Tips for work-life balance

Below is a series of 25 Tweets that I release over 2022, giving some tips for how to maintain a good work-life balance.

These tips are from my own experience as a white man in academia, which I have used since I was early career. I make no claims that this will work for everyone all the time, but my time in academia was not staightforward – I spent 10 years on fixed-term contracts after my PhD.

My primary goal in thinking about my work productively is not to get more work done. My goal is to spend less time doing stuff I don’t want to do and more time doing stuff I do want to do.

I hope these tips can help you to do the same!

0. Why I started this

Prompted by Jenn’s post & similar stories, each Monday, I will tweet one thing I do to help manage myself. Why? I am one of the few people I know who works a ~40-hour week most weeks. I do this by paying attention to how I approach my job. 1/5

I may not be as successful as some of you aim to be, but I’m proud of my research, teaching, and leadership; and I spend a lot of time with my family (two young kids). At least some of things I post could be useful to you. 2/5

I have the privileges that go with being a white male. But also spent 10 years on fixed-term contracts after PhD. I got lucky after that. If I had worked insane hours, I may have gotten lucky earlier, but I don’t regret working at home those Wednesdays with my daughters when they were tiny. 3/5

Over the years 2019-2021, I was: Deputy Head of School, founded & co-directed a new university-wide research centre, supervised 8 PhD students & 4 postdocs, taught into 3 subjects, lived through a pandemic, and had my kids schooling at home for months. 4/5

Things didn’t always work out as I wanted, but I kept on top of most things most of the time.

Nothing I will share is new: it’s all from looking at what others have done to help themselves. I have some things specific to academia/research that people may find helpful, but I don’t expect all tips will work for all people in all situations 5/5

1. To work 35-40 hours next week, we need to work 35-40 hours THIS week

WL-balance tip #1 (and you are going to hate this one 😀): If we want to work 35-40 hours (or part-time equivalent) next week and still get all of our stuff done, we need to work 35-40 hours THIS week. Only when we feel fresh can we focus properly. 1/4

Sometimes deadlines come along and we need to push through and do longer hours. That’s fine, but then the following week, we need to get back to a reasonable number of hours. How do we do this while exhausted? On those following weeks: set your expectations lower than usual. 2/4

Three big things planned for the week? Make it two. Something to send to someone? Maybe 1-2 days late is ok. All those meetings? Perhaps some can be missed this week. That submission? Perhaps it is already good enough without our final input. 3/4

Pushing through and doing another long week keeps us exhausted. Breaking that cycle as soon as possible helps us stay focussed. We are all worried about getting stuff done to not affect others, but we shouldn’t do it at the expense of our health. 4/4  

2. Ditch the weekly meeting

WL-balance tip #2: Ditch the weekly meeting. Weekly is not always the optimal. I guess it stems from paper calendars: it was easy to have a weekly schedule on the wall. Start identifying places where fortnightly (or even less regular) is better for everyone’s workload. 1/6

On most projects, we don’t often make enough progress to warrant weekly 1hr meetings. If we work with people who do make incredible progress each week, they don’t need us micromanaging them in weekly meetings! 2/6

There are exceptions: leadership meetings during crises, projects at crucial stages, research students struggling, weekly stand-ups, social meetings, projects with large teams, etc. But we can all probably identify at least 5 meetings per week that can be less regular, right? 3/6

If we want to interact with a team more than fortnightly, we can add eg. a group social event every other week. In Melbourne, that means going out for a coffee (of course)! I have fortnightly meetings with each PhD student, then we all go for coffee on Tuesdays and Thursdays 4/6

We don’t always control meeting schedules, but if we believe a meeting is too regular, propose this to others. If they disagree, maybe we can let them know we will only attend fortnightly. Most people understand. Let them know they can still reach us outside of that time 5/6

We may worry that people will perceive us as slack or uncommitted if we want to spend less time talking and more time doing; and perhaps some do. But we shouldn’t let the perceptions of others affect our health. Do it right now! Change one meeting from weekly to fortnightly. 6/6  

