The current COVID-19 pandemic has pressured the medical community in ways that are tangible and quantifiable. New protocols add burden to already-stressed institutions working diligently to save lives and serve their communities. Even without these added pressures, medical professionals are often stretched to their limit. Lost, often, in the shuffle is the intangible fallout: the need to manage work/life balance for those who provide care, including those who support them.
Work/life balance is critical to personal and professional satisfaction and wellness. When medical professionals are overwhelmed in one, the other naturally suffers. Some suggest that for physicians, work/life balance is more than a myth: it’s an unachievable goal that adds further stress. Others believe the key to work/life balance isn’t to separate the two, but to integrate them. For some, strict delineation between the responsibilities of both is the key to balance. It falls to the individual to determine what works for them and how to achieve symmetry.
What is work/life balance?
The life side of work/life balance is easy to quantify. Time away from your facility includes rest, nutrition, and exercise to manage physical health. It also includes necessary time to address personal and spiritual needs, like quality interactions with family and friends.
The work side of work/life balance varies. For some, it means finding fulfillment in the work they do. For others, a career trajectory is a top priority. Medical professionals interested in improving work/life balance can examine the reasons for their career pursuit and look for ways to enhance the interactions that satisfy those needs.
Prioritize to meet your goals
It can begin with an examination of what is the most meaningful on both sides of the equation. While it’s easy to become overwhelmed at work and at home, taking time to quantify what you want versus what you’re currently experiencing is the first step.
Once you’ve prioritized areas that are most important and meaningful on both sides of the equation, you can work toward achievement. Simply stressing about personal or professional pressures can’t resolve the problem. Find the top two or three items necessary in both categories and plan to meet your goals.
Most who pursue a career in medicine aren’t looking for a job; they have a calling to serve and help others. Enhancing the work side of the equation may mean refocusing on that desire. Be intentional and look for opportunities every day to reconnect with your passion. A few extra minutes comforting or reassuring a patient may be all that’s necessary to rejuvenate and realign the work balance needed.
The same applies in personal pursuits. Plan activities and events that meet personal priorities, rather than waiting for them to occur. If time with family is lacking, make specific plans and follow through. If time at the gym is getting lost in busy schedules, set specific appointments on your calendar – and stick to them, instead of just hoping to get there some time this week.
Look for solutions
In addition to prioritizing personal and professional goals and wants, list the items on both sides that are draining time and energy. How much burden do these pose, and are they truly necessary? If you spend off-hours running errands and keeping house, look for ways to outsource. If personal obligations are draining energy and resources, it may be time to cut back on current commitments and say no to future requests.
At work, look for the tasks that take the most time with the least return and try to eliminate them. It may be a matter of delegating; it may require hiring additional help or a simple request to cut back hours or obligations. Examine the duties that don’t provide satisfaction and look for ways to minimize or eliminate them.
Be greedy with your time
You may realize your time on the clock is valuable, but so is your time off. Consider your personal life in these terms. Where are you getting the most bang for your buck? If time with the family is a priority, how are you maximizing the time you spend? Do you need more vacations or more quiet time at home? Schedule and commit to them.
If volunteering provides fulfillment, are you stuffing envelopes or working directly with the community members you hope to serve? Schedule your personal life as intentionally as your professional; it’s just as important.
Examination, intention and execution
Achieving work/life balance is attainable if you take time to step away from the pressures of both momentarily. It starts with examining what’s most important personally and professionally – and what is not. Once these are outlined, look for opportunities to achieve them and follow through. Being intentional about your work/life needs and making these a priority can help achieve balance.