If you’ve started the year with fresh energy and perspective, we’re cheering you on from the side lines. But the fact is, in the health field, many are feeling overworked, stressed and exhausted. 2020 has taken its toll, and it’s going to take a long time before we start feeling ‘normal’ again.
It’s difficult to pour from an empty cup. To look after your clients, you need to think of ways that will help you fill your own cup so you can continue to help those who need it. While this may take many different forms, one of the most powerful is to focus on maintaining a work-life balance so you can take time for yourself.
For health professionals in general, work-life balance is a mythical holy grail, but we’ve laid out ten simple strategies that you can start using right now to make it a reality:
1. Determine your priorities
As a practice owner, it’s very easy to spend your days running from crisis after crisis, scheduling clients back-to-back, and never getting to the tasks that will help your practice grow and thrive. While clients should always be your top priority, there’s more to a successful practice than filling your available slots.
But you might not even know what your priorities are off the top of your head.
Spend some time thinking about your top priorities at work and home. Start jotting down the most important things in your life, the non-negotiables. Then about what you need to start doing, things you need to stop, what you need to do more of or less, and what you could do differently.
2. Set measurable goals and track them
With your priorities straight, you can turn to the challenge of making them happen. There’s a good chance that even thinking about your priorities was enough to get you motivated to do things differently. The key here is to translate that energy into action!
At the beginning each year, there’s always a lot of talk about setting goals. Unfortunately, come the end of January; they are almost always forgotten in the busyness of running a practice. In fact, only around 40% of the people who set resolutions at the start of the year are still keeping up with them come June.
Some areas where you need to set measurable goals include:
- Mental wellness;
- Family time;
Take exercise, for example. It is typically one of the areas that get neglected when work pressure builds up. But research shows that not only is regular exercise good for you physically, but it can also help you cope with stress, anxiety and depression.
Don’t start with a difficult-to-achieve goal, like running a full marathon if you haven’t run in months. Rather, start small. Aim to go for a gentle run or walk three days a week for 30 minutes, then build from there.
Holidays also tend to fall by the wayside when you’re stressed and overworked. You need a holiday at least once a year, as well as a few weekends away pencilled in the diary. Even two days away from the daily grind with friends or family give you fresh energy (and often some much-needed perspective). But they don’t happen by themselves; they need to be scheduled in, the same way that you would put in doctors’ visits and essential appointments.
The two most important benefits of tracking your habits are that you’re continually being reminded to act and it motivates you to continue.
If you want to learn more about the power of habit tracking and how to get started, these guides will point you in the right direction:
3. Use a time tracker
If you know your priorities, you will have a clear idea of where you should spend your time. But there’s a good chance that this won’t align with reality. A simple time tracking app will help you see exactly where all your time goes. If it’s not in line with your priorities and the habits you’re trying to build, you know exactly where to start when you make changes.
4. Schedule, organise and delegate
Get serious about scheduling. You might roll your eyes at this one, but it’s true…
“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”
This applies to both work and home life. It’s so much easier to work productively when you aren’t trying to keep a list of your to-dos in your head.
Set aside 15 minutes at the start of each day (or even the night before), review the previous day, tick off items on your Habit Tracker and plan your tasks and activities for the day ahead.
Your schedule should be simple and focused around your priorities. Take a close look at the amount of time you assign to your tasks as that’s often a true reflection of your priorities. If you’re spending time on less important tasks, you may lose sight of what really matters.
Practice owners and managers tend to want to do it all. Sound familiar? Only a small number of managers are good at delegating, but it can significantly impact your energy levels and productivity.
Here’s how you can get better at delegating:
- Avoid taking on tasks that don’t require your expertise.
- When you plan your day, identify the tasks that could be re-assigned.
- Draw up processes for the tasks you could delegate.
Not sure which tasks to delegate?
Play to your strengths and outsource the rest as far as possible. If accounting is not your thing, hire a bookkeeper, they’re worth their weight in gold. If you’re trying to design a flyer, don’t. You’re a health professional, not a graphic designer.
5. Put systems in place
Does the thought of delegating make you shut down immediately? Sure, the concept is great, but in practice? How will someone else ever be able to do something exactly the way that you want it done?
The answer is simpler than you might expect: systems.
But simple doesn’t mean easy.
You can’t delegate a task to a staff member and hope that they’ll get it right because everyone has their own way of doing things. But, if you can detail the processes carefully so that anyone with the right qualifications can pick up the manual and follow the steps, you’ll be well on your way to delegating effectively.
