How to Restore Your Veterinary Work Life Balance

  • Sep 04, 2020

Categories: Blog ,

One of the most universally-held truths today, no matter who you are or what you do, how many animals you see in your clinic or how many staff you have, is that everyone is overwhelmingly busy. 

More than anyone else, these professionals are giving of themselves – their time, their energy. What’s one more patient seen at the end of a busy day? What’s one more phone call or email answered? 

There will always be emergencies, situations or circumstances where the only thing to do is answer the call of duty. The vast adoption of smartphones and email, however, tools meant to foster productivity, have instead wreaked havoc on our work-life balance.

We live in a state of anxiety, primed to jump into action at the first sign of urgency. The demands we’ve placed on ourselves are so great and our schedules are so packed that we don’t give ourselves the thing that allows us to keep on being great at what we do:

Time to care for ourselves.

Here are a few things we’ve found you can do at home and in the clinic to improve your work life balance and avoid feeling burnout.

Schedule time with family and friends

The irony of suggesting yet another thing be scheduled, is not lost on us, however, by having a recurring plan to spend time with your spouse, children or your friends, you no longer have to worry about “making” time for them. 

It’s far easier to make a habit out of a commitment and routine than a spontaneous desire. Having defined plans with others prevents us from dedicating more and more of our lives to workplace and allows us to claim more of our days back. 

Try to maximize efficiency

Disrupting work-life balance is so dangerous because work never ends. One of the most frequent contributors to its disruption is the desire or need to bring work home with you. Maybe you’ve inadvertently spent too long with your patients and their owners; maybe you’ve found yourself interrupted too many times by errant phone calls or emails; and you’ve ended up without time to fill in their records.

If you really can’t find the time in your day to set aside to do paperwork, another efficient solution would be to use dictation software, such as Talkatoo. Talkatoo contains the most comprehensive dictionary of veterinary terms in a dictation software. While your hands may be occupied, you can be confident that everything you say is being accurately transcribed.

Take up a new hobby

You work hard, and you’re entitled to time off, time where you don’t need to worry about what’s going on in the clinic. What often happens is that we struggle to find things to keep us occupied, and so we return to what’s familiar to us – working.

Hobbies are a great way to fill your time so that you don’t default to thinking you should get some work done. In particular, keeping a journal and spending time writing is a hobby you may find worthwhile. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B, “by putting feelings into words, we give ourselves more power over them.” Not only does keeping a journal allow for personal reflection, it can help create division between your two lives.

Journaling isn’t for everyone, but luckily there are a lot of other fun ways to spend your time. Join a book club and enjoy something that isn’t a medical text. Take a class. If you make an honest attempt to keep work out of your mind once you get home for the day by replacing it with something else, you’ll find that you won’t be as tempted to check in, and with that you’ll be less anxious.

Rely on your team

If you didn’t want to make a difference and help your patients and their owners, you probably wouldn’t be a veterinarian. Many of us are terrible at asking for assistance ourselves. Maybe we think it’s simply easier and faster for us to do something ourselves, but the truth of the matter is that we would be better served by delegating more to our staff.

Members of your team have been right there with you in high-pressure scenarios, emergency visits and surgeries, and if you can trust them with such sensitive matters, you can certainly trust them with other, more routine tasks. Others in your clinic are just as eager to make a difference as you are, and they would likely be thrilled to take on additional responsibility if asked.

In addition to freeing up your time, preventing you from feeling overwhelmed, delegation gives your team the opportunity to improve their knowledge and skills. Having multiple staff trained on specific tasks creates more flexibility and can help reduce anxiety.

Get physical

One of the best things anyone can do for themselves is exercise, even if that just means a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood every evening. Not only can working out reduce stress through the release of norepinephrine in the brain, it can also improve sleep quality, increase energy, decrease anxiety, and combat depression. Secondary to the physical benefits, exercise provides quiet, focused time for thought and reflection; if there’s a tricky problem you’re facing, you may just come up with an answer.

Exercise is now much more popular than it previously was, and not only are different types of workouts readily available, many of these communities bring with them a strong social aspect. A 200-mile endurance run across Washington’s Cascade Mountains might be a bit much (unless you really like a challenge), but pushing your limits with crossfit or participating in the spectacle of a spin class, with music blaring and lights pulsing, will help you focus on being yourself, in the moment, with work completely out of your mind.

Understand when you work best

Apple CEO Tim Cook famously wakes up at a quarter to four in the morning, and goes to the gym before work. If many of us tried to emulate this behaviour, we would just end up making ourselves miserable. Everyone has a different routine that they are comfortable with, and while a common piece of productivity advice is that you should wake up earlier, it’s not a net positive. 

If you’re a morning person, you should tackle your most difficult tasks before lunchtime, before the post-lunch slump sets in and you find you don’t have energy for much. If you’re a night owl, you may find the reverse works better: start with a bunch of easier tasks in the morning and gradually up their complexity.

Emergencies and unexpected events are a fact of life, but if we try to structure our days based on our ability to focus – which does not exist in a vacuum – we may find that we can get a lot more done, and can leave work at work. 

