When I’m not perfecting smiles as a Park Slope orthodontist, I’m involved in study clubs and professional organizations, and I keep up with continuing education. A lot of my time revolves around orthodontics, and it’s because I’m passionate about what I do. So, I completely understand how much dedication and sacrifice it takes to reach your career goals. However, it can’t always be all about work. I’m a dad and a husband too. One of the biggest things I’ve learned throughout the process of fulfilling my dreams is the importance of achieving work-life balance. It’s never going to be 50-50, but carving out time for yourself, your family and friends will keep you grounded and prevent you from burning out. In the end, it makes you even more productive and successful.
Here are seven tried and true habits that will improve your work-life balance:
1. Master the Art of Time Management
There are only 24 hours in a day and it’s hard to juggle work, responsibilities at home, relationships and outside interests without feeling the stress sometimes. Though a certain level of stress is good to help us meet deadlines, strive to do our best, and reach goals, when it becomes overwhelming, it makes it difficult to concentrate and is harmful to our health. Managing your time effectively is essential to creating balance, keeping stress in check, and getting things done without overextending yourself. I know, it’s easier said than done and it’s something that takes practice and planning. From my schooling, residency and working as a Park Slope orthodontist, I’ve picked up some effective time management techniques that help me cross items off my to-do list without driving myself crazy.
- When trying to figure out how to balance your work and life as well as efficiently manage your time, start by logging all of your tasks for a week or two. Keep track of exactly how much time you spend doing things in a notebook or an app. After this time audit, you’ll be able to get an accurate estimate for the number of minutes, hours, or days it takes to complete different activities. It’s pretty common to underestimate how much time goes into a task which can cause us to create or agree to deadlines that aren’t all that realistic. As a result, we end up stressed and scrambling. You can’t master time management if you don’t know how long to block out for each individual task. You might also be surprised at where you’re wasting time and find ways to be more efficient.
- Put in the effort to plan and organize. If you have stuff scattered all over your desk, it’s hard to keep track of what you’ve finished and what still needs to be addressed. Whether it’s color-coding or a certain method of filing and tracking progress, find a system that works for you.
- Set SMART goals. SMART goals are ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound. Write them down, and make sure you detail all of the steps necessary to conquer them. Without goals, you don’t have direction, and it’s hard to focus your time and efforts towards the things that will further your career or life. Goals can be challenging (the best ones usually are!), but they shouldn’t be so overwhelming and unrealistic that they create a sense of overwhelm.
- Prioritize using the 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. The thought is that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort. Determine the most valuable tasks that produce the greatest reward and move those to the top of your priorities. If, for example, you’re a freelance web designer and 20% of your clients account for 80% of your profits, those are the relationships and projects to turn the most attention towards.
- Flagging deadlines and getting urgent tasks out of the way first is another way to prioritize. If the deadline is looming, push it to the top of the list. Eliminate as many urgent items as possible so you can spend the rest of your time on the things that are important to you and will help you reach your long-term goals.
2. Make Your Health a Top Priority
Eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and taking care of yourself physically and mentally will help you manage stress, improve your focus and endurance, give you more energy, and decrease sick days. When you feel good, you can function at your best. Being active doesn’t have to be a burden. Schedule exercise like you would anything else to help you stick with it but make it fun by getting a group together for a walk, a jog or a class at the gym. Even eating healthier can be a social thing. Head to one of the many healthy restaurants in Brooklyn with friends to get in your veggies and a few laughs.
3. Do What You Love
If you love what you do, work won’t feel like a chore. Of course, when you’re kicking off your career, you have to pay your dues, and we all have those necessary tasks we’re not overly excited about. Loving your career doesn’t mean loving every single aspect of it. For example, I love being a Park Slope orthodontist, but I can’t say when I was building my practice, I was bouncing off the walls over each task. Let’s be honest, paperwork isn’t my forte; interacting with people is what I love to do. But, you just do it and as time goes on, you delegate to someone who does like it and focus more of your energy on the things you enjoy.
Achieving your dreams is a journey but be present and enjoy the moment while you’re on the path. Don’t constantly tell yourself, “Oh, I’ll be happy and have fun when I get that job.” Have fun now! While you’re working towards the bigger picture, spend time with loved ones, engage in hobbies that inspire you and make you feel fulfilled and do something every single day that’s a step towards your goals. If you consistently feel overwhelmed, depressed or unhappy, it’s time to reevaluate. There’s no shame in changing your game plan or discovering what you thought you wanted isn’t really what you want after all. It’s part of uncovering your passions, finding your place in the world and, ultimately, creating better work-life balance.
4. Set Realistic, Manageable Goals Each Day
Having long-term goals is important for success (remember those SMART goals I talked about?). However, only focusing on the future can actually be detrimental. Evaluate your five-year goals and ten-year goals regularly but don’t forget to build out smaller goals that will get you there and keep tabs on those day-to-day tasks that need to be completed so they don’t spiral out of control. Daily goals move you forward and inch you closer to your big dreams. Plus, they’re concrete things you can achieve. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and control.
