Predictable Time Off

One of the challenges of being a PGR student is that there is no obvious moment in the day when your work definitively finishes. Unless you set a structure yourself, you could be in the labs or at your desk for 14 hours straight. Even once you’ve gone home, you might continue to think about your research, do some extra reading or actually start working again. 

Unsurprisingly this can be a short cut to burn out but, before you reach that point, you will also be more likely to start making mistakes and be less creative.

Monitoring how you are feeling and adjusting your working hours accordingly may be a reasonable strategy in response. However, there are some risks associated with this. In particular, the more tired we become, the more difficult we find it to identify the point at which we need a break. 

Research in business studies has demonstrated that planning and taking ‘predictable time off’ can improve wellbeing, work-life balance, efficiency and productivity [1]. The phrase ‘predictable time off’ (PTO) describes a designated period of time that employees are required to take off. During this time they are not allowed to work, speak to clients, access emails or do anything else associated with their job [2].

Researchers from the Harvard business school found that when employees were aware in advance of when they would be taking time off and stuck to this, their productivity and wellbeing rose [2].

It is not hard to see why this would be the case and why predictable time off would benefit PGR students. 

Ensuring that you have time off each week will ensure that your brain and body have an opportunity to rest and recuperate. Stepping away from your research, will also mean that when you return to it, you will be able to judge where you are more clearly and will be in a better position to problem solve and work productively. PTO can also become part of your regular structure, which those around you can understand and plan for. This can help you to maintain a social balance and keep in touch with those you care about.

The students in our PGR panel agreed unanimously that planned time off each week improved their wellbeing and productivity. Not leaving rest to chance or to your impaired judgement when you are already tired can help you to maintain your energy and commitment over the entire duration of your research.



Perlow, L.A. (2010) “Making time off predictable and required (need for managers to take time off and be refreshed)”, Human Resource Management International Digest, 18(2),


Perlow, Leslie, and. Porter, Jessica L. (2009). “Making Time Off Predictable—and Required.” Harvard Business Review 87(10)