Is it possible to maintain a life outside a PhD?
There’s a common assumption that the way to succeed in academia is to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life. And if things aren’t going well, a common response is to work ever longer hours, tipping work and life further and further out of balance.
But I’d say it’s not only possible to maintain a life outside a PhD, it’s necessary.
How I maintained a life outside my PhD
During my PhD, I was also competing at an international level in aikido (a Japanese martial art). One of the reasons I went to Nottingham was that there was an aikido club there practicing my style, meaning I could carry on my training.
In the first year of my PhD I took over coaching the club, so 3 night per week I had to be at the sports center. That responsibility meant that it wasn’t a choice of whether or not to train; I had to be there. When I wasn’t coaching, I was often training elsewhere (often 6 or 7 days per week).
I viewed training as essential and non-negotiable, so I found a way to do it. Sometimes this meant leaving an experiment running in the evening, going to teach a class for two hours, then going back to the lab afterwards to finish the work, even if that meant getting home after midnight.
It might sound awful, but the training kept me sane. As soon as I stepped onto the mat nothing else existed. I never thought about the PhD when I was training; not once in almost 4 years.
You don’t have to go to the same extreme I did, but it’s good to have something outside the PhD that you treat as a regular, non-negotiable commitment. It could be a yoga class, a meal with the family, a date night with your partner… It means you have control over at least some small part of your life, no matter how stressful the PhD gets.
So you shouldn’t say to yourself, “I’ll do that if I get enough done today”. Just say, “I’m doing it” and find a way.