3. Turn off notifications

WL-balance tip #3: Turn off notifications. Did you know 22 Feb is Single Tasking Day? The ability to focus on one thing at a time is key to getting stuff done. Notifications break concentration and focus. 1/8

Single tasking increases both quality of what we do AND uses less energy, meaning we feel better at the end of the day. Emotionally, we feel less overwhelmed. 2/8

Even turn of notifications for email? Especially for email. Once a productivity tool, email is now a time suck. Constantly checking email means we never focus on what we are doing. Quality of thought goes down; so we take longer to do stuff. 3/8

“But I need my team to be able to contact me!” Do we really need to be contactable at all times by our team? Probably far less than we think. Trust people to make their own decisions and they will repay that trust. 4/8

If there are some people that may need to contact us urgently, we can give those people our phone number, with instructions to only contact us if urgent. We probably shouldn’t use email for urgent stuff. Same goes for Slack, Teams, etc. 5/8

So, we can set aside time to do one thing; say 45 mins (which is about as long as we can focus in one go), focus on that and only that. Without notifications, we can focus better. 6/8

But what about all the emails and Slack messages we need to respond to? Single task those as well! Spend 45 minutes just ripping through email and responding. More on this strategy in a future thread. 7/8

We have many responsibilities as part of our jobs, and then even more as part of our home life. Trying to do all of them, or even two, at once is not good for us. Let’s try to not let the pressure of multiple responsibilities affect our health. 8/8  

4. Don’t spend much time worrying about or debating easily reversible decisions

WL-balance tip #4: Don’t spend much time worrying about or debating easily-reversible decisions. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings or on email debating reversible decisions. Instead, pick a good option and move on to other important things. 1/5

If an option can be tried, observed, and reversed if it is not going well, then except in extreme circumstances e.g. it can put you out of business, it is not important. We should save our time, energy, and brain power for important stuff. 2/5

If we are debating with someone else, it’s easiest to just concede and get them to agree to reverse it if theirs doesn’t work. If we really feel ours is much better, just say: “This is easily reversible. Let’s try my way and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try yours”. 3/5

It took me ages to figure this out. When I was deputy head of school, my head of school would often say: “I don’t think that is the best but I don’t want to spend time debating it. So let’s just go with whatever you want”. 4/5

We can identify decisions that are reversible, make it clear to ourselves and others, select a good option, and then move on. This saves time and energy for more important things, like family, friends, and hobbies. 5/5  

5. Protect the weekend

WL-balance tip #5: Protect the weekend. The weekend is designed to be the time we can have downtime and de-stress. We let our work creep into weekends because we have so much to do, but using the weekend as ‘spare’ work time leaves us exhausted 1/7

I know what many of you are thinking: “Your job mustn’t be as busy as mine, Tim”. I’m willing to bet it is for most people. If we consider our weekend as spare work time, we tend to put stuff off that we could get done during the week 2/7

Instead, if we commit to not working on the weekend, we still tend to get everything done during the week. In fact, by coming back refreshed, we will be more focussed the next week 3/7

Don’t believe me? Consider a time that we absolutely couldn’t work on the weekend: travelling, camping. What happened? We got important stuff done the week before, and delayed non-important stuff until the next week. We can do that most weekends 4/7

There are some situations where important stuff becomes too much and we need to spend some weekend time doing work, but we should make that the exception, rather than the habit. Our mental health and our family/friend relationships depend on it 5/7

Poet May Sarton says it better than me: “I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit … 6/7

… seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.” 7/7 (Read in @JamesClear weekly Atomic Habits newsletter this week)  

6. An email inbox is not a good todo list

WL-balance tip #6: An email inbox is not a good todo list. It is a common thing for us to use our inbox as a todo list. We look at it regularly, and we can add stuff to it easily, so it seems like it is fit for purpose. However, this is perhaps not such a great idea. 1/6

As email guru @SteuartSnooks says, if we use our inbox as a todo list, we let other people add items to it at will. This immediately allows people to direct our attention from what we think is important, to what they think is important. 2/6

Also, when we finish something, it means the next step is to look at our inbox. Our inboxes are shiny and bring in new stuff all the time, so it is hard not to become distracted by new messages. We then spend time reading and answering email instead of more important things. 3/6

