Jack of all trades, master of none

I am a jack of all trades and master of none. I am good at managing my time but bad at setting boundaries for myself.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As I am pursuing a PhD in Social Psychology, I have found myself in a situation where I do a lot of other things at the same time. Since beginning my studies in fall, I have done everything but focus on my own dissertation. It started with me panicking about my financial situation. As I was accepted as a student, I had not, as many, received any funding for working on my research. I desperately started, or actually continued applying for jobs, in hopes of receiving a part-time job that would enable me to still get started on my PhD. 

After being unemployed for a few months I suddenly found myself in a situation of having accepted three jobs. Yes, you read that right. It might sound crazy and in retrospect I can tell you that it was. It, however, happened by accident and as a result of me not thinking about myself and what would be most beneficial for me. I have always had difficulties with saying no and setting my own boundaries. When being offered something, I have always felt obliged to accept if it has not been impossible for me to fulfill the request. I am hardworking, ambitious and not a quitter. My time management skills are good, and I knew that puzzling hours together would be a challenge but manageable. This was something that I had done before. Not taking into account and actually remembering that it led me to having a burnout, I knew that I would be able to finish all given tasks if I managed my time good enough.

Fall of 2021 I was working a full-time job in my own field as a research assistant, working half-time at a grocery store and working as a course assistant on hourly basis. On top of this I was attending PhD courses and applying for grants for my dissertation. Like said before, it sounds crazy, and it was! My days consisted of little sleep, a lot of work and no free time with me working around 75 hours/week. Never again. That is what I told myself in the end of the year. And it worked for a couple of weeks in the beginning of 2022 when I was sick, but my everyday life soon returned to revolving around work, work and work. And what for?

When I finally received the news that I had received funding for working on my PhD research I was relieved. I thought that this would finally put an end to me being a jack of all trades and master of none. During the beginning of 2022 I have, however, still worked full-time with another job relating to my field and continued my job at the grocery store. Simultaneously attending courses and writing further grant applications. Giving up valuable time for working on my own research and enjoying some free time. 

During the past year I have given a lot of thought to myself, thinking about why I do the things I do. One reason is connected to financial motives. I need to be able to pay my rent and bills. Does that equal me having to work 65+ hours/week? I think not. And it doesn’t for sure have a positive effect on my well-being. 

I have always thought about myself as a good time manager. Reflecting on myself I have, however, realized that life is not only about time management but also about boundary management. Societal discourses on productivity and working-life of course steer how we view ourselves and our everyday lives, but we are not bound by these discourses in every aspect of our lives. I think the following quote encompasses what I am trying to say:

Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.

Betsy Jacobson

Things will change now as I’m from May 2022 going to be working on my PhD with grant-money. But I really need to start working on setting boundaries and saying no rather than focusing on managing my time. I need to set boundaries according to what is important to me, and that is my PhD.


2 vastausta artikkeliin “Jack of all trades, master of none

  1. I fully agree with your assessment that boundary management and saying no is of critical importance. I have a kind of similar situation, as I have worked while doing my PhD. In my experience, daily job and PhD means that you need to figure what is actually important for PhD and say no to a lot of things. My PhD is almost ready, but I feel that because I had to say no to a lot of things, I have neglected my participation in research community (except formal publishing). That is, because I have focused of finishing my papers and courses, I have not really participated in communal actions e.g. Conferences, informal meetings, networking etc.

    I mean doing the point of doing PhD is of course to get the dissertation ready, but it is also finding your community, and your place in that community. Also, I guess it is now days almost required that researchers make a “brand” of themselves. How do you see this? How are you going to deal with tasks which are not directly about to your PhD, but closely related?


    1. This is a good question and I don’t have a clear answer. I think I in those cases need to reflect on which tasks are more important than others. I also feel that as a researcher you sometimes might need to say no to having free time – not as a general rule, but there might be weeks when you have to work really hard on some papers etc.



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