Stop Physician Burnout - 4 steps to build a Better Day Off

Posted by Dike Drummond MD


How many times have you looked forward to a day off work - a nirvana of rest, relaxation, recuperation, leisure, pleasure and la dolce vita?

And instead you ended up just powering through the list of busy work around the house you've been saving up for weeks ...

Catch up on the laundry, clean the house, balance the checkbook, do your taxes, hit the grocery store, mow your lawn, get a haircut ... and fall into a heap at the end of the day feeling no less rested than when you left work yesterday.

That's a crappy day off

Actually it is not a day off at all. It is just another day on a different punch list. It's another day on a different hamster wheel.  And it does not have to be that way.

Here are four steps to transform your days off from catch-up marathons or a haze of simple recuperation -  to true life balance. 


Get the Tools and Support to Take Back Your Practice NOW
JOIN US in the BurnoutProofMD 3-Layer Physician Support ECOSYSTEM
Our 5 Top Video Trainings, 2 Hours of Weekly Drop-In Group Coaching, 100 CME Credits
AND the full support of a tribe of like-minded physicians - all of us on the same journey.
Learn More and Start Your 30-Day Completely FREE TRIAL



1) Delegate the punch list

"If you don't have enough time,
then you need a bigger team."
~ Loral Langemeier

This is the classic trap of our Lone Ranger programming. The Lone Ranger only has one tool in his belt. "Work Harder".

If you are a busy doctor with a family and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done ... you need a bigger team. You don't have to do it all.

physician-burnout-work-life-balance-a-better-day-off_opt300WBuild your team

Consider building your team to include any combination of the following members. Ask for references from your colleagues and friends and then get these people working for you. 

  • Lawn service, gardener, handyman service
  • Nanny, Au Pair, friend of the family to taxi the kids around
  • Cook, meal delivery service, grocery delivery service
  • Bookkeeper, tax prep accountant, financial planner
  • Drop off laundry service
  • In home massage, personal trainer

Anything on your "day off punch list" can be delegated and outsourced. It is only a matter of creativity and budgeting.

This doesn't get rid of the punch list. It does disconnect the activities of the list from your personal time and energy.


2) Clear the decks

In order to have a quality day off, you must plan for it.

While you are doing your Schedule HACK on Sunday, if you look ahead and see Thursday is a day off, what can you do before Thursday to set it up as an oasis in an otherwise busy week?

You will find that preparing for your day off is a key to your success.

Schedule your team members above to get their jobs done before Thursday. Make sure your charts are done when leave the office/hospital Wednesday night. If you have something special you want to do on that day, schedule it and pay for it up front.  

Make sure you have call coverage, even on your personal patients in the hospital

Remind the partner who is taking call on your day off - that you are off tomorrow. Do a quality check out with them. Let them know that the next time you are on and they are off ... you will make sure not to call them ... and that you expect the same from them.

Normalize the expectation of life balance with your partners and members of your call rotation.

Let the staff know who is on call on your day off and that you will not take their phone calls on that day. 



3) Balance ... not just recovery

Here comes the sweet part.

Aim higher than you usually do. Put your sights on real life balance activities rather than playing catch up or just crashing to recover from the week past. 

What's on your weekly bucket list? These are the activities that - when you can do them - make all the difference in the rest of the week. Here are a list of my client's favorites.

  • Massage
  • Mani/Pedi
  • Walk / hike / run / get your canoe out and take it for a paddle
  • Nap (or two) / read a book for pleasure
  • Cook a nice slow meal for you and your family
  • Read a book to your kids 
  • Yoga / Pilates / Work out
  • Go to a movie / play / MLS soccer game (go Sounders!)

What's on your list?

Schedule it now for your next day off and use steps one and two above to clear the decks.


4) Hold your boundaries

quality-day-off-work-life-balance_opt240WHere's a step that will challenge most doctors.

Turn your phone off on your day off

That's right ... airplane mode that sucker

If you can't/won't do that, then be ready with a comfortable rebuff if a partner or staff member calls and you pick up. Practice in the mirror or with your significant other until you can say "No" comfortably.

Here is how it might sound. 

"Hello Linda. Yes, I understand you need an order for Tylenol for Ms. Rose.

You might not know this, but this is my day off and I am sorry I picked up the phone by mistake. Give Dr. House a call for that order. He is on call.

And in the future, feel free to call the doc on call for my patients on my day off. Thanks and have I hope you have a great rest of your day."

This is a slippery slope if you cave in and just give the order

I know it is a simple act and a habit with deep roots. BUT, just think what that teaches the person who called. Correct. Now they know that they can call you on your day off and you will solve their problem. You were probably frustrated when you hung up ... and you are the one who just answered their question.

That simple order guarantees they will call you again. Dang. It was a missed opportunity to hold your ground. 

The pattern will continue until you say no, or don't pick up the call. 

Now if this is a true emergency and you are the only person who can help. You will do the right thing. My experience is that the true emergency on your day off is very, very rare. 

Last but certainly not least ... here's another big one ...

Don't look at your email

Email is the quickest way for you to end up on someone else's punch list.

Any reply you send is helping them with their agenda. An hour and 24 emails later you will shake your head as you realize this was your day off ----- until you fired up Outlook by mistake. Don't go there.


So when is your next day off ??

You can feel it coming, can't you? Use the four steps above to make it your best day ever. There is no such thing as a bad day for a nap now is there?


What is your favorite day off activity and when is the next time you will make it happen?


Tags: Physician Burnout, Work Life Balance