The Best Time Management Advice for Doctors You’ll Ever Read

I was recently flipping through the latest copy of Entrepreneur Magazine — and I often find reading these magazines that the most insightful article is the one at the very back. This month’s issue didn’t let me down.  Called “A Delicate Balance” — devoted to time management principals.

Usually this topic makes my eyeballs dry up from boredom — it’s usually a regurgitation of the same old advice: monitor your time, prioritize, organize, delegate… yawn.

But this one grabbed my attention, because it shed light on a notion that I have long suspected — that the whole idea of a “work/life balance” is a farce. It doesn’t exist. When you are focusing your attention on one major area of your life, of course the others are going to feel like they’re in the shadows for a while. Think about when you launched your practice — you worked (and maybe still are working) long, thankless hours, missing family activities, checking emails on weekends with alarming frequency. But then once things were up and running, you could adjust your focus a bit, take your family on vacation, play more golf, cross an item off your Bucket List…

I remember in my last year of law school, I attended an annual conference held by the New Zealand Bar Association. Unbelievably, someone enlightened had invited an amazingly interesting person as the keynote speaker — director and screenwriter Jane Campion (who directed the Oscar-winning movie The Piano, which was filmed in New Zealand). I remember nothing else from that Bar conference, or anyone else speaking — just Jane’s advice on work/life balance.

“It’s a trade-off,” she told us. “I have a young family — a daughter — and when I’m directing a movie, it’s completely consuming for 60 days. My family understand that for the next two months, I’m basically going to be a basket-case focused on my own problems and challenges and not exactly thinking about theirs.” She laughed. “But then when my 60 days are up — I make it up to them — I’m totally focused on them and their needs. We go on vacation, I’m at school plays, volunteering in the classroom — whatever I can do. They understand and… it works!”

British poet David Whyte puts it another way, which I can also relate to. The way he sees things is that we all have three lifelong commitments (or, as he calls them, “marriages”):

1)   To work.

2)   To a significant other and our family.

3)   To ourselves.

“To neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments, but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.”

In the same way that Jane Campion described her time-juggling, Whyte talks about having a single, constantly moving conversation between all three, always changing back and forth, that ultimately we hope will lead to a “marriage of marriages” — a family and significant other who loves us, a life worth living, and one we can call, despite all the difficulties and imperfections, a life of our very own.

The moral of this story is: stop striving to achieve work/life balance. Give yourself permission to create a life worth living, cut yourself some slack, spend some time with your family, and don’t beat yourself up for having to work late sometimes (hmm… I think I might need to pin that piece of advice to my wall to read myself…)