Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do, and begin to wonder why I'm in graduate school and if it's all worth it, I try to remind myself of some of the beneficial trade-offs that come with all that work.
A few weeks ago, in the throes of comps writing, I ran into an undergrad RA at Panera Bread. She was there on a date with her husband (yes, even the undergrads are getting married); I was there as an intermediate step between the public library and Borders Cafe. The undergrad, who is considering going to graduate school at some point, was put off by the seemingly never-ending stream of work we graduate students seem to do. And I can certainly understand that impression; it was a Saturday evening, and I'd done nothing that day but work, would do nothing that weekend but work. During the school year, when research requirements are met with teaching, classes, and an amazing quantity of colloquiua, I easily work 40 hours a week; some weeks, I easily top 60.
On the other hand, there is flexibility here too that often makes it seem worthwhile. Today the weather is an unseasonal 74 degrees - in the middle of November, we're talking record highs. In a "real" job, working 9-to-5, I wouldn't be set free from work until the sun was almost setting and the chill was rapidly returning. As a graduate student, I abruptly decided to take advantage of this weather in the middle of the day, embarking on a leisurely walk to the pedestrian mall downtown to shop for a birthday present. It took a bit over an hour, and it was not my lunch break. I don't know of a "real" job that would allow me to disappear for an hour in the middle of the afternoon because I felt like enjoying the unseasonal weather.
I'm not sure this freedom always makes up for the times when I work non-stop for an entire week. I've never counted the number of weekend days I work or the number of weekdays I slack off. At the moment, however, right after a brief sojourn in the sun, that freedom to decide when I work feels like it completely makes up for the excessive amounts I work.