30 January 2009

Social Awkwardness

The semester just started and work hasn't yet overwhelmed me, so I have been trying very hard to have some kind of social life lately, to maintain a work-life balance. Despite this, I've found myself sacrificing social time in very odd ways.

As an undergraduate, Friday and Saturday nights almost always meant plans to attend movies, shows, dinners, or house parties. The M-F week was mostly for working, but because I often saw my friends around campus (or lived with them!), it didn't feel like I was being asocial. Weeks were clearly delineated by weekends, and I rarely lost track of the days because I had to remember to go to class.

As a graduate student, I've found that the definition of a workweek has become flexible. Weekdays sometimes feel like weekends, and weekends are often dedicated to work that piled up during the week. Here I am, on a Friday night, planning to spend a few hours working on a manuscript I'm writing, because I had to put it off to complete a problem set for class. It's an especially bizarre feeling because there was no physical transition to this atemporal graduate life---I stayed at the same institution where I developed my undergraduate lifestyle---and so it feels a little wrong to be in the same place but behave so differently.

I do get out sometimes, but I see friends at different times now than I used to. I have many more lunch dates, and attend many fewer house parties. Often, activities are based around things I would need to take care of anyway, like exercise or food. Facts that used to matter, like that it is a weekend or after 7pm, have ceased to impact whether I am social or doing work. More than once, I've descended from my isolated lab to the main floor of the science building to discover, startlingly, that it is teeming with life.

I suppose my current social schedule is how I can balance my time best, but I do wonder about the loss of significant break time. If humans need hours of continuous sleep to be fully rested, as has been suggested, then perhaps hours or days of breaks from work would lead to less burnout? That said, I'm not sure how to manage my time any better. I'm fortunate to not have many external restrictions (kids or a job other than being a grad student), but I still feel crunched for time fairly often. Perhaps I will need to become better at scheduling time chunks for myself, and sticking to social time when I've planned it.

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