To counter this, we can use a separate todo list. Simple ones are fine: current day of a paper diary, a post it note, digital apps/lists (there will be at least one that connects directly with your email client), so as To Do, which connects with Outlook. 4/6

This allows us to direct our attention to what we think is important, and avoid distractions for what is important for other people. This helps us to finish our work day earlier (everything important is done!) to spend time on what we want to do. 5/6

It would be great if people could share what tools they use to keep track of their todo list. I have a paper one (the three important things for the day) and a digital one (important things to be done in the future that required more planning) 6/6  

7. Distinguish between important and urgent

WL-balance tip #7 – Distinguish between important and urgent. I think most of us spend a lot time stressing about urgent, short-term things. Admin tasks, responding to emails, etc. But we should prioritise important things over urgent, non-important things. 1/8

We’ve all heard that urgent is not the same as important. We probably all know the Pareto Principle (80% of the value comes from 20% of effort). We probably know the idea of putting the big rocks in the jar first. 2/8

But how do we really determine what is important when we are planning our day? One way is to ask ourselves: will this be useful for me in one year’s time? If yes, it’s probably important: starting that grant proposal, analysing data from our recent study, catching up with a friend. 3/8

If yes, it’s probably important: starting that grant proposal, analysing data from a study, catching up with a friend. If no, it’s probably not important (but may be urgent). Most emails, requests from others, etc., are not important, even though we still need to do them 4/8

It is important to prioritise important stuff over urgent. We are often tempted to say: “I’ll just finish off these little tasks, then I’ll have time to focus on important stuff”; but this is backwards. We can and should do the important stuff first. 5/8

We can avoid checking email first thing, and instead focus on important things. Responding to email is prioritising other people’s requests over what is important to us. These may be important to other people, but that is for them to prioritise, not us. I promise you other people will not care or notice if you respond 2 hours later. 6/8

I promise you most other people will not care or notice if you respond to their email at 11am instead of 9am. 7/8

By starting with the important stuff, we explicitly give it priority. Even if it for just an hour in the morning. By prioritising important stuff on evenings and weekends, we enrich the stuff we really care about. 8/8  

8. List at most three big things each day

WL-balance tip #8 – List the three most important things to do each day; and make them visible throughout the day. Last week the tip was to focus on important things, not just urgent things. One way to do that is to list up to three important things to do for the day, each day. 1/7

Each morning, before anything else (or at the end of the day before), we can think about the three most important things for the day. Write them on a todo list, a post-it note, or somewhere where it is visible. Then, we schedule time to do it during the day. 2/7

We should keep the goals realistic and actionable in the day. Listing “write that paper” is neither realistic nor actionable in a day. Something like “write evaluation design” may be more realistic on that day. 3/7

We should list at most three things; not just all the things we can think that we need to do at some point this year. Also, we should ensure we realistically have enough time for each of them. Day where I have face-to-face meetings all day, I have zero or one items on the list those days. 4/7

We should focus on important things – things that give us long-term benefit. Urgent things get done anyway; the non-urgent important things do not. Throughout the day, tick them off. At the end of the day, we can see how many important achievements we made. 5/7

We can use this for non-work things as well: listing three important things on a Saturday, such as inviting friends for dinner the following weekend, helps us stay balanced. My two daughters love writing a todo list some weekends – they can sneak fun stuff in. 6/7

So why not try this idea right now? List your three big items for today, make them visible, tick them off when they are done, and then at the end of the day, pat yourself on the back for a good day! 7/7

9. List three big things each week

WL-balance tip #9 – The first thing on Monday morning: List the three most important things that we want to do each week; and then schedule time for them. Last week’s tip was to list three important items each day, but we can also do this at the start of each week 1/5

Each Monday morning (or last thing Friday afternoon), we consider the three most important goals we need to do that week. Then, we schedule time for that in our calendar as if it is a meeting. In fact, it is a meeting, but with ourselves! 2/5

These goals need to be important things, not urgent things for other people. They should contribute to our long-term happiness. They are a way to ensure we continue to do important things each week rather than being swamped by ‘urgent’ things. 3/5

