The Difference: Time Off vs. Life Balance - 3 keys for vacations and holidays

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

physician-work-life-balanceLife balance is more than just taking time off or going on vacation.

If it feels like you are drowning at work ... you need way more than a few breaths at the surface to give yourself any kind of meaningful recovery.

Here are three keys to using holidays and vacation to recharge yourself in ways that will make a big difference. These are keys to actually creating work-life balance. Use these to ensure you head back to work rejuvenated and in a better place than when you punched out.


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I've tested all of these in my own life and with hundreds of physician coaching clients. Now is the perfect time to try them out over this two week holiday season when you are almost certain to get at least a couple days off.


1) Your Boundary Ritual 

A boundary ritual is a simple and specific mindfulness exercise you perform at the BOUNDARY between work and home. 

Have you ever noticed you come home and are still thinking about work and patients - stuck in your to-do list? It happens to all of us all the time. It is part of our physician conditioning. We learn how to be workaholic, superhero, perfectionists but no one ever showed us the off switch

Your boundary ritual helps you come all the way home ... take your doctor hat all the way off.

And the perfect example comes from someone you probably know really well

boundary ritual prevent physician burnout mr rogers opt -physician-work-life-balanceMr. Rogers 
- yes, the "it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" Mr. Rogers 

We don't know what Mr. Rogers life was like before he came in the door and started the show, but what did he do first every single time?

Putting on his zip up cardigan and slippers made him the Mr. Rogers we all know and love.

That is a boundary ritual

What is YOUR boundary ritual? What do you do that reminds you to come all the way home?

Here's why this is so important

If you don't come all the way home and a piece of your mind stays on the gerbil wheel back in the office ... two very important things happen that increase your risk of physician burnout

- You can't be completely present with your family (the one thing they want most of all)

- You can't recharge your energetic bank accounts because you are still being drained by your thoughts of work.

Keys to an effective boundary ritual

Your intention is number one. There is no way to go wrong with a boundary ritual if your intention is to let go of the doctor and com ALL THE WAY HOME. Whatever action you choose as your release ... let the doctor go and become simply YOU.

Physical is memorable ... so I strongly advise you take a physical action as part of your boundary ritual. Don't just think about coming all the way home ... take an action to release the doctor.

Here are some examples.

Take Cleansing Breaths (learn the squeegee breath here) triggered by any one of a number of steps in your trip from work to home
- Putting the key in the ignition of your car - breathe and release
- Turning your car off or opening the car door at home - breathe and release
- Opening the front door - breathe and release

Other Actions
- Listen to special music or chant on the car ride home - and release
- Change your clothes when you get home just like Mr. Rogers - and take the doctor all the way off
- Take a shower - and release
- Take out your contacts and put your glasses on - and release
- Work out - and let it all go
- Take the dog for a walk - and let the dog help you let go

What is Your boundary ritual?

Be prepared to do it again and again - especially the cleansing breaths - whenever you notice your mind wandering back to thoughts of work. Your mind will do this from time to time. It is not a sign that something is wrong. It is just what the mind does.
- Breathe
- Release those thoughts
- and come back to what is right in front of you right now.

The boundary ritual is a tool that works every time.  Here is what I mean ...

You will feel more present and relaxed after each time you practice your boundary ritual than if you had not done it!

The key is to do your ritual early and often on days you are off call. Set your intention to release the doctor and come all the way home. Hit the off switch on your doctor programming and give your body and soul the green light to start recharging.

The key is for you to practice ... because practice makes better.

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2) Turn your electronics off

Have you ever been out to dinner and seen whole groups of people sitting at the same table, each silently staring into the glowing screen of their cell phone and madly texting?

Typically these groups are younger people (I am 55) however the WORST addicts to technology in healthcare are physicians.

prevent physician burnout smart phone addiction turn your smart phone off opt-physician-work-life-balanceWe trade our sanity for 24/7 connection to our work. You know you are hooked when you can't leave your email unchecked for more than 10 minutes or find it impossible to sit still if your phone is -heaven forbid - turned off.

You are not your phone. You are not your email.

In fact email, texts and constant internet connections are the #1 enemy of mindfulness, presence, quality time with your family and your own ability to recharge when you are home.

Once you have taken your doctor hat off with your boundary ritual (no matter how many times you have to breathe) don't blow it all to smithereens by staying connected to your mobile device.



3) Spend "Quality Time" with the people you love

emotional energy account physician burnout prevention opt-physician-work-life-balanceOne of the primary symptoms of burnout is compassion fatigue.

Instead of empathy and compassion for our patients we become cynical, sarcastic and feel put upon by their complaints. There is a very simple reason this happens.

Inside every physician there are a set of energetic bank accounts. One of them is your Emotional Energy Account.

- You fill this account by spending quality time with your loved ones and getting your emotional needs met.

- You draw on this account when you share empathy and compassion with your family, patients and staff.

The mathematics of Empathy are very simple

You can't give what you aint got

If you are not getting your emotional needs met, your Emotional Energy Account is tapped out and you have nothing to give ... simple, yes?

How do you know if your Emotional Energy Account is full?

quality time date night prevent physician burnout optTry this mind experiment:

Take a breath and think for a moment -- of all the people you love. Take another breath and imagine they are circulating in a cloud above your head like a constellation of stars. 

As you contemplate this constellation of people you love ... ask yourself this: Is there anyone here who I owe 
- a phone call
- a cup of coffee and a chat
- a card in the mail

Because it has been way to long since we connected last?

I know your answer is yes to this question. Write their names down now and start planning to make that connection. 

Time off from your practice is a great opportunity to write a note, make that call or have these special people over for a visit or a meal.

The more you are able to express your love and appreciation for the important people in your life -- the higher the level of energy in your Emotional Energy Account -- and the more empathy you will have for your patients, your staff and even your own family.

These connections are the key to authentic life balance. All of this takes intention and planning. Get started now!

Two additional keys to being able to give your family and loved ones your undivided attention ... you see this coming, right? ... are steps one and two of this blog post
- Your boundary ritual ... so you are all the way home
- Turning off your electronics (and them turning off theirs) so you are not distracted 


These three steps are essential to transforming simple Time Off in to meaningful Life Balance for busy doctors

They are keys to recharging your energetic bank accounts when you are not at work and preventing physician burnout. We have both Thanksgiving (in the USA) Christmas and New Years coming up very soon. All are great opportunities to practice these 3 core work life balance skills for doctors.

I encourage you to get started today and always remember to practice ... because, Practice Makes Better.



- What what is your boundary ritual and how is that working? 
- What methods do you use to "turn the doctor off" and come all the way home? 



Tags: Physician Burnout, Work Life Balance, prevent physician burnout