How does a busy professional find work/life balance?
“I feel like I am being pulled in many directions. When I get home, I am so tired that I don’t feel like I am really present for my partner and kids.”
“I chose to become a dentist because I thought I would be able to work shorter hours and still make a good living and raise a family. But running a practice cuts into my family time and I am wondering if I made the right decision.”
“Being a practice owner and managing a staff quashes my passion for dentistry. I am so tired when I get home, I don’t have the energy to really be there for my spouse and kids.”
Do these laments sound familiar to you? Juggling a career and family is a challenge for many women and one that is especially true with a professional career and perhaps ownership of a dental practice. I wonder, though, is this challenge unique to being a woman? Would it surprise you to know that the laments quoted above are all from men?
As a dental coach, I work with dentists of both genders on a weekly basis, partnering with them to hash out ideas, meet challenges, develop balance in their lives and find relaxed confidence as leaders, bosses, and business owners. I hear the same angst from both genders about how a busy professional career impacts your ability to establish and maintain a healthy family life, meaningful relationships with life-partners, be engaged parents, and have leisure time for personal well-being. This is not unique to women, although I suspect we tend to beat ourselves up about it a bit more.
Here are the top 5 actions my clients and I work together on to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Incorporate just these 5 into your routine and they will make a big difference for you:
Cultivate Your Team – Don’t just hire workers. Bring together a team of people with the right attitude and empower them with responsibility and training to be an engaged team who shows initiative, manages their own conflicts, is accountable for their own results and helps you smoothly operate your practice. That may sound like an impossibility (and you may not ever have the perfect dream team) however, there are clear and effective actions you can take towards that goal. Understanding team dynamics and the factors that influence high performance is a first step. My certification as a High Performance Team Coach has taught me that most dentists don’t really do any work toward creation of a team that is more than a series of individuals doing a job. Hiring a team coach to help you cultivate a team that is engaged and committed will go a long way towards removing weight off your shoulders and helping you to go home at night feeling energized, not drained.
Take Good Care of You! There is nothing like sore shoulders, back, wrists or feet, strained eyes or a headache to add to your frustration when having to deal with some of the minutiae of running a practice. Yet many dentists don’t take care of the golden goose, believing that youth and vitality are lasting commodities. I have worked with dentists for over 30 years and I see first-hand how hard this profession is on the body. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career – take the time to maintain your investment (you!). If you want to be practicing dentistry for many years, be sure to have ergonomic furniture, ops designed for less reaching, and work with loupes. Ensure that you have sufficient day light. Incorporate into your routine: stretching, yoga, massage, or exercise that is done in large spaces (to counteract the small space in which you work – for the mind, eyes, and body).
Take Care of Business. Most dentist’s days and weeks are filled from start to finish with patients. If so, when do you do paperwork, look at your numbers, write letters, make phone calls to your banker, lawyer, accountant or give feedback to staff? In most other businesses, a manager works on these things all day while the manufacturing plant hums along on another floor. You ARE the manufacturing plant in your business. However, all those managerial duties still have to be done. If you take work home or stay late, you are interfering with your work/life balance. Make dedicated time each week where you don’t have patients to clear your desk of these tasks. Don’t panic because you are not producing. You actually are producing and your peace of mind and attention to your business will pay dividends!
Put First Things First. Steven Covey’s Habit #3 of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Put First Things First. He says, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” What does that mean for you? It means letting go of some of the notions you might be harbouring about how you use your time and give yourself permission to begin controlling your activities and schedule with a compass instead of a clock or a cash register. The perceived need to be constantly producing is, quite frankly, a trap (see #5 Boundaries). How (and why) you work is far more important than how much you work. Setting priorities in your life will ground you and get you out of “tread mill” mode. I get it – it’s very hard to say no to doing that filling now at the end of the day for the patient in the chair, however if your priority is to be at your son’s soccer game or make your exercise class, rebook the patient. The sun will still come up in the morning and you will be there to see it rise.
Set Boundaries! Check your personal engine light! Setting boundaries is different from setting priorities. Setting boundaries means understanding your core values and being true to what is meaningful for you. As a dentist, you may have fuzzy boundaries when it comes to bringing the stresses of the day into your home or vice versa. Your boundaries may get crossed with an employee who pushes the envelope. Do you shift your boundaries to make allowances for certain people because you don’t want to confront them? Are you letting the “shoulds” encroach (I should make more money, be more successful, have more patients, have a bigger house, better vacations, etc.)? The first step to knowing your boundaries is to know what your values are (a coach will help you to define your core values, set boundaries and maintain them)! This keeps you grounded and establishes equilibrium. It removes self-doubt and replaces it with self-esteem!