job, my roles are increasingly in conflict. It is getting much, much worse.
Every week I have to adapt to a new schedule or instructional change at one of my daughters' schools. I have to constantly change my workflow and routine.
I shouldn't use the term routine to refer to this year. This year hasn't been routine, and I've been operating in a state of flux. It is wearing me down.
I have to be responsive to new K12 school requirements and new requirements at work. Each change or new requirement slowly chips away at any remaining flexibility in my schedule.
I am trying to find ways to restore my energy, but it's impossible when I am adapting to new changes and requirements.
Years ago, I learned to function at a high level as a single parent by setting routines & exploiting flexibility in my schedule to maximize performance and achieve work-life integration. But without a steady routine & little flexibility, this is no longer a tool at my disposal
Meanwhile, my university has implemented many new procedures that have inflexible requirements and deadlines. This was necessary (I know it's a tough year!), but flexibility did not appear elsewhere.
If this resonates with you, know that I see you and that you are not alone. And I get it.
Solutions at work:
Fewer new demands ✅
Flexible deadlines & requirements✅
More support ✅
Fewer & shorter emails✅
The solution does not involve setting up an additional hour-long zoom meeting to address 🚫
Solutions I've been trying:
Replace hour-long 1-on-1 zoom calls with a 15 min phone call ✅
Replace some meetings with asynchronous work/email check ins ✅
Reduced cmte meetings to 1 hour (from 90 min)✅
Saying no more ✅
Blocking off times for research ✅
Other tips are very welcome! I know I'm missing some good strategies. I want to learn from this and also to not be the source of burnout to my colleagues.
And I want reiterate that flexibility is an underutilized tool for better work-life integration. Have a great day.
Also: I now have a wonderful partner in my life who provides much-appreciated support. But I'm still the solo/primary parent b/c my kids' dad lives out of state, and that's been tough during the pandemic.
A template for time management
After writing the above tweet thread, I thought about what I was doing well. I have a pretty decent weekly routine and have been working in some self-care in the form of a daily walk and some exercise.