Making Choices to Attain Both Personal Happiness and Professional Success.
While the phrase “work-life balance” is ubiquitous, it can seem challenging to achieve in our own lives. Our current culture of “always on, always available” and our desire for success can make it difficult to set boundaries and define our balance. Yet there is resounding evidence that long workdays and hours are detrimental to employers and employees.1
Most people recognize that limits are important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent burnout. Yet what does “work-life balance” mean, and how can we find this balance in our modern society? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because the concept of work-life balance can have a different meaning for everyone—even for the same individual at various time points.
Although there is no simple formula, by taking time for personal reflection you can establish a schedule that works for you. In this article, I will discuss starting points to help discover work-life balance and share examples from my personal experience as a solo retinal surgeon in a dual-physician household with a young child.
1. DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES
This may be the most important, and most challenging, step in finding your balance. It is easy to become overwhelmed by, and focus on, day-to-day tasks that need to be completed, but take a step back and think of your “big picture” and what gives your life meaning. Set time aside for reflection and introspection to assess your priorities and goals and be sure that you are spending a majority of your time on the things that matter most to you. For me personally, family and my practice and patients have always been top priorities. I have added a new priority: spending quality time with my daughter while she is young. Keeping larger goals in sight will anchor your choices and decisions and keep you on track with what makes you feel fulfilled as you work toward your aspirations.
2. CREATE BOUNDARIES
When new opportunities arise, assess how they fit in with your “big picture” and priorities. Our greatest resource—time—is limited, so one of the best skills we can learn is how to allocate this precious resource well. Think about whether you have the time and ability to complete a project or task before agreeing to proceed. This does not mean saying no to all opportunities but directs your energy and focus to a few key projects that will help you grow and move in a direction toward your goals.
3. LEARN TO DELEGATE
We all have endless lists of tasks to be completed daily and weekly, and some tasks are more enjoyable and easier to cross off our lists than others. An easy way to make our lives simpler is to figure out which tasks bring us joy and which do not. This applies to tasks at home and work. One office task that I enjoy is managing my practice’s billing, but I delegate re-bills. At home, I enjoy doing laundry and cooking, but delegate paying the bills and doing the dishes! Delegating tasks you don’t enjoy frees up your time and allows you to feel more satisfied at the end of the day.
4. STAY ORGANIZED
I cannot emphasize this enough: staying organized will allow you to be efficient with your time—your most valuable resource! Try to complete simple tasks immediately with full focus and energy, so you do not need to spend additional time revisiting them. For example, set aside time to take care of emails as soon as you open them so you do not have to spend more time re-reviewing messages and responding to them later.
Another idea is to keep an active to-do list, updated daily, with all tasks that need to be done, whether for work or home, and highlighting tasks that are a higher priority. At the start of each week, I create a master to-do list and write the days of the week on the side to assign tasks to each day. This helps me turn a long to-do list into something manageable, reducing stress and creating a sense of accomplishment with the completion of small tasks each day.
5. BE COMFORTABLE WITH A FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE
Some days, work will take priority; other days, home life may deserve more of your time and attention. A schedule that works well one day or one week may not work well for another. As work deadlines for projects or surprise issues arise at work or home, you may need to quickly adjust your plans. As schedules change continuously, those who are best able to maintain work-life balance take the time to reprioritize regularly.2 This requires regularly pausing for personal reflection and reassessing how your schedule can accommodate your priorities.
For example, when I have a new nanny starting with our family, I try to spend extra time at home to help her adjust. Once our nanny is comfortable in our home, I can spend more time at the office. To reincorporate balance, remember to provide time and attention to the other sphere in your life after a period when home or work has taken priority. This can be very challenging, as priorities can shift rapidly, but it is extremely important.
6. CARVE OUT TIME FOR SELF-CARE
Finally, while we can use every minute of the day to complete tasks and catch up on our to-do lists, if we do not set aside time to rest and recharge and keep up with activities that bring us joy, we will reach burnout! Allocate time daily and weekly to continue doing activities you enjoy. Whether setting aside a weekend or time in the evenings, the moments spent on enjoyment will be most memorable!
Our careers are a long-haul journey, and it is important to remember to find joy along the way. We have worked hard to reach this stage in our lives and our well-being is extremely important to allow us to continue to be high-functioning and achieve success. While this list is by no means the only approach to establish balance in your life, I hope you will take away some principles that, when applied, will enable you to develop a schedule that leads to balance and happiness! NRP
- Wong K, Chan AHS, Ngan SC. The effect of long working hours and overtime on occupational health: a meta-analysis of evidence from 1998 to 2018. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(12):2102. doi:10.3390/ijerph16122102
- Lupu I, Ruiz-Castro M. Work-life balance is a cycle, not an achievement. Harvard Business Review. January 29, 2021. Accessed March 9, 2022. https://hbr.org/2021/01/work-life-balance-is-a-cycle-not-an-achievement