Balancing work and home life is difficult, especially when you work in oncology. Which patient do you not call back on a busy day? How do you decide who you can squeeze in to your already full schedule and who can wait? And what do you tell your son when you miss another game, or stand up your daughter yet again? I knew that my life was out of balance when all the local takeouts on the way home not only recognized my phone number but knew my order. I was recycling pizza boxes more often than running the dishwasher.
As an advanced practice professional you will never have a 40-hour week; more often than not it’s more like 50 or 60. Eventually you have to start evaluating how you are using your time. I work with 2 of the busiest doctors and have my own clinic 4 days a week. It seems there is a never-ending list of patients and needs. Some have simple questions, others more complicated, and then there are those patients that we all have, the ones that no matter how much time you give them always need more.
With this large and (justifiably) needy patient group I was feeling that all I did was work, come home, eat, sleep, and go back to work. This is a schedule that is ready for burnout. So we tried a new way of triaging patients and their needs, and I was no longer getting scheduling and prior authorization calls. But I still had difficulty leaving the office. I used the extra time checking up on my patients, so my life was still out of balance. My work appeared to still be the biggest expenditure of my life.
I admit I like being busy. I enjoy days when I am running around, seeing a lot of patients, putting out fires, and wearing my mask and cape. I have always prided myself on the amount I can accomplish. This is typical of most advanced practitioners I know. Which makes me wonder, do overachieving busy people choose this profession, or does this profession make us overachieving busy people?
I find that when I have a minute and can sit down and relax, I don’t, or possibly even can’t. I look for things to do and I multitask. When I watch TV I always have the laptop, or I am folding laundry, or knitting, or anything. I can’t ever “just” watch TV.
The same goes for reading, which is something that I have always loved. I rarely read anymore unless I am on vacation, sitting on the beach with a piña colada in my hand. I find that reading allows me to stretch my mind and to see different perspectives, and good books linger with me. If I come back from vacation rested and relaxed, couldn’t I conclude that reading at home might do the same for me on a daily basis?
Downtime can help rejuvenate us, let us escape from the daily grind and from thinking about those patients that are not doing so well.
This makes me consider another possibility. Could this dilemma be related to our patients and their prognosis? Every day I see just how short life can be, how precious time is, and as I age into my fabulous fifties, many of my patients are younger than me and are dealing with decreasing time equity. Is that what motivates me? Us? Are we afraid of “wasting” time?
When I look at my lack of balance from this perspective, I realize I need to practice what I preach to my patients. “We need to focus on quality and not quantity.” How many times have we heard the expression about no one on their deathbed wishing they had worked more?
I like the term “spending” in reference to time, as if it were a commodity that I could control. Maybe that should be my goal, spending my time doing more of what I like.
So what do I like to do? I’ve already mentioned that I like to read; I also like to hike with my dogs, hang out with my children, and go out with my husband. I like to go to Book (aka Wine) Club with my friends. I just enjoy being with people.
If we look at time as a commodity, then I need to approach it from the same perspective I would for any other commodity, meaning having a budget and a plan. I find that when I have plans I become more efficient and get out on time. In order to improve my quality of life I am going to invest some time in me. I may not know how much time I have in the bank, but I am going to spend more of it wisely.