The Ideal Work-Life Balance. Do You Have It?

Let’s get real for a minute.

As a whole, our industry is not the best at promoting a healthy work-life balance.

Actually, scratch that. “Not the best” is probably putting it way too kindly. According to a 2014 study, more than half of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout.

And it’s worth remembering that “burnout” is not the same as “a little bit stressed.” We’re talking things like:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Physical ailments (cramps, headaches, intestinal distress)
  • Reduced job performance, decreased creativity, and more mistakes
  • Alienation and depersonalization

Even if your practice appears “successful” from the outside, what’s the point if you’re overworked, overstressed, and have no time for family, friends, and the things you used to enjoy?

Why We Work So Much

Usually, there’s not just one reason why we tend to get overworked and overstressed, and our work-life balance gets significantly overloaded in favor of the former.

Although the precise mix of factors is different for each person, the end result is almost always the product of multiple, small-to-medium-sized mental, emotional, and practical obstacles that eat away at your time and keep you at work. (That’s a big part of why things feel so overwhelming, and why restoring balance is so challenging.)

The first step is to identify the main sources of imbalance in your own professional life. Here are some of the most common:

  • Good intentions. Most of us got into this profession due to a sincere, genuine desire to help others. When your job is about helping people relieve their suffering, it can be hard to turn away at the end of the day.
  • Big ambitions. If you’re trying to grow your practice, take your career to the next level, open a new clinic, etc., those things obviously start to take up a lot of your time and energy even in the best of circumstances.
  • It’s just true: a lot of people who choose to become physicians have “type A” personalities. We’re focused, driven, competitive people. Often that means we don’t take enough time for ourselves.
  • In med school and residency, many of us are already conditioned to expect that 60, 70, even 80 hours per week is “normal.” If overwork is what you’ve always done, and everyone else is doing it, it may be more difficult to recognize you have a problem.
  • Unprecedented connectivity. Unlike previous generations, today’s workers are accessible 24/7 via their mobile phones, communications software, and other connectivity tools. Although they’re supposed to make our lives easier, far too often they just make it harder to “unplug” after leaving the office.
  • Inefficient office procedures and technology. Perhaps you’re using outdated software, or redundant paperwork, or delegating work tasks inefficiently. Maybe you’re spending hours contacting patients manually when an automated email or text system would do a much better job in a lot less time. Maybe you’re just not making optimal use of the talent you already have on your team.
  • Hiring and training mistakes. Did you bring in the right people in the first place? (This includes not only new associates, but also MAs, front office staff … anyone on your team.) What about the right number of people? Do they have clear expectations for their roles, and have they been given the support and training they need to do their best? Do you trust your people to do their jobs, or are you constantly double-checking and fixing their mistakes?
  • Personal matters. Not all work-life balance stressors occur on the “work” side of the equation. An upcoming marriage, growing family, divorce, parent illness, and any number of important personal obligations may mean that, suddenly, the amount of time you originally set aside for “life” is no longer sufficient.

Like we said … things add up. Do you see any of yourself on this list?

Personal Health -> Practice Health

It’s worth noting that not every item on the above list is necessarily a “bad” thing, in and of itself.

Sure, bad policies and staff mismanagement are big problems in any circumstance. But being willing to stay late sometimes for a patient that truly needs your help? Working some extra hours to launch a new clinic? Sharing the joy of a growing family? Such things can actually be incredibly positive.

But it’s also important to understand that, when poor work-life balance leads to chronic stress and burnout, it’s not just your personal life that suffers. An unhealthy doctor and staff inevitably lead to an unhealthy practice:

  • You’re more likely to be angry, short, and unsympathetic with patients.
  • You’re more likely to make mistakes or overlook important information during diagnosis and treatment.
  • You’re more likely to snap at colleagues and push good people away.
  • Your pace of work suffers, making it even harder to see all your patients and work efficiently.
  • You’re more likely to contemplate quitting medicine entirely.

Sometimes, you have to realize that you are your most important patient. Setting appropriate boundaries and making time for yourself and your family is vitally important.

In the moment, it can be hard to pull yourself away from the office. But in the long run, achieving a healthy life balance is going to make you a better doctor and administrator, and be better for your patients and your team.

Helping You Find That Balance

At the AAPPM, we talk a big game about practice growth. And yes—if you’re looking to grow your practice, increase your revenue, open a new office, and reach new heights in your career, we’re the perfect organization for you.

But “growth” isn’t necessarily the No. 1 priority for every podiatrist.

Maybe you want to simply maintain your current revenue while reducing your workload (through more efficient office practices, a lower volume of more profitable patients, etc.)

Maybe you just want to get your nights and weekends back without worrying about being able to keep the lights on Monday morning.

Maybe you’re looking for an exit strategy.

Whatever your goals, we are here to help. It’s right in our mission statement:

To positively change the lives, practices, and communities of podiatric physicians through leadership education, practice management education, and sharing knowledge.

Notice how the word “lives” appears even before “practices”? It’s that important. After all, we all want to be successful—but as we said in the beginning, if “success” isn’t bringing you happiness, fulfillment, and balance in your life as a whole, what’s the point?

So if you’re looking to get some of your life back for yourself (while still running a successful and stable podiatric practice) then it’s high time you became a member of the AAPPM, signed up for one of our conferences or webinars, encouraged your office manager to get certified—or all the above.

Questions? Comments? Give us a call at (517) 484-1930, check out our website, or contact us online to learn more.