Do you have balance in your professional career and personal life? I am not sure I do. From my discussion with other colleagues, I believe most of you do not either.
One of the reasons I became a podiatrist was to have a “normal” lifestyle but that has never seemed to materialize. I have always had a good work ethic but why does a good work ethic still seem to create an unbalanced life? As we start a new year and I enter my 21st year of practice, I am going to strive to find better balance in my life. I hope this provokes you to consider the balance in your life.
It is clear in today’s environment that we must work harder and longer to earn the same amount as we did in the 1990s and early 2000s. Clearly, the harder and smarter one works, the higher the income potential. Each individual’s income requirement often dictates how much one needs to work. How many patients do you need to see in a day to make the income you desire? How many patients are too many for one practitioner to see in a single day before it becomes a “cattle call” — herding patients in and out without giving them much time?
I am not overly talkative with patients. I tend to be pretty direct and to the point. However, sometimes even I feel rushed with the patient and I can only imagine how the patient feels.
In addition to actual patient care, the paperwork that goes with it adds disorder. Charting is my biggest albatross. I am sure it is for many of you as well. I try to chart as I see patients but this often falls wayward as the number of patients increases through the day. I am then left with charting at the end of the day. I delay the time I get home or chart in the evening, which takes my attention away from my home life. I have yet to find a workable solution to this problem but it is on my radar.
Your level of practice involvement also dictates time and effort requirements. If you own a private practice as I do, you have to put considerable time into the management of the practice even with an outstanding staff assisting you (as I have). Therefore, the time spreadsheet continues to pile hours on the work side, taking away from the home and self categories.
One of the best ways to manage your work time is to set up a calendar at the beginning of each year allowing for vacation days, practice management days, staff training days, catch-up days (i.e. charting) and strategic planning days. You must fully devote these days to the task at hand and nothing else, or they will be a waste of time. Yes, you will lose some patient days but this time will be well worth it as it will make your practice stronger and more efficient.
When it comes to vacation days, you must allow time to recharge your batteries or you will burn out. Planning your vacation days strategically at the beginning of the year provides you with something to look forward to during the daily grind of practice.
Part of any well-rounded professional career involves contributing your time and knowledge back to your profession. Often, many practitioners cut this task to try to reclaim balance in their lives. This is short sighted and selfish. For your profession and your career to prosper, you must be involved with your professional associations to some extent.
On the professional side of the ledger, some practitioners will cut continuing education. This is ludicrous. You must set time aside for both journal reading and conferences. If you are not keeping up to date, you are falling behind and doing your patients a disservice.
Another component to a well-rounded professional career is volunteering. You can do something as little as one hour per month locally or as generous as an extended period in a different country. Whatever type of volunteer work you do will provide you with a sense of inner peace, joy and happiness. It is time well invested.
What about the self side of the spreadsheet? I know early in my career I neglected my health. This is the exact opposite of what one needs to do to be the most productive they can be. I started exercising more regularly but exercise is often the easiest thing to cut out when time is limited. This is a big mistake. You have to be in the best physical condition possible to be the most efficient and on top of your career.
The best way to handle this is to hold yourself accountable to someone who will call you out if you are not doing what you said you would do. I have signed up to run a full marathon (I ran two half marathons last summer). I use an application on my phone to track my training runs and then post it to Facebook. This keeps me accountable to several people to maintain my training program.
The other component to taking care of yourself physically is to watch you are eating. I often found myself eating junk food in the car on the way to my next scheduled clinic or surgery. You must make time to sit down and eat healthy meals, paying attention to what you are eating. We all know what we should eat but eating consciously takes effort and discipline.
Another significant component to physical well-being is rest. I know this is one of my weakest links. I often do not get enough sleep. One cannot debate the importance of a proper amount of sleep. Try to get a set amount of sleep each night based on when you have to get up the next morning.
Be sure not to neglect the mental aspect. Are you continuing to learn outside of your profession? Do you read? Are you challenging yourself to learn new things? You have to do these things to stay mentally sharp. I listen to audiobooks while driving or running, which is a significant amount each day. I also try to find a few minutes a day to read something non-professional.
Spirituality for many people is a very important component of their life. If this is true in your case, you must devote some time and effort to it as well.
The final component of balance is home life and your relationships. Do you spend quality time with significant others, children, other family members and friends? Starting with your significant other, communication is vital to the expectations of your professional and personal life. A great starting point is agreeing on some type of balanced schedule. You must put in the effort and time with relationships to make them sustainable. It is easy to take those we love the most for granted. Do not make this mistake.
So how does one attain this type of balance with a finite number of hours in a day, week, month and year? I have come to realize with experience and the wisdom from several different authors that having an organized, structured plan for your life is essential. You have to live consciously and not passively. A balanced life needs a definite plan with goals.
Plan your schedule accordingly to allow time for each of the previously mentioned components in a balanced life. Do not take from one category to provide more time to another category on a regular basis. Stay on course with your plan.
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. I hope reading this helps you reflect on the balance in your life. If need be, make the changes necessary to restore balance between your professional and personal worlds. Best wishes and stay diligent.