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Student Reflections

Finding Work-Life Balance: How I Manage to Love Working 70+ Hours A Week

Emerson Johnston
July 22, 2021

Some of my friends call me hardworking; others think I’ve gone mad. My best friend (who, mind you, is also working full time, studying for the MCAT, and volunteering on the weekends) told me to slow down, and my brother made sure to let me know I could “escape” with him to New York whenever needed. Needless to say, among those who know me, there is but one consensus about how I’ve chosen to spend the second half of my summer: “it’s absolute insanity”. 

Now I don’t necessarily agree, but I will admit their arguments have merit. As of two weeks ago, and lasting until the start of September, I am going to school full time (including 30+ hours a week synchronous classes), working full time, and spending most, if not all, of my weekends at a military base in Rhode Island (those this last part, I will admit, is less than voluntary thanks to my ROTC commitments). On a good day, I’m up by six and working until around eight when I get dinner and am able to unwind. 

So… It’s not like they’re completely off base (pun intended). 

What they do get wrong, however, is how “insane” my work schedule is. Not only is it totally manageable, but, because of where I work and what I study, it’s also tremendously interconnected. For example, I have been lucky enough to secure an internship with the Department of State this summer to work in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, which even outside of my Dialogue, is an amazing chance to explore my Philosophy, Politics, and Economics major at the government level as well as see international relations first hand. That said, it has an even greater connection to the topics I study in my Dialogue program. I am enrolled in Northeastern’s only twin Dialogue of Civilizations program, “Honors Human Rights Communication in Germany”, and it, among other things, is meant to showcase the rise and fall of Nazism and Propaganda in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. What better place to work while learning about European History and Foreign Relations than the United States’ own State Department! I could not have been luckier this summer. 

You might think studying and working with the same topic over 70 hours could get monotonous but it’s honestly anything but. The hours of the week fly by as I work on research and data analysis for State and make sure my papers are up to par for my Dialogue. It’s also really fun to include knowledge I learned from one to a project or assignment I have for another. An example of this was a few days ago when we were having a discussion on the foreign policy during WWII and the topic of ambassadors came up. Having just completed a readout for my internship that required me to comb through all of President Biden’s current ambassadorial nominees, I was prime with helpful facts about the nomination process as well as the importance of selecting a good nominee. It’s things like this that make me forever grateful to have gotten the chance to pursue both of these opportunities at once.

That said, how I find time to wind down and relax after such a taxing schedule is a valid question and honestly, my answer varies. I’ve been at this for two weeks now and my daily schedule has changed quite a lot as I’ve adjusted to my responsibilities. The first couple of days, I paid little attention when I finished work and more attention when I went to bed. I thought it was more important for me to have all my work done and go to bed on time than to give myself ample time to relax and unwind. For week two, I’ve made sure to set a firm stop on work at 8 pm with a similar rest time to week 1 at 10:30. Having done this for a week now, I can see a massive increase in my productivity during working hours because I have my night hours to look forward to, and a significant decrease in my fatigue in the morning. 

Another thing I didn’t pay much attention to originally was how I was using my daylight hours. I am someone who thrives in an office space with artificial lighting and little connection to the outside. As a result, I didn’t think about how sitting at a desk for 14+ hours a day would affect my mood. At the end of week one, I was extremely lethargic and had very little motivation to get up in the mornings for the gym. To remedy this, in week two I started using my lunch hours to go on walks around campus (or to Starbucks, because let’s be honest everyone needs coffee sometimes) and tried to move as many of my workouts outside as possible. Immediately, I saw a positive change in my mood and since then, I have paid a lot more attention to the amount of time I spend outside and made sure my windows stay open during the day. 

I’ve also started to branch out and find new study spots. The only thing I need to go to work or to class is a working laptop, and I can have that just about anywhere in the city (or the world for that matter). Last week, I began cafe hopping and this week, one of my friends suggested I do the same with campus libraries. I find that a change of scenery does wonders for my productivity and I’m excited to see the boldest places I can take class from this summer; maybe I’ll even hop on a flight?

If this experience is teaching me anything, it’s the importance of knowing your own needs with regard to work-life balance and knowing how to incorporate them as best you can into your daily routine. I have five more 70+ hour weeks ahead and I cannot wait to see what else I’ll learn!