As with the daily tasks, we should list at most three things. This should not just be a todo list for the week. Non-important things that we need to do should not be on this list. I reserve this list for work-related things only, but there is no reason we can’t include personal things too. 4/5

There is no need for us to wait until next week to try this. You can start it right now no matter what day of the week you read this. What important things do you want to achieve by the end of this week? 5/5  

10. Schedule breaks throughout the day and keep them

WL-balance tip #10 – Schedule breaks throughout the day; and take them! We can use our calendar to schedule these, so nobody sends meeting invites. Take a proper break, avoiding temptation to work through lunch to be ‘more productive’ – it is less productive in the end 1/4

These little breaks throughout the day have a huge impact on mood and energy, meaning we are more relaxed (less stressed), more creative, retain information better, and have more energy after we have finished work 2/4

I have a mid-morning coffee and lunch break scheduled as a running ‘meeting’ in my calendar every day. The recurring invite has no expiry date. I am happy to move these or to have lunch/coffee catchups with my colleagues and friends. It is a great time to recharge 3/4

So why not go to your calendar right now and put in a couple of longer breaks as a recurring meeting? A proper lunch and afternoon tea for example? 4/4

11. Have an agenda for all meetings

WL-balance tip #11 – Set an agenda for all meetings. We can keep our meetings focused and useful by setting the direction and preparing properly. From a productivity perspective, it keeps the meeting focused and sets the expectation that the meeting will end after X minutes 1/6

If there are no agenda items, we can cancel the meeting in advance. Then we don’t show up and spend 45 minutes giving updates that are not important. We can then use that time to do something else: grab a coffee with someone, focus on an important item, leave work early, etc 2/6

If we have a large meeting, we should send out a call for agenda items or have a shared place where anyone can add items. A good agenda item has a title, owner, desired outcome, and estimated length of discussion; plus maybe a priority. Items should be ordered by priority 3/6

Yes, I know, it is easier to show up and get straight into it; but that only looks at the ease of preparation, not the quality of the outcomes. We should have someone who is responsible for keeping the meeting on track based on the agenda. But they should also be flexible 4/6

I’m actually not great at this tip – I don’t ask research students to send an agenda before the meeting, but the first thing we do when a meeting commences is to look at their agenda. My research students know they can cancel a meeting if they have nothing to discuss 5/6

So, let’s all look at a meeting we have this week that has no agenda, and set one up. If nobody has any items an hour before, cancel it and use that time for something else! 6/6  

12. Write short, concise emails

WL-balance tip #12 – Write short, concise emails. We all spend time writing email & chasing up responses. A good tip is to write emails that are short, to the point, easy to understand and easy and quick to reply to. Some tips for writing shorter, better emails: 1/8

  1. Start with what we want/need from the reader, rather than starting with context or justification. This makes it clear what we want and more likely to get a fast, good reply. A good format is: reason for writing, context, closing. 2/8

As a side note, I think it is fine to start with a short, small-talk sentence first; e.g. “It was nice to meet you last week”, rather than starting with a request. Also, if you find it hard to start with context, just write as normal and then move the action item to the top 3/8

  1. Be clear with requests. We get better, faster responses with clear requests. Emails like “I just want to pick your brain about the attached” is not clear and unlikely to get a response. Instead, “Do the five steps on page X fit with how you currently do things” is better 4/8

  2. Make the subject line informative. If we read subject lines such as “Hi” or “Research project”, we are less likely to click on them. Instead, a subject like “Request to move research project meeting”, gives an idea what it is about and we are more likely to open the email 5/8

  3. Think! Before we send an email, if we spend 30 seconds thinking what we want out of it and ensuring we are direct to that point. If we think about the bad emails we receive, often they are rambling thought processes that the author did not think about 6/8

  4. Don’t write an email at all. If we are finding it had to write an email that is short because we need to communicate so much context, an email is probably not the right medium. Consider picking up the phone and calling someone instead; or scheduling a 5 min phone call 7/8

If we all follow these tips, we spend less time writing email, less time reading email, less time trying to understand what is needed from us, and less time chasing people up. Why not try 1-2 of these tipcs in your next email? 8/8  

