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Tips for Finding Balance

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 19, 2022

Happy Postdoc Appreciation Week!

To recognize and raise awareness of the significant contributions that postdoctoral and clinical fellows make to the US scientific endeavor, the National Postdoc Association (NPA) has declared this week Postdoc Appreciation Week. The 2022 theme is Finding Balance. With this motto in mind, OITE has asked NIH alumni and friends to share their tips for current postdocs/fellows on “finding balance”.

OITE received many wonderful submissions; thanks to all who shared their advice. Upon review, it became clear that several recurring themes have helped people find balance. A snapshot of the tips is summarized and noted in italics below.  The most resounding piece of advice…

SET BOUNDARIES – with your professional and personal time, and with electronics

The answer to achieving a work-life balance is building boundaries, sticking to those boundaries, and not letting other's opinion of how you spend your time impact your 'work-life' success strategy. This can be easier to do if you prioritize what’s most important to you. Be true to yourself and assess which aspect of your life needs attention and make time for it.

Accept that at any one point in time (day/week/month/year) -- work and life will not be fully in balance.  There will be times that you will need to focus on your life outside of work. Other times, you will need to prioritize work. The goal should be that averaged over time to find a mix of the two that works for you -- and be comfortable with the temporary imbalances.

You can look to others for inspiration, but it is important to personalize this for yourself. Remember to find a solution that works for you, as every person/family is different.

Try to remember that achieving work life balance is a process and is dynamic. There are times where you will work hard, and times when you will reward yourself with a break. Try to pay attention to what energizes and engages you and do more of those things as often as you can to counterbalance the things that you have to do move forward in your career path.


Disable notifications (badges, banners, sounds, etc.) for email on your cell phone. Don't check work email after 8pm, or some other pre-determined time. If you need to work late, that's fine, but stay away from your inbox to avoid getting derailed by new issues which will distract and possibly aggravate you before bed. Allow yourself some time to disconnect and wind down.

Set blocks of time during the day to work on specific tasks and plan that out in your calendar. Schedule some time in your day when you are away from electronics. Play with your pets or call a loved one.


Be sure to take time off for routine medical appointments, do not neglect your own health in order to keep working/being in the lab. Set aside time for professional development such as seminars or classes of interest.

Find a hobby or activity that you really enjoy so that you can step away from the lab or computer for a little and come back with a fresh mind. Not everyone has the same interests so find something that gives you happiness and allows you to disconnect from work for a little bit.

While achieving a perfect balance may be difficult, it is possible. Spend at least 30 minutes just for you (not house chores, taking care of family or running errands) each day.

One of the lessons I learned from this Pandemic is "Life is not waiting for me. Enjoy the present." If you have a bucket list, start one thing today and keep doing it. You will experience your life is fulfilled, and will less likely be stressed from your work, therefore you will be more productive at work and find more time to do other things.


Talk to your supervisor! Know your needs and expectations. Know your supervisor’s expectations. Even if you feel uncomfortable, you may be surprised how much others (including supervisors) are open to communication.  If you are still uncomfortable in opening communications with your supervisor, there are places you can go for help at NIH, including OITE.



Take advantage of the resources provided by OTIE. Many classes teach strategies that are very useful now and later as you strive for work-life balance. Secondly, take time for yourself to recharge. Mental and physical health are very important.

A few other OITE Career Blog posts which might be helpful to read are: Finding Focus in the Fog – Wellness Tips, Do Time Management Skills Exist? Yes! , and Managing Expectations.  And stay tuned for next week’s blog post on learning to say ‘no’ in an effort to help protect your boundaries.


Saying No to Help Set Boundaries

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch September 27, 2022

Last week’s blog post imparted some Tips for Finding Balance.  The most common piece of advice around finding that elusive work-life balance was setting proper boundaries – set designated time and space for your professional and personal time and even time for electronics like email/social media.

One way to help protect boundaries is to learn to say no more often. Most of us say yes way too often. We say yes to meetings we didn’t need to attend; we say yes to things that simply aren’t a priority for us.  Often times, we feel like we have to say yes, and we want to be seen as helpful. However, saying yes to everything makes it much harder to be in control of our time and our schedule.

You don’t need to say no to everything, but it is important to be more selective about what you say yes to. Before agreeing to that next task/commitment, take a moment to think more critically about what you are saying yes to.  Truly assess the time commitment and if you are able to take that on.

A simple framework is: say yes to things you want to do, have to do, or things that get you closer to your own goals. You should say no to most other things.

At work, though, there are many things that we just have to do and so I know many of you are thinking, “How do I say no to my boss?” Here are two approaches you can use in a professional setting.

1. Okay I can work with you on that, but what should I deprioritize?

It is important to realize that when you say yes to something, you are also saying no to other things/other ways you could have spent that time. Your messaging should be respectful and courteous, but it is your responsibility as an employee to track your projects and ensure that the quality of your work won’t be impacted. Understand that there is often a tradeoff and make sure your boss realizes this as well.

2. Say no and offer an alternative.

Some examples of how this could look include: “I won’t be able to make that meeting, but feel free to keep me posted on the key takeaways.” Or “I won’t be able to help with that project, but it might be worth checking in with X.”

Ultimately, we are in charge of our schedules and have to find ways to manage our time effectively. Learning to say no can be a helpful tool in accomplishing this.