Let’s prioritise self-care for the benefit of everyone

Self-care can make us better at our jobs, support our students more effectively and help to build a better community across academia. Karina Dancza offers her tips on how to implement self-care in your professional life

Karina Dancza's avatar
4 Dec 2023
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Self-care is easy to discuss, but it can be challenging to implement. It requires intention, practice and minor adjustments. Acknowledge that there will be days when everything falls into place seamlessly – and others when you need to channel your inner Elsa from the movie Frozen and “let it go”.

Professionals in higher education juggle numerous responsibilities, encompassing teaching, learning, research, leadership and student support. Personal well-being can often take a back seat, but this could be more damaging for academics and students than we realise.

Self-care can benefit the academic community in numerous ways. It nurtures well-being, preparing us to manage our roles efficiently, make informed decisions and guide our students and teams more effectively. Prioritising self-care can help address the prevalent issue of burnout and high stress levels in academia and sets an example of healthy behaviour, helping to cultivate a culture of well-being within the community.

It also contributes to job satisfaction, boosting motivation and productivity and helping us perform better. This is important because when we are content, we are more likely to inspire our students and colleagues.

Self-care can also help us foster a positive workplace culture that supports student success and institutional achievement. Here are some practical ideas to get started.

Establish boundaries

Define limits on working hours and responsibilities, helping to prevent burnout and sustain a healthy work-life balance.

Right from the beginning, I make it a point to clearly communicate with my students, specifying my availability, such as office hours, and my preferred methods of contact, like discussion boards, email or direct messages. I allocate time during class to address questions that come up via email or direct messages.

Once these expectations are set, I consciously adhere to them and avoid responding outside of these boundaries unless it’s an emergency. I also schedule dedicated consultation times with my students during our regularly timetabled classes. This approach not only lets students know when they can reach out to me, but it also allows me to address their enquiries collectively, rather than having to respond to individual ad hoc requests.

Make time for meaningful activities

Regular routines add structure and predictability to our daily lives. This consistency can assist in efficient time management, reduce the burden of making numerous decisions and help us allocate time for self-care.

Block out dedicated time slots for various tasks. Include time for handling emails and administrative duties, as well as time for more focused and personally meaningful tasks such as writing, research or creating educational materials. Make sure there’s time for nurturing workplace relationships, such as breaks for lunch or meet-ups over coffee.

I try to prioritise tasks I find most meaningful at the beginning of the day, when my focus is at its peak. After my peak focus time, I address routine tasks such as responding to emails. To handle email overload, aim to minimise the need for multiple email exchanges. For example, if a meeting is required, propose specific times or send a calendar invitation with an integrated online meeting link that can be easily accepted or rejected.

View taking time off as an investment in your well-being and productivity, not as a luxury. Quality work requires adequate rest and rejuvenation. When planning extended periods of leave, I schedule a few working days within that time, making myself available to address any urgent matters. This helps me maintain a sense of control and reduces any guilt associated with being away.

Create a portfolio of supervision

In academia, supervision or mentoring is not always provided automatically, yet it can boost job satisfaction and facilitate self-reflection on your skills and career. Instead of waiting for an employer to assign a supervisor, create your own portfolio of support and supervision.

Develop a diverse portfolio of supervision experiences tailored to specific requirements, including individuals from within or outside your organisation and profession.

Explore peer or group supervision, which can be both formal and informal. Collaborating with respected peers on a project, such as writing textbooks or participating in a research team, can be extremely beneficial in gaining much-needed peer support, while also meeting academic requirements. Communities of practice have also proven valuable at various stages of my career.

Amid the multitude of roles and responsibilities we navigate, it’s crucial to remember the significance of self-care. It’s a continual work in progress for me, and I keep experimenting with various strategies. Some prove effective, while others may not. Self-care is a highly personal journey, and the approach should be tailored to your own unique circumstances. Through our commitment to self-care, we not only benefit ourselves but also set a positive example and help to cultivate a culture of well-being and productivity within our academic communities.

Karina Dancza is an associate professor of health and social sciences at the Singapore Institute of Technology.

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