Maybe this is the year when you finally commit to writing down all the processes that you’re involved in. Lay them out in a step-by-step guide and give your team the benefit of the doubt. If you’ve been completely clear, there’s no reason that someone besides you can’t do the job (and do it to your standards).
6. Automate Where Possible
Technology can help you become more organised, productive and you’ll be happier as a result. Consider practice management software, for example. Software designed specifically for health practices to manage all aspects of their business means time savings everywhere you turn (here is how the right practice management software helped Gold Standard Foot Care to grow to 5 locations and 11 podiatrists). Areas where you can streamline effectively include:
A paper diary and excel spreadsheet is a clunky, outdated solution. You’re going to make mistakes, not to mention the hours of unnecessary paperwork and admin that an inefficient system creates.
Rather than phoning up clients (who often don’t answer) to confirm appointments, get your software to do it on autopilot. Not only does this free up your admin team, but it also reduces your no-shows significantly.
Practice management software makes invoicing and receipting payments faster and more accurate. Invoicing is streamlined as the software can auto-populate the invoice with the service codes, payment options, insurance details and more.
7. Learn to Say ‘No’
It’s more than likely that your work life is full to bursting, and you probably take work home with you most nights. If that’s you, then you need to be ruthless when it comes to extra commitments that require your time and energy.
This might mean saying no to a colleague who regularly asks you to help with their paperwork, or declining an invitation to speak at a local event.
It’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever say yes, especially if the request lines up with your priorities. Instead, it’s a gentle nudge to prioritise yourself and say ‘no’ if the request will take too much from you.
If you feel like you don’t have any alternative but to say yes, maybe because your staff are overworked, then you need to check steps five and six again. Put systems in place, automate tasks where possible and consider taking on a new team member.
Part of learning to say no is establishing realistic boundaries. It may not be possible to finish everything you need to get through at work, but then make a conscious decision about how you will deal with after-hours work.
Instead of taking piles of paperwork home with you from the office, it might be better to leave it at work and come in early to get caught up. Or maybe, after dinner, limit yourself to an hour of work, then schedule some ‘you time’ afterwards.
Ask for help
This is one area where practice owners are notoriously bad. You don’t have to feel continually overwhelmed at work. Yes, there will be days that are manic, but they shouldn’t all feel like that. Stop trying to be Superman, and get help. Help takes many forms; it could be getting a business mentor, delegating admin tasks to your team, reducing your client load or hiring a new team member. If you struggle to say ‘no’, then this could make all the difference for you.
8. Look after your health
Your health is your number one priority. It’s easy to take it for granted when everything is going well, but if you’re taking strain physically, mentally or emotionally, it’s going to spill over into all areas of your life.
Look at the different aspects of your personal life:
- Are you seeing friends?
- Do you feel connected to your family?
- Do you eat balanced, regular meals?
- How often are you exercising?
- How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
You might not feel like you have time to get eight hours a night, or exercise three times a week but, if you do, it will have spill-over benefits in all areas of your life as you enjoy:
- Reduced stress;
- Improved concentration;
- Higher energy levels;
- More productivity;
- Better health.
9. Make time for you
As a health professional, you spend most of your time giving to others. And while making your work, health and personal relationships a priority, you need to take time for ‘you’. This can take many forms, such as keeping a diary, updating a gratitude journal, going for a walk, listening to a podcast, reading a book or meditating. Take time every day to be offline completely. This gives you time to decompress and will go a long way to filling your cup.
10. Take stock and re-focus
At least once a year, preferably once a month, set aside an hour to take stock. You may have set out your priorities at the beginning of the year but, before you’ve blinked, it’s May, and you haven’t started making the changes you envisaged. When you revisit your priorities you are able to take a step back and see what’s working and what’s not, then adjust your plans accordingly.
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At the end of the day, remember that you’re aiming for balance, not perfection. And that balance might be more fluid than you think.
What constitutes a work-life balance will look different for everyone. And, even in your personal quest for balance, it will shift to favour one or the other. Don’t fight the flow, but keep an eye on things so that you don’t go too far one way or the other.
There are always going to be periods during the year when you’re busier at work than at other times. You may have deadlines, such as the financial year-end, that need to be met or a practice that is seasonal in nature. But, when the push is over, remember to integrate more of your personal life back into your daily routine.
Whatever your work-life balance looks like for you, make sure that you’re choosing it consciously. If you don’t like the hours you’re working or the emotional toll that your work is taking on you, think about what changes you can make.
Balance won’t happen overnight, but a series of small changes over time will add up quickly. It could easily be that a year from now, with your priorities straight and a habit tracker in place, you’re in a completely different space from the one you find yourself in today.