13. Tell people when you are overwhelmed

WL-balance tip #13 – Let people know when you are overwhelmed. We tend to say ‘yes’ to everything, then do an average job and/or work ourselves into the ground to finish things. Other than saying ‘no’, there is an alternative: let people know we are overwhelmed 1/5

Everyone has been overwhelmed with things to do. Saying ‘no’ helps, but this is hard for some things and hard to say to some people. Once we have committed to something, if we are overwhelmed, it’s ok to let people know. Most people are empathetic enough to understand 2/5

We can then negotiate ways around it: Can we do only part of it? Can we delegate part of it? Is it ok to submit later? Can we decline now even though we have accepted already? It’s a rare person that would simply say ‘no’ to these – few people set out to make people stressed 3/5

Of course, there is a risk: this may discourage people from working with us in the future. But remember: everyone has been there! Clearly, doing this every time we agree to something is not a good look, so this is for when we are overwhelmed, not when we are ‘normal busy’ 4/5

What to do for people who don’t act in an understanding way? I have no good answer, except try to avoid working with them in future if possible. Remember: this is our lives we are talking about. An unempathetic person shouldn’t be dictating whether we take our lives back 5/5  

14. Sleep!

WL-balance tip #14 – Sleep! It is tempting when we are busy to ‘burn the midnight oil’ (and no I don’t mean setting fire to the CDs of one of my favourite bands). But missing a good night’s sleep just one night has major effects on your focus the next day 1/7

Study after study shows that 2 hours less sleep affects performance by about 20% the next day. So, if we go to bed 2 hours late to catch up on work, those gains are nearly wiped off the next day. Those 2 + 8 hours get us about 8 hours of normal productivity 2/7

This means we are still 2 hours behind, which ultimately cuts into the next night or the weekend, when we should be living. Depressing, right? This is all on average though, so some days it will affect us less, some days more 3/7

If we sleep what we need (7-8 hours/day for most people), our time at work is better time: more focused, more creative, we retain more. This means we can work a shorter day and spend more time doing what we want (which still may be doing interesting work if you like that) 4/7

We are also less irritable, happier, better to be around, and (of course!) less tired! 5/7

I know, I know: “It doesn’t work that way for me, Tim”. Yes, it does. We all perform worse when tired. It seems most people I talk to feel that this rule holds for everyone else, but not them; a bit like the stat that almost everyone thinks they are an above-average driver 6/7

But do you want one more reason to get a good night’s sleep? Sleep itself! I love sleeping 😊 7/7  

15. Find our peak work time and block it out in your calendar

WL-balance tip #15 – Find our peak work time and block it out in our calendar. We all have a time of day that we do our best work - when we are focused. We can ensure we use that time to do our best work by blocking it in our calendar. Forever, not just a week in advance 1/7

Treat this as a meeting with ourselves. We wouldn’t skip a meeting with a colleague, so we shouldn’t skip a meeting with ourselves. Re-schedule if something more important comes up. This takes discipline, but this ensures that we focus on what is important to us, not others 2/7

Research points to the best time being in the morning, when we are fresh. Some people tell me their best time is late at night. However, it’s not clear to me whether this is because they really are focused, or just because they are not distracted by email and meetings 3/7

Whatever the time though, finding what time suits us the best and ensuring it is used for important stuff means we prioritise important stuff. Otherwise, important stuff gets squeezed into the weekend when maybe we want to be doing other things 4/7

Make this a habit. Do it every day, or three days per week; whatever. Once we establish the habit, we can see our important things progressing (often at the expense of unimportant things), and it becomes much easier to do, requiring no discipline 5/7

This can go for our weekends too. If spending time with reading is important to us, or spending time with friends, then blocking out weekend time to do those things means those important things become a weekend habit. I don’t do this, but many people do it with great effect 6/7

What do you spend your best focus time doing? Reading email? Attending (some) pointless meetings? Go to your calendar and look for things you can move around right now to change this 7/7  

