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Work/School/Life/Family Balance


Students and self-care don’t typically mix. School is an excellent time to prepare for real-world nursing—including taking care of yourself.

By Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN

Balance. A tricky concept. And maybe one that is never fully achieved. However, we can strive for it… yes, that is right… aim for keeping things in a state of “normal”.

I think where most of us struggle is when we attempt to attain somebody else’s state of balance.

Think about it- your colleague works full time. She also has three children and is in school for her doctorate degree. And every year, she trains for and runs two marathons. Yikes! I am getting tired just thinking about this woman!!

And that is her “normal”. That is her state of balance.

Rather than compare to other people, think about what you can realistically do- and even more importantly- enjoy.

Quit comparing yourself to others and realize that balance is something each person is always aiming for. I think I actually really love the term balance because it is something that tells me that I do not have to be perfect all of the time.

And if you are still stressing about all of this work-life balance talk, let’s go through a few practical strategies to support the work-school-life-family-whatever-is-important-to-you-balance conundrum.

Here’s three tips to living a more “balanced” life:

1) Say “No” More Often

Yup, I started out with the most difficult one first.

As nurses, we have a hard time saying “no”. There are so many reasons why this is, but I think that one of the biggest ones is our desire to help out.

Nurses are caring, giving people. If someone comes up to us and says, “Hey, can you…” most often our quick response (sometimes, without even thinking) is “Sure!”

We need to think before we speak! Saying “yes” to everyone else is saying “no” to us. It’s true. Think about it. When we are busy helping everybody else around us, we are often hurting ourselves. We wind up taking on too much and then working ourselves into the ground.

Want to say “yes” to someone? How about yourself!? When you say “no” to another person, you are actually saying “yes” to you, protecting your own time and space.

Now, we aren’t saying that you can’t be a team player. No way! You have to balance (no pun intended) your “yes” and “no” responses.

Maybe say “yes” to the overtime request this week… and next week, think before you speak, and say “yes” to yourself, turning down the overtime the following time it is offered.

2) Use a Bucketed Calendar System

Sometimes, it helps to be visual.

Think about your life in terms of buckets. You will have different ones than I do, but here are a few to get you started.

I have my work bucket, business bucket, family bucket, me-time/hobbies bucket, exercise bucket, and friend bucket. Then I have my calendar. Each week, before the rat race begins, I sit down and bucket my time out- ensuring that each area of my life receives at least some attention.

Now, if I have a big project that is due at work during a particular week, then that bucket may receive more time and attention. On the calendar, I may have a lot of items that pertain to that work project.

However, the following week and once the large project is over, I will ensure that my calendar gives more time and attention to my hobbies, exercise, or friend buckets.

So, first you need to think about your life. What buckets do you currently have? And how can you ensure that you calendar in time for each of these buckets over the course of a month?

If you’re current calendar is all work and no play- then, well… maybe just maybe you may need to revise. However, remember balance is highly individualized. So, your amount of time spent in work may be more than mine… and that is perfectly OK!

3) Enlist Help!

Yes, that is right. Ask for help. Another topic that does not always come easy for us nurses.

People come to us. We put on the brave face, never show weakness. Heck, I even got an email from a nurse just last week telling me how guilty he felt for having to leave work with a stomach virus.

Guess what… we are NOT superheroes! We are human beings. And human beings need help from time-to-time.

It is perfectly normal, even necessary, to ask for support.

And there are several ways to get help. You can pay for it- hiring people to do things  around the house that you may not have time or desire for. You can delegate it- there you go, use those nursing skills. And you can work in teams- even around the house, asking family members to pitch in with items that you just don’t have time for.

One way I like to look at it is to separate my activities out into yes/no/maybe. Yes- I love doing it. No- I cannot stand it. Or maybe- I could leave it or take it.

Then, you look at each item and the no/maybe column you think about how you might seek out help for these tasks or activities.

Think about it in the workplace. During a code, do you do every single thing yourself? No way, that would be insane! A person could die if you tried to do it all alone. Can you think about the other tasks or activities in your life with just as much significance as that? It may seem silly, but it does not hurt to try.

OK- let’s hear it! What did we miss? What other ways do you enjoy work-life-family-school-balance? Share a tip below and thanks for reading!

About the Author: Keynote speaker and bestselling author, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week ‘Art of Nursing’ program, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes-challenging realities of being a caregiver.

Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and a playful pit bull.