Sunday: Reflection 

Following a five-step guide published by Harvard Business Review, I sat down with an actual paper journal and answered a number of questions like “What am I prioritizing and sacrificing?” and “What is currently causing me stress, imbalance, or dissatisfaction?” I felt heard – if only by myself – and it was a great relief. 

It was also a calming and therapeutic experience that made me realize I tend to blame myself for seemingly innocent things like leaving the office on time, and some less innocent ones like not answering personal messages for weeks, prioritizing work over personal connections and sleep, and not paying attention to my personal goals. We have a great team of inspired people at work and I enjoy the job, but apparently it was hard for me not to have it on a pedestal over basically everything in my life, even when it came to completing PhD applications (that should’ve been my top priority), the last of which I sent on the day of the deadline. 

Monday: How does it make me feel? 

The next step in the guide was to reflect on how the current work-life ratio made me feel. My top answers were anxious, afraid, and stuck. Anxious over not working enough – and at the same time not having enough energy to complete my own personal deadlines. Anxious again because I used to be much more excited about my job and I felt I was to blame for getting to this near-burnout stage.

I remember my friend referring to her work-life distribution policy as “work hygiene”: she leaves her work at the office and guards her personal time with her life. Upon reflection, I discovered that I never had this feasible boundary – my work tasks, studies, and life were all tangled up into one messy ball. I wanted to feel calm and responsible for quality work at the office, as well as have quality time for everything else in life. So it was time for step three. 

Credit: Malte Helmhold (@maltehelmhold) on Unsplash

Credit: Malte Helmhold (@maltehelmhold) on Unsplash

Tuesday: Reprioritizing

For this step, the original article suggested reflecting on questions like, “What am I willing to sacrifice?” or “Is it necessary to sacrifice family over work, if that is what I’ve been doing?” Those I didn’t find really helpful, because, first of all, I am not willing to sacrifice anything. 

There was, however, an idea that was right up my alley: the article suggested redefining what it means to be a professional. For me, this concept used to include only everything that had to do with work directly: fulfilling deadlines, ensuring that what I do is of good quality, being reliable, responsible, and engaged in every task. But, it seemed, I also needed to account for what fueled this image of professionality, so I came up with a little list of additional qualities that complete the picture: 

  • Knowing when it’s time to take a break; 
  • Making sure to take care of mental and physical health, as they are the foundation of any professional or personal activity. That is, not sacrificing the time I could’ve used for meal prep or sleep – no matter the reason, be that work or academic activities; 
  • Maintaining “work hygiene” that works both ways: not dealing with personal issues during working hours and not taking work out of the office (be that a home office or an actual one). 

Credit: Simon Abrams (@flysi3000) on Unsplash

Credit: Simon Abrams (@flysi3000) on Unsplash

Wednesday: How can I meet the new priorities?

Next, it was time to consider my alternatives – what could I change to comply with this new image of a gold-plated professional? 

I saw an opportunity in optimizing my performance and working smart, not long. One of the suggested tools here is giving yourself a certain amount of time to fulfill a specific task – and for me, it means not sacrificing quality, but ensuring near 100% concentration and focus. Before, I relied on the pomodoro technique to take regular breaks, but now I decided to add an additional twist: 

  • setting myself a goal to complete a task (or a portion of it) in X number of pomodoros.

Next, I thought it important to introduce a more or less physical boundary between work and “life” in terms of communication: 

  • activating the Do Not Disturb mode on my phone at the office. Simple and yet I haven’t used it before;
  • adopting a policy of not opening anything work-related outside of my working hours and especially during weekends or on vacation (which has happened more times than I am ready to admit). 

Finally, it seemed important to include a step to improve communication with my colleagues and close ones: 

  • communicating when I can or cannot take on a new task; 
  • informing my friends and family that I am only available during lunch or outside of the office.

Credit: bruce mars (@brucemars) on Unsplash

Credit: bruce mars (@brucemars) on Unsplash

Thursday: Making the changes  

The final step in the original article was about actually implementing the new policies, principles, or attitudes, but it wasn’t realistic or fair of me to expect changes overnight. I have to acknowledge that today I did set myself pomodoro goals, mostly fulfilling them, and texted to the office group chat to say that I am finishing this article. 

What I felt I needed to do on this last day was to clarify my work responsibilities with the wise head of our department. It felt liberating to admit that I felt guilty when leaving the office on time and to hear that it wasn’t the feeling I should cultivate. It was also important for me to ask questions about lunch breaks, typical daily performance, and task hierarchy. All in all, the answers I received reassured me that the steps I was planning to introduce didn’t contradict what was expected from me at work, so I could go ahead and implement the small changes in routines that I outlined. 

Credit: Austin Schmid (@schmidy) on Unsplash

Credit: Austin Schmid (@schmidy) on Unsplash


I am planning to start moving towards my new image of a professional starting tomorrow. Today and in conclusion of this experiment, I want to say that simply the process of self-reflection has alleviated some of the anxiety I felt building up inside. Much of the worry was stemming from me not admitting there was a problem in the first place and not giving myself time to analyze my feelings. 

It has been an unusual experience to work on this article from the office, not from home, and I am grateful for this opportunity. If you feel you could use some more balance, I encourage you to follow the guide and discover your own priorities or identify room for adjustment. 

If you are looking for more articles on mental health, make sure to check our tips for dealing with digital burnout or FAQ on mental health. Take care!