There’s a common misconception about work-life balance I’m sure we all have fallen for. It’s the idea of a scale with work on one side and the rest of our lives (family, hobbies, etc.) on the other. I used to imagine my life as this imaginary scale and did my best to balance it. However, no matter how I tried, it always seemed to be weighed down on the work side. I despaired that I may never get my life truly balanced.
It wasn’t until I realized how flawed this outlook is that I was able to make headway in striking a balance in my life.
The flaw with this analogy is that no matter how hard we try, our personal and professional lives are far too intertwined to treat work and life outside of work as two separate entities. Balance doesn’t come from both sides evening out, but rather, integrating these two sides of our life so that they can coexist together. I can’t rest well if I have work responsibilities hanging over my head, and I can’t be productive and effective if I don’t have the time to rest. Instead of looking at our work and personal lives as two sides of a scale, we need to find a way for both of these things to exist together harmoniously.
Here are three habits we can put into practice to ensure both our personal and professional lives can coexist:
- Block your calendar. It’s important that we reflect our priorities in our schedules. Put your vacations on your calendar first, then add your appointments. If you’re a shift worker, make sure you schedule your time off as carefully as you do your work days. If you’re in a clinic, schedule your PTO, or put in a half-day off, to ensure there is time saved to be with your partner, friends, or yourself before building out your clinical schedule.
- Prioritize things that support your values. We all carry beliefs about what is valuable and worth our time. These may include our relationships with family, our health, learning, or developing new skills. Aligning our time with activities that support our values makes the best use of the personal time we have. For instance…I value reading and love a new book. In order to find time to read, I have to cut out time spent on my phone playing video games or scrolling through social media. I have the same amount of personal time either way, but only one choice supports my values of how I want to be spending my time.
- Give yourself permission to buy time back. So for the things that don’t require you, is there someone you can pay to do them? Personally, I get zero pleasure from mowing my lawn. I’d much rather spend that time with my kids. So I pay someone to mow my lawn. Now, you may love mowing your lawn, but maybe there is something else that you could pay someone to do that would free up some time for one of your priorities. See if you can identify responsibilities that you might be able to have someone else take care of for you in a financially feasible way. It’s ok to use your hard-earned money to free up time for yourself to do the things you enjoy.
It’s vital for our well-being that we take stock of our responsibilities and find ways to balance them. The key is to be mindful of whether the task, job, project, or activity is meaningful to us and worth our time to do. Doing so will help us create a sense of balance and order in our personal and professional lives. How have you found balance in your life? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to us on LinkedIn and Twitter!
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Stefanie Simmons, MD, FACEP is the VP of patient and clinician engagement at Envision Physician Services. She served as University of Michigan/St. Joseph Mercy core faculty and coordinated collaborative care between APPs and physicians. Currently Dr. Simmons contributes to emergency medicine, high performing teams, and clinician self-care curriculum.