I believe achieving work life balance after burnout is possible. It might just take a few years of adjustments, minor setbacks, some failures to do so!
Forged over the last few years with the advice of some wise mentors and my personal journey, I would like to share a plan and framework to approach burnout and live a balanced life.
To achieve this I believe that we need to rest at regular intervals, engage in activities that replenish us and work out our priorities and thereby learn the art of saying “no”.
Here are some thoughts.
It is of great importance to schedule regular rest periods into your life in order to maintain a healthy work life balance.
This usually constitutes a regular day off during the week, regular holidays periods in the year and taking time out each day to do nothing but just be present in the moment.
Scheduled every Saturday on our iCal from 8am-5pm is “J-Time” and is my wife’s way of saying “Don’t do anything!!”. Indeed, Saturday is my day of rest. It is for doing everything and anything that has nothing to do with doctoring.
If your schedule is like mine, my year started to fill up with on-call dates, conferences and meetings long before 2015 began. Taking control of the calendar and scheduling regular holidays will give you something to work towards and look forward to. Most importantly it gives you time to reflect on your life and reprioritise.
Replenishing activities fill you up. They revitalise and sustain you.
I use the analogy of a full cup with my patients to signify all our energy and what we have to give every week. Difficult clients, angry patients, sick kids, busy traffic, draining relationships and heavy workloads etc can all deplete this cup and if we don’t fill it up with a replenishing activities, we will be running on empty and this eventually leads to burnout.
A replenishing activity is something that gives you pleasure and occupies your mind space. It could be playing with your kids, fishing off the rocks at your spot, sailing, shooting a pistol at the club, playing golf or just having a coffee and reading a book.
After a heavy day of packed with emotion and sick patients, nothing works better to clear my mind than cranking the music and lifting heavy weights (dose of iron) or doing a workout of the day (WOD). On the weekend, having a pretentious cup of organic espresso whilst reading my Eureka report does it for me.
The daily aspect of replenishment encompasses four things:
- Replenishing food – It is essential to eat the right food which provides us with clean fuel and nutrients to maintain our health. Minimising the consumption of saturated and trans fats, foods a high sugar load, processed foods and excessive alcohol intake will increase our energy, vitality and improve digestive health.
- Replenishing exercise – Exercising intentionally most days in a way that increases your heart rate and uses your muscle will improve cardiovascular fitness and the ability to deal with stress.
- Replenishing sleep –Sleep is essential for our mind to rest and process the day’s work, allow our body to repair from the activities of the day and to follow our natural circadian rhythms.
- Replenishing relationships – This is about having relationships that add value to your life and do not drain you of the will to live. If you’ve ever regularly left a conversation with someone uplifted, motivated, happier and encouraged, chances are this is a replenishing relationship. Find more friends like this!!!
The art of saying “no”
The art of saying “no” is grounded in setting priorities and putting the big rocks in first.
When you have mastered what matters to you the most, it makes it easier to say “no” to activities, tasks and requests that do not fit into your list of priorities.
This will be different for everyone. If you want to see what is important in your life at the moment, look at what you do with your time and what you spend your money on.
My accountability partner recently reminded me of my priorities as he and I discussed some warning lights in life. It made my goal setting for 2015 much easier.
These are my priorities (big rocks) in order of importance and some examples of time commitment.
God (daily bible study, prayer and meditation in the morning)
Wife (date night every Saturday, one trip away with no kids a year)
Boys (bed-time stories, school holidays off, attend sports games, father-son outings)
Church (Attend every Sunday, serve on board)
Work (9day fortnight, keep up to date daily (journals etc), conferences and courses)
Personal development and projects (Blogging and dermatology diploma)
What are your big rocks?
Set up a safety net
Finally, in general practice one of the most important parts of the consultation is safety netting. An excellent GP will let you know the warning signs of when to return and how to manage common hiccups along the way to recovery.
Similarly the safety net is a plan for when you starting heading towards that wall with increasing speed. It is also a set of indicators that things are not right.
– Find or involve your General Practitioner (GP) – Having a great GP will improve your health outcomes if you engage with him or her regularly. They can provide an object opinion on your health.
– Have an accountability partner – Find some with whom you share a replenishing relationship with and discuss your struggles with work life balance and ask them to keep you in check. This could be a text, call or a regular coffee to see how you are tracking.
– Know the warning signs – Everyone will have a different set of “check engine light” signs. In my post on burnout I outlined some of the most common signs. What are yours?
– Plan your leave in advance – Scheduled leave provides regular intervals through the year for rest. This obviously is not for everyone but has paid great dividends for our family and me.
These thoughts are definitely not a stepped plan out of burnout or depression nor are they a prescription for everyone. But I believe they are the foundation of building life of balance between work, family and your purpose.
Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP