Work-life balance

Work-life balance is important for productivity, happiness and health

Some individuals may feel that putting all one’s time and energy into work and study leads to the highest level of productivity. However, a balanced lifestyle is beneficial for productivity as well as overall physical and mental health.


Balance between personal and academic activities during graduate school, as well as later in the career path, can be difficult but has many benefits. Balance is key in preventing burnout, completing a graduate degree, and maintaining well-being.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, signs of a lack of balance include:

  • feeling a loss of control over your life;
  • guilt about neglecting certain roles;
  • difficulty concentrating on a task; and
  • constantly feeling tired.

Working towards balance includes: 

Maintaining wellbeing

Dedicating time for your physical health (sleep, exercise, eating well) and your personal activities (hobbies, social activities, leisure time) is key to improving your overall wellbeing

Wellbeing is part of McGill’s Individual Development Framework (IDF), and there are resources on campus to help. 

  • An Access Advisor can help connect you to resources on mental health and wellness based on your unique needs, wants, and identities
  • Strategies for Building Better Sleep Habits
  • Quick tips from the IDF Quick Guide to Healthy Living:
    • Take regular breaks during work hours to do something you enjoy
    • Incorporate physical activity into your routine
    • Stay in touch with colleagues and friends
    • Identify activities and hobbies that bring you pleasure and that you can enjoy separately from your academic work

Setting limits on availability

Devoting time to maintaining wellbeing might mean setting limits on how much time you spend coursework, research, and other academic pursuits. While the number of hours per week that full-time graduate students are expected to spend on their work can fluctuate, policies (including the vacation policy) provide context for what it means to be a full time graduate student. 

Clarify (and re-clarify) with your supervisor what you can each commit to regarding workload and time away from studies to recharge. Getting things in writing (e.g., over email, or in a Letter of Understanding) can be helpful to prevent miscommunications.

Asking for help

Maintaining work-life balance is not easy; many people struggle with it, including supervisors. 

If you feel overwhelmed, access to 24/7 mental health support is available through keep.meSAFE. You can also make appointments with mental health clinicians and local wellness advisors through the Wellness Hub.

What activities help you maintain work-life balance? 

Good supervisors want their supervisees to be engaged with their research, but not to the point of burnout. Do you feel that you have enough free time to engage in non-academic activities, such as sports or other extracurricular activities? If not, consider bringing this up in a discussion with your supervisor with the goal of agreeing on a schedule where you make the expected research progress and also have time for activities that help you recharge.


How do you maintain your well-being in graduate school? 



How can an Individual Development Plan (IDP) help you maintain your well-being? 



Questions for reflection

  1. What does work-life balance mean for you (e.g., strict working hours, flexible working hours, time to see friends and family, pursuing a hobby outside of work, etc.)
  2. Who are the important and influential people in your life? Who are the people you want to be surrounded by? How could you enhance your relationships with these people?
  3. Thinking long term, what are the skills or interests you would like to pursue in your career? What skills or interests would you like to pursue outside of work?

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

Back to top