Overworked then underworked then overworked – The Academic Rollercoaster

A Personal Experience

So this is a reflection of my own experiences with workload within academia as both a PhD student and a recently appointed lecturer. I find that workloads seem to go up and down. There are times where I will sit at my desk and go “oh wow, I can actually breathe, I can finally get to those little things that have sat there for months” and then there are times where I find I need to work crazy hard and really make every hour count for two hours worth of work. Below is how I have started to rationalise this to myself.

The Calm Before the Storm

So, I have started to rationalise the low periods as the calm before the storm. The period where all those little loose ends can be tied up before I am overrun with work and overcommitted to things. But this has also helped a little bit in realising that, during these calming times, I shouldn’t begin to commit too much. I noticed early on that with a slightly less full calendar I would begin saying yes to many things I would otherwise say “I would love to, but maybe another time”. Lo and behold, saying yes to lots of things leads to being overworked (shocker!).

A Balancing Act

The other thing that I tell myself is that it is all a bit of a balancing act. I become overworked for a period of time so that I can then be underworked for a little bit and get to all those loose ends. Once they’re done, the work builds back up and then eases off so new loose ends can be addressed. At least, that is what I tell myself.

Underworked Doesn’t Mean Not Working

When I say underworked, I don’t mean that I am not working. There is always something to do. But there is a difference between feeling like you are on top of everything and know that your normal day will be full without being crammed compared to having to do things much faster than usual or working a few extra hours here or there to make deadlines. But it definitely feels like you can work and breathe vs feeling like you are just go go go.

In Closing

I used to think this was maladaptive, that this was a somewhat abusive relationship between me and my overcommitments. However, with a bigger perspective on this ebbing and flowing of workload I have realised that it actually works quite well, at least for me. Have you noticed similar patterns in your workload or perhaps you have experienced something different? Use the comments below to share your experience!

~ Chris

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