Contributed by Kurt (May 10, 2013) | I have been a postdoc for two years. I am recently married and do not yet have children. My wife and I work in different cities and I have a one hour commute each way, which puts a little strain on the time I have to divide between work and home. My PI is a clinician and is not in the lab every day; therefore, our interactions are limited to discussions of the broader progress of projects. This allows for some flexibility in my work schedule, but comes with a little more pressure to reach tangible milestones on a consistent basis. Overall, I currently feel my work/life balance is healthy, but I always wish I had a little more time for both.
Maintaining the work/life balance requires exceptional time management. This starts with planning experiments to effectively fit into a regular schedule and trying to work as efficiently as possible with the time you have. I have no problem working late to complete an experiment if unavoidable, but I try to avoid sitting at my desk reading or writing late into the evening. I bring this work home. By maintaining a regular schedule I am able to have dinner with my wife most nights. Admittedly, it is difficult to get back to the work I take home and I am trying to improve my self-discipline.
In order to make sure your time management is in line with the important figures in your life, clear communication is crucial. It helps to explicitly share with your significant other the time commitments you intend to make for work and then try to maximize the time you have together at home. In dealing with your PI it is important that you keep his/her expectations reasonable. The best thing for each project is to clearly articulate all of the steps that need to be taken and point out any foreseeable hurdles so that your PI has a realistic timeline in mind. This helps alleviate last second pressure to pull really long hours or work on the weekend.