16. Form good habits

WL-balance tip #16 – Form good habits. Habits are the driving force of letting us do what we want. At times we’ve all thought: “I’ll just get these tasks done, THEN I’ll be able to focus”. But so often it doesn’t work. We need to prioritise differently. Good habits can help 1/4

The tip this week is: first, think of one good habit that you want to do; e.g. read more, write more, spend more time with family/friends, exercise more, sleep more; or a habit you want to break; stop working on weekends, stop checking email every few minutes, then… 2/4

Then, find a copy of and read @JamesClear’s book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. It is the best book I’ve ever read to help establish a good work-life balance. I cannot possibly do justice to the ideas in this book in a Twitter thread 3/4

To finish, a quote from James Clear: “Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” 4/4  

17. Take proper holidays on your holiday time

WL-balance tip #17 – Take proper holidays. When we have no meetings scheduled, etc., it is tempting to spend holiday time to ‘catch up’ on work. But in the long run, this is more likely to hinder us, not help us. Like weekends, holidays help us recharged 1/6

Study after study shows the benefits of taking proper holidays: reduced stress, better mental health, better physical health (even longer life span!), and importantly: we are more focused and productive when we return 2/6

But the biggest reason of all: our holidays should be a chance to have lived experiences! Writing grants, checking email, attending meetings, etc., are not most people’s idea of live experiences 3/6

How can we switch off from work? For starters, we can ignore our email. What if we find that difficult? Here is a tip: we can reset our passwords to a random password and not record that password. Then we can’t (easily) log in. When we return, do a password reset 4/6

We can also help people working with us by giving them advanced warning if possible. This means they know they need to get us stuff before we go on leave, or wait until we get back. This lessens our guilt at not being available 5/6

On this topic, I will be on leave next week, so there will be no weekly work-life balance tip next week 😊 6/6

18. Block catch up time when returning from leave

WL-balance tip #18 – Block ‘catch up’ time when returning from leave. When we return from leave, we often have a backlog of email and a few odd tasks. A useful tip I received: before going on leave, block out time on the first day back to catch up 1/3

Depending on the type of role we have, the amount of time may differ. Many of us will have the type of role where nobody does our jobs while we are away, so the backlog can be large. If possible, block out the entire day to catch up; or close to it 2/3

I leave my out-of-office reply on until the day after I return, knowing that I will not get through all of it on day one. People do not then expect me to reply on that first day (which is good!). It worked well for me today! 😊 3/3  

19. Accept that failure is an option

WL-balance tip #19. Accept that failure is an option. Sarah Knight points out that we spend so much time worrying what will happen if things don’t go to plan, that it interferes with our ability to think and relax. We can work and relax better if we accept failure. 1/7

This does not mean we have to accept that we fail every time, but that sometimes things don’t work out. A bit of adrenalin is good, but stressing inhibits our ability to function. Consider a student stressing about an exam. That is counterproductive. 2/7

By accepting that we won’t always be at the top of our game, and that things may not go to plan, we relax more. This allows us to think more clearly and get done what we need to get done 3/7

More importantly, it makes our relaxation time relaxing! Instead of spending our weekend worrying about our work for next week, we can focus on what we want to be doing on the weekend. 4/7

Accepting failure is f&%$ hard to do: just change our personalities, right?! There are techniques we can use. Mostly, it is asking ourselves to consider the medium- to long-term consequences: will I or anyone care in 1-2 years if this doesn’t work? 5/7

If the answer is ‘not really’, this can help us relax. If the answer ‘yes’, we are stuffed! :D But seriously, the answer is usually ‘not really’, and even it is ‘yes’, by thinking it through, we often realise the consequences are not as dire as our brain tells us at 3am 6/7

If you are in a role where your choices have huge impact on people’s lives (life or death situations, etc), then I have no good tips. For the rest of us: next time we are stressed to the point of paralysis, consider: is this really as big a deal as our brains are telling us? 7/7  

20. Do email training

WL-balance tip #20. Do email training. We spend an incredible amount of time reading, writing, & replying to email. What if we could reduce that while still doing what we need to do each day? Can this be done? Yes! 1/7

After some email training, I cut my email time from about 2.5 hours per day (I had a large admin role) to about 1.5 hours per day. A whole hour back every day! 2/7

