Wellness, Productivity, Balance for Graduate Students and Beyond

Additive Adjustments - Shifting Your Routine

I spoke on a panel last week about self-care as a self-employed person as part of my own accountability/networking/community group at Self Employed PhD. The conversation, with the brilliant Rebecca of Enderby Yoga was wide-ranging and thought-provoking, and we touched on how to start building a routine and practice of self-care. Many clients I speak to feel overwhelmed by the idea of self care; they would like to eat better, sleep better, be more balanced, etc, but do not know where to start, or feel intimidated by the Instagram ideal of a "healthy" life. I offered my theory of "additive adjustments" to the group, a theory born out of years of monitoring my own self-care. 

Everyone is busy. Many of us look at our schedules and think - I do not have time for that extra hour of x, y, or z. I could never squeeze in that new activity three times a week. I do not have time to [cook, clean, organize] anything, I only have time for what I'm doing right now. So the first instinct is to "clear the decks": eliminate parts of your routine that aren't working, drop all non-essential obligations so you can "focus" on the new routine. 

For example, when my clients commit to "writing more", I often see them try to arrange their schedules so that they can have eight (or 10 or 12) uninterrupted hours of writing. They will cancel social functions, drop gym memberships, stop coming to campus just so that they can sit and write. And more often than not, those eight hours are not productive. They're marked with the anxiety and expectation of what eight "perfect" hours can produce, and how far the actual output was from the ideal. Subtracting everything so that you can focus, in my experience, never works.

Instead, I encourage my clients to keep their schedules the way they are, and start adding things. Add in a 15 minute meditation session before your writing block. Add in two hours of planning out and preparing meals so that you can eat healthier all week. Start the morning with an hour of yoga, and then start your day of academic tasks. Add in the pieces of self care that you feel are lacking, and see how it effects the rest of your day, rather than taking away activities, habits, or tools. 

Taking care of yourself, even in small ways, often has a ripple effect. But it is hard to see those changes, and get the data, if you have cleared all the other obligations from your schedule. So adding in small, manageable self-care practices can be a low-stakes way to move towards a more balanced daily routine without making drastic changes. Small changes let you experiment with different self-care practices without building up unrealistic expectations. Like our professional lives, self-care is a process of experimentation, adjustment, and refinement; approaching all of it from a viewpoint of "this can only add to my life" will help it to feel playful and supportive.