Work:life balance used to be something that I very much put on hold. In my head, it was an entity reserved for when I was a fully functioning, accomplished vet. I was willing to sacrifice the first few years of my working life to make sure that I would be good enough at my job, to allow me to have time off further down the line. I was putting balance on a deferred payment plan. People used to say to me “you work to live, don’t live to work”, and I listened, nodded and that negative voice in my head would dismiss their comments “but they don’t understand, it’s not that easy”. As locum staff, we have our work:life balance completely at our own mercy; with the opportunity to create this, also comes the potential to be overworked. Here are five things that I learned:

1) If you believe something is difficult, you will find it difficult. Therefore, if you think work:life balance is impossible, you will find it is indeed impossible. If you say all the time “I’m a workaholic”, you’ll own that identity. Think carefully about your words and attitudes towards your work. Start with considering the ratio between work and leisure time as a top priority, and let your decisions stem from this.

2) Safeguard your time or commit to plans outside of work. Yes, vet life is unpredictable, but it is flexible and the main barrier to that being the case is often ourselves. If you plan something, protect that time as fiercely as if it were an emergency surgery. Don’t find yourself cancelling plans last minute. Hand your cases over, and go. There is nothing wrong with wishing to follow cases through, but ask for updates rather than staying to get involved if you have other commitments.

3) Don’t forget your passions. I lost a lot of my hobbies in the first few years of my career; missed practice due to work, too tired to show up. We start vet school with CVs decorated in extracurricular activities, and often these can go by the wayside. Consciously put them on your priority list. Take time to audit your outside work activities, look for new ones and remind yourself of where your other passions lie.

4) Switch off from work. Remember “there are the two thieves: the past and the future”. When you’re off work, remember the patients are in the hands of other capable professionals. Speak to yourself how you’d speak to a friend in the profession. Don’t lose your present by worrying about what happened or what might happen. 

5) Don’t be too obliging. You stay late at the drop of a hat. You’re good at your job and people know that, so they unconsciously take advantage of your good nature. Remember you can’t pour from an empty cup. To avoid burnout, you need balance. 6) Do the maths. Work out how much you ideally need to earn per week (or month), and how many shifts this equates to. Set rules in terms of how much you wish to work to maintain a good balance, and stick with them as if they were laws. I found that when booking months in advance, I was eager to please practices that I worked with and give them all of my available days; when the days came, I was overworked and had no recovery time. Now I set how many days I will work, how many consecutive shifts and distances.

Continually assess your work:life balance. See how you feel, audit what is working and what is not, and tweak from there.

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