Go on vacation

As much as we all love caring for our patients – and their owners – we carry around the stress of frequently working in high-pressure situations with us. One of the best ways to decompress is to seek out a change of scenery, even if only for a long weekend every few months.

For all of the existential angst that it causes, the majority of human working life is very repetitive, and the overwhelming sameness of the established routine can lead to burnout and depression. A vacation does not need to be an expensive, lavish affair; go camping or stay in a cottage (remembering to leave your devices at home). If you don’t want to go far, you could always stay in a local hotel and explore the attractions in your city that you don’t see often, like theatres, parks, and museums.

Vacations are a great way to put some distance between yourself and work, giving you the opportunity to focus on enjoying life, and when you come back you’ll feel refreshed and ready to give your all.

Block access after-hours

When smartphone makers themselves have started to offer tools aimed at preventing over-use of their devices, you know there’s a problem. In the name of convenience, many of us have our work emails enabled or software installed on our personal devices, where its presence alone – a reminder every time you look at your device – creates anxiety. Having even a single unread email is incentive to get involved with work, regardless of the time or venue.

If carrying a separate phone for work seems prohibitive – despite the work-life balance it helps foster – consider blocking access to your work email and applications after you leave the office for the day. While the block can be subverted, it takes effort to do so, making you more mindful of what you are doing as opposed to just mindlessly tapping an icon.

This suggestion may seem a little extreme, or even unthinkable for some of us, but remember: many great things were accomplished, diseases cured and peace brokered, without electronic communication. If there’s an emergency, you’ll get a phone call, not an email.

Take care of yourself

There’s a reason that a spa visit or a trip to the bookstore can seem like such a luxury; we’re very rarely able to do things we honestly enjoy. We come home from the clinic worn out after a long day, all we have the energy for is to eating dinner, putting on our pajamas, and sitting down in front of the television for an hour or two.

While this may be enough relaxation for some, using all of the energy you have at work means that you have no capacity for things that aren’t work, which can swallow you up exactly like working all of the time can.

On slower days, when you might have energy left over, seek out and do things you enjoy. Have a date night. Go to the movies. We’re cursed with a very finite amount of motivation and desire, so we need to push back against our inclination for passivity. Doing what you love will always be the right choice.

Limit distractions

While it’s a bit grim to think, a clinic being busy is a positive thing; the busier it is, the more patients you’re able to help, and that’s ultimately how you keep the lights on. However, it also means you’re more likely to be bothered when you’re trying to do something, whether someone comes into the room or you get a phone call. 

Some types of interruptions are beneficial – if someone with a question about what you’re already working on, for example – but most distractions are counterproductive, with studies showing that it often takes over twenty minutes to regain the same level of focus on your work as you had before you were interrupted.

We know clinics can get hectic, but people were also not made to multitask, especially when the quality of the work matters. While we’re in the clinic to be helpful, we can’t assist with every issue that may arise, and sometimes we simply need to say no. If you make a conscious effort to focus on the task at hand and empower your team to make decisions that they may usually come to you for, you might find that distractions occur much less frequently.

Take small steps

Work-life balance is not something that can be attained overnight, and it’s not consistent between people. Rather, it is a journey where you experiment with in order to find out what works for you. We all want to make big, sweeping changes to our lifestyles when we’re unhappy, or when we feel like our backs are against the wall, but making a big change requires so much dedication and willpower that those changes rarely stick, ultimately leaving us frustrated.

You don’t need to suddenly lock all of your devices away, but maybe make it clear that there are only certain times you check for messages. Instead of spending your weekend cleaning your entire house and running all of your errands, focus on an individual room or a specific task every day.

Small victories give us momentum and a sense of accomplishment, and even the most arduous goal can be broken down into simple and achievable tasks. Make an effort and keep pushing forward, and while things may not be perfect, you’ll find yourself in a position that was much better than where you started. Speaking of perfect, don’t forget to…

Be human

Things will never be perfect. This is a statement we understand to be true, and yet we push ourselves, working longer and longer hours in the pursuit of perfection. This is a particularly challenging subject in the veterinary field, as we want to do a perfect job when helping our patients, where the prospect of “good enough” fills us with worry and fear. We want to change the world, but we are each only capable of so much.

There’s a lot to be said for professionalism, but we need to be more willing to forgive ourselves if we’re a few minutes late to see a patient, or we haven’t quite gotten through all of our paperwork. Instead of fixating on our mistakes and errors, practicing self-compassion can help us become more resilient and encourage us to try our best again tomorrow. Take the time to encourage yourself – think about and reward yourself for things you’ve done really well – and you’ll ultimately find yourself a more confident and happier person.

Every person has to contend with the two doors in front of them: work and life. Too much work can make you feel burned out and anxious; too much unoccupied time can make you feel restless and depressed. Work-life balance is so important because it allows us to make our contributions while still realizing that we are full and important people.

We hope that some of these ideas are worth being implemented in your life.
Now we’d like to hear from you: what are some of the tactics you use to achieve work-life balance?


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