Creating a to-do list every night can help you refocus on what has to get done the next day. Keep it realistic and prioritize. The idea I noted of keeping track of how long tasks take to complete is really beneficial for putting together a to-do list that’s truly manageable. Some experts suggest doing the most important tasks in the morning to energize yourself and give you momentum for the rest of your day. However, if you find you’re more focused in the afternoon or evening, by all means, save your biggest challenges for then. Either way, one of the best work-life balance tips is to strive to finish the important stuff and weed out anything that’s not essential. If it’s just busy work, and it doesn’t even really need to be done, don’t let it impede on time you could be spending with friends and family.
Another note on to-do lists is if you have a big task that you’re procrastinating on because it seems overwhelming, break it up into very small, specific tasks and flush them out on your to-do list. Finish each step in order and give yourself the satisfaction of crossing one off before moving on to the next one. Rewarding yourself with something small like a short break, a walk or a conversation with a co-worker after finishing a certain number of items can help you stay motivated.
5. Ask for What You Need at Work and at Home
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or tell people what you need. People aren’t mind-readers and while it might seem like they should know you’re stressed or they’re asking too much from you, they may not. Open, honest communication is super important. If say, your co-worker leaves their portion of a work assignment until the last minute, and this puts you in a bind, tell them. If certain systems or routines at work are zapping your productivity, discuss alternatives and be receptive to feedback. Additionally, I’ve seen article after article about the best work-life balance jobs. However, some of the best work-life balance jobs are those that people have created for themselves by simply asking. If it’s a possibility, ask your boss about adopting a more flexible schedule or perhaps telecommuting one day a week.
Don’t leave your communication skills in the office. Communicate in your personal life too. Talk with your significant other and find ways to divvy up the responsibilities at home in a way that suits both of you. When everyone is on the same page and has realistic expectations, it can go a long way in making you feel more satisfied and content with your job and at home.
Similarly, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes too. If you had a busy week at work and come Friday, you just want to crash and catch up on Netflix or read a book, it’s perfectly fine to decline an offer for an action-packed weekend if you’re not up to it. Overscheduling yourself in any aspect of your life is a surefire way to throw off your work-life balance and start to feel burned out. You don’t need to make up an elaborate excuse. Be honest and keep the lines of communication open. Your friends or family will understand. The same holds true in your career. If you have exciting plans that you’re looking forward to and someone asks you last minute to fill in for them on a Saturday as a favor, there’s nothing wrong with saying no.
6. Take Breaks
Taking a break isn’t a sign of weakness and your boss isn’t going to question your dedication. Most employers even encourage employees to take time off and many see the benefit in promoting a better work-life balance among their team members. Every so often, get up from your desk, stretch, take a walk and clear your mind. When you sit back down, you’ll be a lot more focused. Short breaks throughout the day are amazing for productivity. Longer breaks are equally as important. Planning a vacation gives you something to look forward to and boosts your satisfaction in work and life. In between trips and adventures, make small changes at home. Designate a cut-off time each night where you unplug and turn off your devices. Set aside time on the weekends or days off to forget about work and focus on yourself or your friends and family. These habits will let you recharge.
7. Build a Support System
Connecting with others and having strong relationships is crucial to creating a better work-life balance and a better life in general. You’re only one person, and you can’t do it all on your own. Having a solid support system provides an outlet when you need to vent and turn to people for help or advice. On the flip side, giving people the same support they give you, often put things in perspective. Genuine relationships enrich our lives and make us healthier and happier. In fact, research suggests that connecting with others relieves stress, reduces the risk of certain health problems and increases life expectancy. Even better? Studies also illustrate that social support benefits both the giver and the receiver.
I’m a firm believer in the power of connecting with people. It’s one of the reasons I became an orthodontist in the first place. When I was a teenager, I was really shy (hard to believe!) because I was so self-conscious about my smile. After having braces, I experienced a complete transformation and became the person I was meant to be. Developing confidence, whether it’s by getting a healthy smile or challenging yourself to a half marathon, makes it easier to put yourself out there and form bonds. This will give you an edge in your career and a more fulfilling life.
These work-life balance tips help me continue to give my patients the best possible care, while also allowing me to spend time with my family and live my life to the fullest. I’ve created my entire practice around efficiency and a high-tech, patient-centered approach. I know how valuable your time is and I never want people to miss out on getting the smile and oral health they deserve because it feels like too much of a chore. At Fresh Orthodontics, we have innovative treatments, diagnostic tools and digital systems in place for appointments and treatments that are quicker, more comfortable and fit your busy lifestyle. Book a free consultation at our Park Slope orthodontic office today to learn more. We’ll handle your smile, so you can focus on what’s important to you and spend more time doing the things you love.