This article appears in the April 2015 edition of PA Professional magazine.
In today’s fast-moving, constantly connected, 24/7 world, maintaining a healthy balance among work, family and taking care of ourselves can be a challenge. The first step in achieving this balance is to be mindful and deliberate about it: Decide what is important, and then, set boundaries that will enable you to maintain the balance you seek. Here are some tips to help you work through the process.
1. Set boundaries early. Work-life balance needs to be something that is discussed with your direct supervisor at the time of your employment and be made part of your annual review. Ask your employer during an interview how they approach or maintain their own work-life balance.How do they see other PAs maintaining work-life balance? And again, include this in the discussion at your evaluation period.
2. Make time to disconnect. In the world of digital technology and 24/7 patient portals, we need to make sure that providers are not always responsible for being connected 24/7. Suggest schedules in your office for checking in with patient messages, just as you would an on-call schedule. And again, set expectations. Whether it is with your employer, your patients, or if you are an educator or preceptor, even your students—let them know when you will not be connected.
3. Make your vacations meaningful. No matter what, when you are on vacation, do not try to stay connected and check in with work. Some people who feel the need to stay connected need to ask themselves if they are doing this to fulfill their own sense of worth (aka, ego) or if they have an employer that does not allow them true vacation time. Either scenario should be corrected.
Vacation is vacation—period! And to that end, negotiate good vacation benefits that are not reduced by sick time. I would suggest nothing less than three weeks of vacation for any provider, even a new graduate. Healthcare is demanding, our profession is needed, and we can and should negotiate reasonable benefits that will make us better providers in the long-term.
4. Read or listen for enjoyment. Buy a good book, or download audio books or podcasts. One good thing about this digital age is the large number of podcasts out there—you can surely find one that you will enjoy. Download it and listen to it on your commute. Whether your commute is 10 minutes or one hour, plugging your brain into something you enjoy for a while can help you de-stress. If you are not driving, a magazine or book works too. Just let it be something unrelated to your job—no medical journals. Some of my favorites to listen to when I can: Writer’s Almanac, Science Friday and Radiolab.
5. Prioritize and learn to say no! Every six months, set personal and professional goals for what you want to accomplish in the next six months. Then, when things arise that do not align with your achieving these goals, or even worse, if they are a distractors, just say no! Writing those goals down will give you a good objective way to evaluate the situation and reduce guilt when you say no.
6. Practice mindfulness. Create a daily mantra for yourself that will help you focus on the things you want to focus on that day. A mantra can help free us of time wasted worrying, “Did I say the right thing; did I do the right thing?” and may minimize those small daily conflicts that we frequently find
7. Maintain your health. As a healthcare provider, this should be a no-brainer. First, make time to exercise. You have to do it! Not only is it healthy, we know that exercise has positive affects on our bodies and minds, and that will naturally help to keep us in balance. In the same way, watch what you eat. Reduce sugar! Make time the night before work to pack your lunch with fresh veggies and fruit.
Healthy body = healthy mind = better balance.
8. Make time for those who are most important to you! For me, this can be as little as making sure every day that I am free for at least 30 minutes around my children’s bedtime to read with them, snuggle with them and to just be with them. Remember that those people who love you, young and old, can feel your anxiety, your stress and also look to you for example. Be the example, and make time. It will balance your relationships and you!
J. Leocadia Conlon, PA-C, MPH, is a practicing PA, wife and mother of two. She is an assistant professor on the faculty of the Shenandoah University PA program in Winchester, Va.