Where did that hour come from? Like most people, I spent a LOT of time just going over my email inbox to decide which email to read or respond to next. This meant I read a lot of emails several times. By processing email more systematically, I only read each email once. 3/7

Email training educates us on ways to process our inbox, and how to SEND email to ensure that ouur emails are clear, more likely to be read, and more likely to get a response. 4/7

@SteuartSnooks is an excellent trainer (Melbourne-based), with a whole bag of excellent tricks. I also did one with LeanMail ( They have a program over a few weeks where they provide continual feedback on your email handling 5/7

These processes are not things I can easily summarise on Twitter threads. And no, I’m not receiving any payment from the trainers mentioned :D They are just the two that I happened to use – I’m sure there are many other good ones 6/7

But we must acknowledge that we are part of our own problem. Some colleagues didn’t accept that they could process email better, and attributed their hours of daily email to everyone else. But we DO have some control over our inbox, so why not learn how to exercise it! 7/7  

21. Don’t send so many emails

WL-balance tip #21: Don’t send so many emails. I talk a lot about email. Dealing with our inbox is a time sink. But, we can reduce the size of our inbox by reducing the size of our outbox 1/7

Next time you have a day where you are out of email contact, count the emails you receive that day. It will be much less than on a normal day. Our inbox is made up of replies to our earlier emails. We can reduce our inbox (and other people’s) by not sending so much 2/7

The trick is better communication habits. Yes, tools like Slack can help, but they transfer one huge problem to one large problem on another platform. Plus, we need everyone else to buy into it. For initiatives we can do ourselves: 3/7

a) We can use the ‘cc’ field sparingly. If we cc someone, they may chime in, but we didn’t want them to, or we would have put them in the ‘to’ field. b) We can keep a list of short discussion items and bring to the next meeting instead of starting that email chain 4/7

c) If possible, we can empower colleagues to do things themselves without micromanaging d) We can use calendar invite attachments or platforms like Teams to share documents instead of emailing them e) We can explicitly let people know if a response is not required 5/7

f) We can use the ‘three sentence rule’: if we need more than three sentences to ask for explain something, we can keep it for the next meeting or make a quick phone call (I’m not good at this!)

g) Most importantly: as we open the blank email, we can think: do we need an email to do this? 6/7

And guess what? If we send fewer emails, then we save time on sending emails! :D

Please share any other tips you have – I’d love to learn more 7/7  

22. We can say ‘no’ politely and effectively

WL-balance tip #22: We can say ‘no’ politely and effectively. We all know that we need to say ‘no’ more often, but often we struggle to do it. Who wants to disappoint someone and sound impolite? Often, it is a struggle to write a polite message. Here are some tips to do so: 1/8

We should be honest and straightforward. Don’t make up bullshit. People see through this. If we are too busy, let people know: “This sounds interesting, but I have so many other things on, I wouldn’t be able to spend the time on it. Keep me in mind in future?” 2/8

If it does not interest us, just say this respectively: “Thanks for the invite, but I have other projects that I prefer to prioritise right now. If you start to work in area X, I’d be happy to join you” 3/8

Another tip is to provide an alternative. If we are too busy now, we can offer another time. If we aren’t the right person, we could direct them to someone who is – that is both polite and helpful: “I’m not the right person, but I can suggest a few other people who are” 4/8

We can also propose alternative options that interest you, as in the earlier example: “If you start to work in area X, I’d be happy to join you” 5/8

A difficult issue is people approaching to ‘pick your brain’ or ‘chat’ about ideas. If we get many of these, we cannot realistically take them all on – they become a time sink and often go nowhere. A useful approach is to say: 6/8

“I’m quite busy now. If you let me know the main points of discussion, I can reply via email for now”. Most people do not respond. To me, if they do not want to spend a few minutes writing the main discussion points, they are not THAT interested in talking with me 7/8

There are some things we can’t say ‘no’ to. Our boss may assign us a task we cannot decline (although we could negotiate dropping other things). When we can decline, concrete responses help us to do so effectively and politely. Try it! Unless I’m the one approaching you…. 8/8  

