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The Ultimate Juggling Act Maintaining a Work/Life Balance

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This weekly feature was posted on KidsGrowth Professional, a now defunct part of KidsGrowth.com, on July 31, 2000.

The Ultimate Juggling Act

Maintaining a Work/Life Balance

Roger, a pediatric practice manager, comes home late after a long day of fighting administrative fires to find his wife asleep-the fifth day in a row and it is only Wednesday. Dr. Jones, a private practice pediatrician, catches herself confusing two different patients’ medications-this is the third time this week she has caught herself about to make a potentially dangerous mistake. John, a third-year pediatric resident, comes home after pulling the night-shift rotation at the NICU, just in time to wave goodbye to his daughter as she heads off to pre-school.

Americans work more hours than the rest of the industrialized world, the International Labor Organization found. In fact, we work 350 hours more per year than Europeans and 70 hours more per year than the Japanese. Balancing our work and personal lives is becoming a hot issue-enough that presidential hopefuls Bush and Gore are both making attempts to address it. Although pediatrics may be a field that has “family” at its core, pediatric professionals are grappling with this issue as well.

What does “maintaining a work/life balance” mean to you? It is important that you answer this question, followed by, “Do you feel that your work and personal lives are balanced?” If the answer to the second question is “no,” then its time you started working toward this goal.

Like Sand through the Hourglass

The world makes a lot of demands on our time-managed care forms to complete, payment denials to appeal, emergency cases to take care of, spouses and children demanding to spend time with us — no wonder people so often wish there were more hours in a day!

“Pediatrics puts a lot of demands on your time,” says Lawrence M. Gustin, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Northdale Pediatrics in Tampa, Fla. “It is important to make time for yourself.” But how do you do that? Diane Bradley, office manager for a pediatric practice based in St. Petersburg, Fla., says, “It’s all about time management-juggling what you do with your time.”

Putting Time in a Bottle

There is a lot of information available about managing time-making what time you have count so that it feels like you have more of it. You can buy books on the topic, hire consultants to train you and your staff, or even surf the Internet for tips and advice. KidsGrowth ProfessionalTM has gathered much of this information, boiled it down into easily digestible bits and posted it on this Web site. We found that three major themes run across much of this material.

  • Plan and Organize. “Organizational skills are very important in maintaining a work/life balance,” says Dr. Gustin. “You need to plan ahead. Know what your schedule will be like two to four weeks ahead and schedule your free time activities around that.” Aimee Goedecke, MD, chief resident of Pediatrics, 2000/2001, at the University of South Florida, says she budgets her time so that her baby can have her full attention when she gets home. “At the end of the day, I set things up for the next day.”
  • Write It Down. Whether you use an appointment book, calendar, palm-sized computer or a to-do list written on a note pad, time management experts agree that writing down what you need to do and when you need to do it helps you get it done in a timely manner. You can’t forget to take your daughter to soccer practice, call the health plan regarding the latest payment denial or go on vacation (as silly as that may sound), if you write it down and refer to your written list or schedule regularly. Put all your appointments-professional and private-in a calendar, refer to it before you commit to something new and you won’t overbook your time either.
  • Know when to Say No. “Don’t spend your time doing things that are not important,” says Bradley. “Give up all the non-necessary stuff.” Paula Peisner, author of Finding Time: Breathing Space for Women Who Do Too Much, suggests that you pause before answering a request for your time. Ask yourself if you have the time, energy or resources available. If you find the answer is no, that’s alright. Her basic principle is to acknowledge and accept that it’s O.K. to say no. “You have that choice. If you recognize how much room you have to maneuver, you can make time. Say no to others and say yes to yourself.”

Life Is Hard. It’s Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, All the Time

You can’t work in pediatrics and have a stress-free life. But you can manage the stress so you don’t have to suffer the negative consequences of too much unresolved stress. According to the American Institute of Stress, 43 percent of Americans suffer from stress-related health problems. Long-term stress has been linked to heart disease, impaired memory, lowered immune response, increased risk for catching cold, certain kinds of cancer, increased risk for infections and depression.

Each person experiences and finds relief from stress in their own manner. An event that stresses out one person can energize the next. Walking along the beach de-stresses one person, while the next is more relaxed when reading a trashy novel. As with time management, there is plethora of stress-relief advice available to you. Here are just a few tips culled from the multitude.

  • Know Your Triggers. In order to manage stress you need to know what stresses you out-what are your stressors? When you encounter a stressor, how do you react? Armed with this knowledge you will be better equipped to manage your stress by avoiding-or at least lessening the impact of-stressors and managing your reaction to them. For example, if you know that you tense your shoulders when you are stressed, you can do stretching exercises to relax them.
  • Work that Body. “I can’t stress more the importance of exercise for stress relief,” says Bradley. Swimming is a part of her daily routine. Stress management experts agree, people who are physically fit are able to cope with stress better than those who are not. Exercise not only helps you stay healthy, but while you exercise you release stress-busting endorphins, as well!
  • Take a Break. Sometimes you just need to step away from a situation in order to handle it better. “You can loose more time out of aggravation than if you get away and come back fresh,” says Susan Reatherford, site manager for Northside Pediatrics in Tampa, Fla. Taking vacations regularly is also important-research shows people are more productive when they take vacations and lead balanced lives.

Avoiding the Tragic Life

W. M. Lewis once said, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” Don’t let your life become a tragedy. Make maintaining a balanced life a priority.

How you achieve this goal will change throughout your life-as your circumstances change, so do your priorities. It is important to come back periodically and re-evaluate your work/life balance. Know what the warning signs of an unbalanced life are so you can recognize them early enough to remedy things before they cause too much damage.

Experiment with the techniques discussed in this article, throughout this Web site and from other sources. Determine which ones work for you now, save the others for later-maybe they’ll work when your life is different. The important thing is to know what kind of balance you want in your life and to work toward achieving it-in all areas: career, family, friends, hobbies, spirituality, etc.