Work-Life, Health & Happiness: Is the Perfect Mix Possible?

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How to slow down and focus on what’s really important.

There is much consternation over the term “work-life balance” as it seems to suggest unrealistic notions. It implies when we are finally “balanced,” we will have “perfect” lives where we get everything done that we need/want to do and will have finally figured everything out. Others feel the term means we are spending equal or specific percentages of time in work and life. This article will not encourage striving for a perfect life, balance or percentage of time, but rather will be a guide for taking steps and making changes that result in a more satisfying life.[1]


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Ultimately balance depends on each individual’s unique values, priorities and life circumstances. What is most important to you? What do you want your life to look like? How can you make time for what matters? How can you feel less busy, even when your life is really full? How can you slow down time to really enjoy life and the people that you love?

Whether consciously or not, we compete for business, believing that the busier we are, the more important and successful we must be. And thus… we add more and more to our lives. Warren Buffett has coined the phrase, “Busy is the New Stupid.” If we’re too inundated with meetings, conference calls, emails and projects, we don’t have time to think, to be strategic, to see the big picture. He recommends carving out time in your calendar for strategic thinking (i.e. blocks of time where you have nothing on your schedule).

The Realities of Life Balance and Time[2]


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  • Our to-do lists will always be long and there will always be more to do.
  • We will never be able to do everything we think we need, want or should do.
  • We will fill our lives no matter what we have going on, no matter our age and stage in life.
  • We will most likely always feel busy and our lives will always be full, but we can create a fullness that is more satisfying.
  • Everyone has the same 168 hours in each week; we can make the most of it through our choices and create our own unique life balance that is right for us.

Track Your Time[2]

Time tracking is the most accurate method for investigating how we really spend our days. Research has shown that we tend to over- or underestimate our time, often unconsciously reverting to more socially acceptable answers. Secondly, time tracking enables us to be more mindful of how we are spending our time, prioritizing and making choices. People often report that as they record their days, they naturally begin to shift their habits and make better choices. It also can lead to finding “extra” time, perhaps in places we didn’t realize could be used in other ways.

True Values

Values reflect who we are; they define us as a person and what we stand for. They also serve as a compass, helping us to navigate through life. They give us a sense of direction and influence our priorities, actions, behaviors and decisions. If we have not incorporated our values or have adopted someone else’s values that are not truly our own, we will most likely feel unbalanced, uneasy and conflicted.


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Without having a roadmap of where to focus, we run the risk of wandering aimlessly. The same principle applies to work: without being aware of the top priorities in our jobs, we will default to working on the most urgent tasks, but not necessarily the most important.

Time Saving Tips

  • Identify relevant stakeholders and their expectations early on before jumping into a project. Make sure you’re on the same page before you dive in and that you’re anticipated end product meets their needs and expectations.
  • Do big projects early in day.
  • Don’t re-invent the wheel. Do your background research – has someone else done this before? EM is a collaborative sport and many colleagues may be willing to share information, lessons learned, work with you rather than starting from scratch.
  • Close your office door when you’re in crunch time. Sometimes I have to hide when I really need to get stuff done or the interruptions can be distracting and disruptive.
  • Know when to say no. Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish well, if this “ask” fits your short- and long-term goals or fits within your niche.
  • Use travel time efficiently. Traffic. Flight delays. An hour here or there. It’s easy to waste time while waiting to get from point A to point B. My most productive days are when I’m stuck at the airport when I can read, catch up on emails and work. Be cognizant of how much time you spend on social media, watching TV or other “time-sink” activities.
  • Prioritize time with your significant other and friends. Schedule date nights just like you do your shifts in the ED.

Household Services – Your time is valuable. If you don’t have to do it, don’t! This could include a house cleaner, dry cleaning delivery service, personal concierge service to run errands, grocery shopping online and delivery service, meal planning and delivery services.

  • Meal delivery services (i.e. Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Plated)
  • Grocery delivery services (worth every penny in my opinion!)
  • Meal planning apps: (i.e. MealBoard)
  • Clothing/Shopping: (i.e. StitchFix)
  • Get kids to help with household chores: (Chorma, Fairshare, iReward Chart and Chore Pad)

Errands and Appointments

  • Group errands together by location.
  • Have it delivered – Amazon Prime.
  • Run errands when it tends to be less crowded.
  • Schedule appointments for one of the first slots in the morning; you won’t wait as long.

Avoid Time Wasters:

Clutter & disorganization, endless shopping, procrastination and perfectionism.

Mindfulness: Awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment. Take time to smell the roses and intentionally slow yourself down, even if this is just for a couple minutes each day.

Conclusion: Each day is not balanced. A 50/50 strategy of work/play every day can lead to mediocrity. Setting short-term and long-term goals and “coming up for air” once those goals have been achieved and finding time to take breaks and re-energize is an important strategy to finding success and satisfaction.

One common trait amongst successful professionals is flexibility. As emergency physicians, we have more flexibility than most. Use this to your advantage and lean in to your career AND make time for yourself and your family. One does not necessarily preclude the other. Define what makes you happy and what gives you a sense of balance and wellness. Define your goals and where you want to be. Every life is a mosaic of work, sleep, family time, leisure, travel etc but you control where you put the tiles.

References: 

Seamone E. 52 Weeks to Better Life Balance Blog Series, http://www.womenworklife.com/2016/01/07/52-weeks-to-better-life-balance-week-1/. Accessed Jan 12, 2020.

Vanderkam L. I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. Portfolio/Penguin. 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gillian Schmitz, MD, FACEP is an Associate Professor at the Uniformed Services University and an emergency physician at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX. She currently serves as the Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

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