23. Remove email from your phone

WL-balance tip #23: Remove email from your phone. It is difficult for many of us to ‘shut off’ from work after hours. Having access to our email exacerbates this. But how much value does mobile email bring? Probably not enough to justify having it available all the time 1/5

Removing our email clients from our phones altogether means that we can only check email when at a computer. For most of us, this gives us a lot less opportunity to ‘just quickly check’. It can help us to switch off on weekends and other times outside of work 2/5

Yes, I understand that many of us (me included) using mobile email to help triage while we have a spare 5 minutes, or to answer quick messages. But is this worth it if it also interrupts our downtime? 3/5

If we truly need email on our phone during work hours, we can use apps like Boomerang to ‘pause’ our inboxes so we only receive email at certain times. While it is not difficult to get around pause this and still check email, it can help to break those automatic habits 4/5

So, install a pause app or remove that email client altogether right now! 5/5  

24. Put first things first

WL-balance tip #24: Put first things first. Most of us probably know of the Eisenhower matrix (below), but week after week, we spend most of our time on urgent stuff, rather than important stuff. A way to spend more time on important stuff is to “put first things first” 1/6

This means, at the start of each day, we spend a small amount of time (say 45 minutes) just doing important things. No email, no looking at to-do lists, no meetings: just doing what is important. Doing 45 minutes a day really pays off over one year. 2/6

For me, this is reading and writing. Every day, my first 45 minutes is either reading other people’s work, or writing my own, incl. with my collaborators. I feel that keeping up with research and writing my own ideas are what are important for long-term research success 3/6

I know: this is hard to do. We have competing priorities. But if we find that we don’t have time for important stuff because we spend all day on urgent stuff, then this is precisely why we need to schedule important, non-urgent stuff! 4/6

This pays off over time. The more time we spend on important things now, the less urgent stuff comes to us in future, because we scheduled time to do it before. This also improves the quality of our important work because it is not done in a rush so often 5/6

So, right now, why not try to schedule some important things to do each first thing for the next month? Keep track of what you do (e.g. how many articles you read). After one month, look back and ask yourself: do I wish I had spent more time on urgent, non-important stuff? 6/6

25. Does it matter?

WL-balance tip #25: This is my last of 25 tips, and maybe it will be the least popular, but it is important for me. The tip is: for most of us, most of what we do doesn’t matter. What do I mean? The day-to-day activities that build up our workload and stress us out, sometimes making us miserable, are not nearly as important as we think 1/8

I don’t get stressed easily. Until I was in my mid-teens, I used to panic at tiny things. My parents were worried I had a mental health issue. But somehow, during my adolescent years, I learnt that many little things weren’t worth worrying about 2/8

Consider a senior person in your organisation; e.g. head of dept. What if they didn’t show up for a week? Would anyone really notice their work was not getting done? Probably not. Why not? Because their day-to-day work that keeps them so busy has little impact in the short term 3/8

Now, if the cleaner in your building did not show up, would anyone notice? Definitely! Their day-to-day impact is much larger. The same goes for e.g. a midwife, a train driver, or a surgeon. But for most of us, our impact builds up over sustained periods 4/8

So, when I say “it doesn’t matter”, I mean: it’s usually not urgent and not important. So why do they make us stress?! I don’t know. But I know that by thinking to ourselves: “if we don’t do this today, will it really impact anyone?”, we gain perspective 5/8

That’s not to say we can do this for everything. Our roles are defined around our ability to work on problems over long periods, where each day the progress can be tiny, but the compounding effect is huge. But we can give ourselves a break sometimes with minimal impact 6/8

Next time we are really stressed about ‘getting something done’, we can ask ourselves: does it matter that much? Can we release our students’ grades tomorrow instead of today? Can this draft wait until next week? We don’t want to let people down, but in one year, will anyone remember, let alone care? 7/8

Once we acknowledge that our day-to-day is really not that important, we can start to relax, re-prioritise, and hopefully avoid burnout. Are you over-worked right now? Look at your current priorities: which one of these don’t matter to me or anyone else? Then, remove one item and forget about it 8/8