As women and moms, we are notorious for being able to multitask. It's actually quite important to our survival! As doctors, we also learn the art of multitasking at work as we juggle patients, employees and office management.
My experience is that, too often, we mix our emotions and stress with our patients, employees and families. As mothers and given all of our competing priorities, we have a tendency to place ourselves last on the totem pole. We make sacrifices for everyone else and for our practices so that we can successfully multitask. But we don't really take the time for ourselves often enough. I don't want to use the term “self-care,” as that seems, in pop culture, to be thrown in with getting massages and manicures. But what I think is equally important is creating space for oneself. But what exactly does that mean?
What is 'creating space'?
Many of us have room to compartmentalize our lives more effectively, even though it is hard to do. I know that for myself, I have room for improvement. I mix everything together and therefore have a hard time separating out my personal life from my work life. It all bleeds together. And as a self-proclaimed “workaholic,” I will be that person who works all day, then picks up the kids for dinner and answers calls and emails while making dinner, then goes back to work after the kids are in bed.
This sounds completely unhealthy, doesn't it? But when you own your own business, it can be a necessity, an ugly truth. The brain never turns off, and it's hard to turn it off. It's equally hard to be present with your kids and spouse.
In attempting to remedy my tendency to work all the time (even on vacation), I have tried really hard to separate out my time. It takes effort and planning, but I do try to assign set hours in the day to accomplish certain things, like exercise and meal planning. It sounds sensible, it sounds easy to do, but really, it takes some real restraint and discipline!
I call my attempt at doing this “creating space.” For me, that means doing a better job at compartmentalizing my life and blocking certain parts of the day for certain priorities, some for business, some for family and some for myself.
How have I created space for myself?
Well for starters, I have created a physical space in my workplace that is my own. I used to share my office with my associates, and the door to my office was right off the hygiene bay. It was quite the revolving door. I had no privacy from my team and definitely none from my patients, who often meandered into my personal space. I also created my own personal space at home where I can retreat and have my own place to create and bring my projects to life.
The next thing I wanted to do, besides creating physical space apart from people I work with, was to find some emotional space, “breathing room,” if you will, which I needed. There were so many days of employees coming through and dumping their problems on me, especially at the end of the day when I was wrapping up to go home. Typically, I responded with, “Have you discussed this with your manager?” and that usually did the trick, but there were always other issues that needed my attention. Those were stresses that often ruined my day. “I'm sorry Dr. Yum, but I'm giving my two weeks' notice.” Or “Dr. Yum, I can't get along with my manager. She is driving me crazy …” And we all know those problems that come with working with a team. We, as owners, learn to use the consultant speak: “I know that the two of you can work things out” or “What do you think are some solutions to your problem?” But that doesn't always come out of our mouths, does it?
I know, for myself, that I am the typical person who wants to fix everyone's problems. And the more I do that, the more they expect me to do it, and the more their problems end up on my plate. By creating space and asking team members to come up with solutions, you are keeping the issues at an arms-length so that you can protect not just your time, but also your emotional capacity.
Too many times have I allowed my team members or patients to emotionally charge me, and I take that negative energy home, which is not fair to my children or spouse. That negative energy is also not healthy for me physically, so I have tried to compartmentalize those problems and set them aside so that I don't bring that energy home to those who do not deserve it.
Creating space can also mean creating an environment for yourself to slow down, such as a private office or room in your home, and think things through rather than being reactive. Being on a hamster wheel can be exhausting, but sometimes you don't know how tired you are until you get off. Take the time to take a step back and reassess.
Another suggestion is to block certain times in your calendar for certain activities, whether for work or to create space. For example, at certain times in the year I block my schedule every other Friday for time away from work. I keep time on my calendar to work out almost every day. Those are just examples. I find that managing my time by keeping a calendar and sticking to it helps me compartmentalize my time.
I also find that outsourcing things I can pay others to do frees up more space. That includes simple things like picking up prescriptions, scheduling appointments, making dinner reservations. The time on those can add up – offloading them frees up a lot more time in my schedule. And having more time allows me more space which is valuable, which is why I pay someone else to handle those things.
You can calculate the opportunity cost of spending too much time on low value activities and then decide how much you'd be willing to pay to get the time back, either by offloading tasks to an assistant or by revisiting your priorities on how you want to spend time, not spending too much on things that are not very important to you.
That “space” will help you to manage your time, stress, and relationships. And hopefully, get you off of your phone and emails on your next vacation!
Grace Yum, D.D.S., is the founder and CEO of Mommy Dentists in Business