Is there anything more elusive in modern society than work-life balance? Striving for balance seems to be a struggle that many of us are ‘losing’ more often than we’re ‘winning.’ In fact, government reports reveal that perceived work-life balance is the number one item that allied health practitioners weigh-up when choosing an employer. However, as Time magazine puts it, “Work-life balance is a strange aspiration for a fulfilling life.”
A more useful practice is not to “balance the un-balanceable,” but to treat work as an opportunity to maximize doing what we love. Instead of treating ‘work’ as the antithesis to ‘life,’ we can choose to view work as an enriching extension of our lives. Work can complement other significant parts of our lives – including our family, friends, communities and hobbies. Viewing work as part of this ‘bigger picture’ is particularly important for first-year practitioners.
It’s not uncommon for first-year practitioners to experience burnout – typified by exhaustion, anxiety and a lack of professional satisfaction. This can also have a knock-on effect for their patients, who may experience fewer positive health outcomes. Whilst over-working can have real impacts on our physical and mental health – there are practical ways to manage your own ‘bigger picture.’
1. Focus on the work that matters most
Your employer’s guidance is a crucial part of understanding how work rich can enrich your life. It’s a great idea to seek your employers’ advice on critical skills development during your first year of practice – such as improving client care, building positive relationships and using effective communication. Maintaining an ongoing conversation with your employer enables you to play your role in their practice, whilst focusing on the most vital areas of your professional growth. In short, this approach ensures that everyone has time for the work that matters most.
2. Develop a routine that works for you
Your first year in private practice is a period of significant adjustment and growth. It’s inevitable that your personal routine will evolve to accommodate your new work commitments. However, engaging the support of your friends, family or housemates should make this shift more achievable. Engage the support of people in your household. Chat about developing a new household routine that encompasses grocery shopping, meal preparation, cleaning and other types of ‘life admin.’ Your new routine should also include dedicated time for self-care. Making time for regular exercise, relaxation and hobbies is essential. Actively ‘black out’ these times in your routine, and treat them as a formal appointment you’ve made with yourself.
3. Embrace the power of saying ‘no’
Being a ‘yes’ person is a fun and positive attribute – however during your first year of practice it’s especially important to feel comfortable saying ‘no.’ Saying no means that you will have more time for yourself, and can be truly mentally present on those occasions you choose to attend. Often, we feel that saying ‘no’ will limit our opportunities to maintain relationships (whether that’s with our friends, family or peers.) The best advice is simply to be honest and direct. If you receive an invitation to a social or work event that you don’t have capacity for, start by saying thanks and then be upfront. You may also suggest another time or place that might be more suitable for you.
For example: ‘Thanks so much for the invite, I’m really glad you thought of me! The truth is I’ve got a lot on this week, but I’d love to meet at [another time] so when we catch-up I can give you my full attention!’
4. Know when to switch off
Speaking of saying no – understand when it’s okay to electronically switch off. Did you know that American research has linked excessive mobile use with depression? Physically turning off your phone (or periodically muting work-related notifications) is an important part of creating mental ‘space.’ Whilst you may be required to keep an eye on your phone after hours, try to create some boundaries that suit you. For example, don’t check your phone after a certain time of evening each day.
Congratulations! You’ve worked hard to enter your first year as an allied health practitioner. Be kind to yourself as your schedule changes, and maintain an ongoing dialogue with the people who are most important to you. With support from your employer, friends and family, you’re bound to enjoy an enriching and well-rounded first year in private practice.