It is no secret that the life of a practice owner or that of a therapist can be at times a roller coaster ride. Pressured to learn at lightning speed, make decisions on a daily basis, often regarding the health and goal attainment of others as well as our own. Working hours can be long and sometimes we just yearn for a more rounded work-life balance.

But what is it? What is the magic work-life balance? What is the magic pill for burnout?

There is no one definition of what work-life balance is, however experts equate it to happiness or satisfaction with oneself, work, and personal life. The term itself falsely implies a 50/50 balance between two parts of life disregarding personal preferences of various individuals and discounting other elements.

Work-life balance is not a set-in-stone division of work and personal life, but rather each individuals’ formula for happiness. Searching for the right formula is a challenging goal that with some help and thought, is attainable. It all starts with defining who you are, what you love and what adjustments you need to make you feel more accomplished, and…less guilty.

Self-Awareness is key

Choices are reflections of who we are and what we stand for. The decision to become a healthcare professional is worth praise by itself. It is characteristic of people who are compassionate, intelligent, and patient.

However, it is important to realise that every therapist is different. As is every administration support worker in the healthcare system. A married therapist with two kids who looks forward to going home after work is no less driven or responsible, he or she just needs some family time to feel complete.

So to begin changing your lifestyle for the better, start with defining yourself and what truly matters to you.

Practice Self-Awareness

Try to assess honestly what you need and what you want out of life in general, not just career and relationships. Do you need time to work out? Do you want time to be involved in projects outside of work? Do you plan a family day every week? Or is it a promotion at work that you are working hard to achieve?

Remember: everyone is different. Your goals are unique and do not have to align with your colleagues. “If there’s a physician who feels completely happy working 12 hours and is communicating with his family, and the family is fine with him staying at work for 12 hours, that might be a work-life balance definition that works for him”, says Iris Grimm, an Atlanta based life coach for doctors. We can take this and apply it to our own therapy based work situation. We need to find the definition that works for us, and our loved ones.

Learn to be in the present

One thing to note – your goals need to be relevant to the present and steadily profess to their execution stage. Experts believe that healthcare workers can be prone to what is called the “psychology of postponement”. Since healthcare education and working your way to senior positions upon graduation takes time to complete for the majority, many healthcare professionals become accustomed to delaying happiness. The date gets postponed continuously and risks to change from “when I finish my degree” to “when I retire”.

The major thing we need to remind ourselves is to make the present the best it can be.

Know your limits

Have an honest conversation with yourself about what you can do and can’t. It is critical to minimising the risk of getting overworked. Learn to say “No” in situations where you think the output is not worth the input. For instance, getting distracted by a gossipy assistant is no excuse; this conversation is not going to bring any value to your professional or personal life, but is guaranteed to waste your precious time. So politely excuse yourself and shift your attention to what matters most. Become a guardian of your time and set the limits!

Professional life

Based on a 2011 study in the Archives of Surgery of nearly 8,000 surgeons, experiencing a work-life misbalance within the past three weeks was one of the top three factors contributing to burnout, next to the number of hours worked.

Reaching this tipping point can be avoided by following some simple steps:

Prioritise and Delegate: In healthcare, as managers and practice owners we can micromanage. We get so consumed with making every little decision that there is zero time left for better management. This has to change. At the end, it is not about working too hard, it is about working smart. So go ahead and ask yourself: are you prioritising your tasks? Are you spending time on things that are too simple and can be easily outsourced?

Reconsider your Process: To optimise your time, start with analysing your daily routine at work. What makes you stay unnecessarily long hours at your practice? Make a list right now. Beside each item write down a logic resolution to acting on these items. Focus on the big picture and see if you are missing something. Is your practice located in an area that attracts patients, or are you spending too much energy on marketing across town? Analyse and see whether you can make a single change that would fix many things.

Have Control: For therapists, having control of their working hours have shown to significantly improve satisfaction with their work-life balance. The “schedule fit” is a priority for many. The result of taking the initiative and asking for a more flexible schedule, is game-changing.

Communicate: It is so important to get some words out. You may assume that other people hear you and understand your stresses, or your concerns. The truth is that they often only know this when you tell them about it. Everyone is trying to get through every day, and every week in their own way. If there is something holding you back from your potential that you feel someone could assist with, let them know. Jot your thoughts below…

Personal life

Despite a common misconception that therapists’ specialty is a single factor affecting their work-life balance, recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, stated that the strongest predictor of relationship satisfaction in close to 900 spouses and partners of physicians surveyed is the amount of “awake time” they spent with their mates daily—not the physician’s specialty or number of hours worked. Bingo!

Professional careers if improperly managed take toll on therapists’ personal lives. Below are some tips on how to be an effective practitioner without ruining your love health:

Schedule family “downtime”: Scheduling is critical. We make appointments with hairdressers, lawyers, and other professionals often forgetting to show the same commitment to the close ones. It may look a bit too formal, however it guarantees you a slot of time where you and your spouse can both put work aside and enjoy some quality time together. Send a calendar invite or leave a post-it on the fridge – whichever form you pick – what matters is attention that you demonstrate to your partner. Creating a calendar of date nights will sure increase probability of both of you attending without changing the plan.

Create a weekly “log-off” routine: Pick a day in a week or a time slot during the day that would be specifically allocated to family/friends/me time. Make sure to communicate this to your colleagues and superiors, so they will not expect you to pick up a call or come to your workplace. Sticking to this routine will ensure you will not be interrupted from whatever you do in this time slot. Remember: people learn over time!

Stay away from technology: With mobile phones and other devices right at out finger tips, it is hard to completely log out and rest. Respect and treasure the time you get to spend with your family and preferably keep your phone away. Try limiting television time and avoid the “distractors” such as computer games. They will not be there for you, so make a choice!

Action Plan

Acting upon the tips above will help you to carve up some family time in your schedule and optimize your work process. Download our action plan template that will help you to time your efforts and to manage progress.

Remember to reassess and adjust it to suit your present needs regularly.

Keep searching for your magic formula! Stay well!