Work-Life Balance - does it exist for medical students and doctors?
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Your work/life balance will be based on your prioritisation of your work/career/education and lifestyle. It’s essentially about efficiently managing time between your career and the other activities and endeavours that are important to you such as your health, family and pleasure (like your hobbies, taking vacations etc.). Maintaining a good work-life balance is crucial for several reasons, mainly for your mental health and well-being. Due to the nature of the work you are doing as a medical student and will be doing as a future doctor, it is vital that you manage your time effectively. I share some tips on how I manage to give the 'right' amount of effort to my life outside of Medicine as I do to my medical degree.
I schedule everything into my iCloud calendar such as: my HCA job, university job (s), my official university timetable, extra-curricular activities (like society events), vacations and birthdays. These calendars are then synced across my devices so I know what I'm up to wherever I am. I even schedule outings with friends and date nights! This ensures that I know exactly what is coming up in the week and can book extra things into free slots, rearrange clashing activities and see if I am giving myself enough time to relax too. Most of the time, I do not even realise how much I'm actually doing until I visualise it on a calendar. It can be a wake-up call to slow down and give myself time to 'chill'.
I use Excel spreadsheets to compile lists of extra-curricular activities that I could work on throughout the year (e.g. essay competitions) prioritising them by deadline. This is pretty similar to writing your goals down but taking it that one step further and having a specific list of things you're prepared to tackle. I have a look at my spreadsheet once a month and aim to try at least 1 thing on it.
Take time off
There have been numerous times where I've felt too overwhelmed and stress to keep performing at my best. Everybody needs a break. What cheers me up the most is going on a night out, meeting up with friends or having a night in with a take away and drinks. These are the times where I try to stay off my phone, offload to my friends and catch up with them. A FaceTime with my parents always works too. After spending time with friends and family, I feel more motivated and as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Delegate tasks when possible
When I feel that there are too many things for me to do, I stop and re-evaluate my situation. I have a really bad habit of micromanaging and I'm also the type of person who's initial reaction is to say 'yes' to something rather than 'no'. It is ok to cancel things if you cannot attend them and delegate tasks to other people in your team if you are feeling overwhelmed. This will also empower them to take responsibility and take the load off of you.
Prioritise things that need your urgent attention and action - which is often my university work. Keeping up with the sheer amount of content that you will learn in medical school is vital so you do not fall behind. If I have an exam coming, I will dedicate majority of my time to revising (approx. 60%), extra-curricular will take more of a back seat (20%) and the rest of my time will be my relaxation time (20%). Contrary to popular belief, 100% of your time spent revising during exam season is not only unrealistic but it is counter-productive. You will be too burnt-out to actively learn and memorise content and lose motivation quickly. My advice is to only take on extra-curricular activities if you have the capacity to do so and are passionate enough about them. Do not let your university work suffer!
So does the perfect work-life balance exist?
No it does not! Nobody has the perfect balance - there will be a continual shift in how much time you spend on these two broad dichotomies and you will realise that they are actually a lot more fluid than you think. Your 'work' will invade your 'life' at points and vice versa, dependent on the circumstances. Be at peace with this fact and be able to adapt quickly and efficiently.
Ultimately, your happiness should be your top priority - and this is often rooted in a desire for success - so your work must play a part the balance. The goal is to strike a work-life balance that works for you and recognise when it needs to be adapted. I hope this was a helpful outlook on how to manage your time a bit better.
Check out my video with Journey 2 Med on my Work-Life Balance: