Work-Life Balance for Physicians Means Making a Date for What’s Important

January 24, 2012

Unfortunately, when life happens, it’s too easy to do the now stuff and not the important stuff.

My husband and I recently resurrected our “date night.” Only now, it’s our date afternoon. Weekend afternoons work out better for our babysitter, and they also are proving to work out better for us. There’s no wait at our favorite restaurant at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday. We don’t have to rush to get the kids ready for bed before we leave. We don’t arrive home after our date completely exhausted because we’ve stayed up past our bedtime.

For a while, we promised to have our own at-home date night. Guess how many times that happened? I’ll give you a hint - the same number of times that I’ve gone to the gym to work out after work.

Exercise works the same for me. I do much better when I schedule a “date” than when I just plan on my own. Last year, I took a 5:30 a.m. class on my early day (when I start work at 7 a.m.). I made nearly every class. For the past two months, I’ve just decided to go in early on Thursdays to work out on my own; so far, not happening.

At work, I have a persistent resolution to read journals, do online CME, and otherwise increase my professional knowledge during my lunch hour or during the in-between times when a patient no-shows or I happen to be running ahead of schedule. Strangely enough, by the end of a typical day, I’ve squandered whatever free time I have and once again, haven’t gotten to the important stuff.

I am infinitely more productive when I schedule time to work on professional projects than when I try the general approach that I’m going to read more. For example, after suffering through multiple unsatisfactory patient visits for chronic pain where I felt frustrated and I imagine the patient did too, I realized that I must improve my knowledge base in the area of chronic pain management. A flier for a free online CME sat on my desk for a month. I could’ve easily completed it in a few lunch breaks, but never did. Finally, frustrated with myself, I took a morning off of work for “CME” and went to the local library, reserved a conference room, and sat down to concentrate. I think the flier would still be there if I continued to wait for an “opportunity” instead of creating one.

Unfortunately, when life happens, it’s too easy to do the now stuff and not the important stuff. I think that sometimes we figure if it’s important enough, we shouldn’t have to schedule it. It’ll just happen because it’s important, right? Not so. Instead, our thinking should be it’s so important, I have to schedule it.

Find out more about Jennifer Frank and our other Practice Notes bloggers.