7 Strategies for Pacing Yourself

Decorative: A mug with "Pace Yourself" on it -- written under an EKG printout


"Your Bag of Apples -- Set Realistic Goals" (post) uses the analogy of "people who try to pack 10 pounds of apples into a 5-pound bag" to offer life-balance advice for graduate students (and instructors) on how to " pick the best apples" and accomplish your goals while avoiding burnout.

A. TL;DR Version

  • "[S]et realistic goals. Stay focused on a few priorities."
  • "Carefully select your apples: some that need to be there and some that you want to pack."
  • "Leave the other ones at the market. You can always pick them up later."
  • "Moderation and pacing are valuable life skills that will serve you well."

B. Seven Strategies for Pacing Yourself (each developed more fully in the post)

1. "Say No." 

  • "You will need [this skill] your whole life, because you will constantly be asked to do something extra." 

2. "Defer." 

  • "Try saying, 'Not now.'"
  • "[O]pportunities will keep coming. You don’t have to do everything right now."
  • "Life proceeds in chapters, and some things can be set aside for later." 

3. "Delegate." 

  • "[M]aster delegation as you advance through grad school, into a postdoc, and start a job."
  • "[Y]ou can work with undergraduate researchers. Take the time to train them very well."
  • "Then let them do chunks of your work."

4. "Moderation." 

  • "Do a few projects, not 15."
  • "[S]e[t] a pace that is sustainable throughout your career."
  • "[M]ode[l] a healthy academic life to those you mentor." 

5. "Shut out distractions." 

  • "[C]lose your email ... [D]on’t open your email until you have worked for two hours every morning."
  • "Make appointments with yourself to complete high-priority tasks." 

6. "Don’t compare yourself to others.".

  • "It is easy to see how many apples others seem to stuff into their bags, and try to keep up."
  • "Don’t! You need to figure out how to fill your own bag, and which apples to put in it."

7. "Be gentle with yourself." 

  • "All scholars and scientists have well a developed inner critic. It can get too loud, and it can be mean." 
  • "Balance [this critical voice] with kindness to yourself; take time for reflection."
  • "Offer yourself gentleness and self-care."
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