When you’re struggling to balance workload and co-curricular activities – such as learning or mentoring – it’s not unusual to experience stress, extrapolated mismanagement of tasks and just general disorganisation.
The side effects of this, however, can cause work dissatisfaction and toxic workplace cultures to grow, in turn affecting your patients and the care that they receive from you and your colleagues.
As such, balancing workload is not just a ‘you’ issue.
Every healthcare professional needs to be able to create a flexible and sustainable work-learning balance that encourages professional growth while still providing the best possible care outcomes for patients.
In this article, we’ll provide you with the tools you need to start balancing your work responsibilities and your learning goals in the time you’re given, so that you can get the best of both worlds.
How do you actually do it?
Learn how to plan – but really plan
Planning doesn’t just mean writing down what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.
Truly accurate and effective planning includes forecasting possible blockers (more on that later), holding yourself accountable (again, more later) and allowing yourself flexibility.
You’re not a robot and neither are your colleagues! You’re all going to have days where you just cannot be bothered, and that’s fine: the last thing a healthcare professional needs at the moment is a voice in the back of their mind telling them that anything less than 100% isn’t good enough.
No matter how many hard deadlines, time limits, goals and activities you set for yourself, if you’re really not feeling like it, just stop. That’s what true planning looks like: allowing yourself the grace to stop, collect yourself, and then keep going.
If you force yourself when you’re already running on fumes, you’ll end up exhausted, frustrated and dissatisfied with your own work as well as that of those around you.
So, flexibility is the key to all plans. Check in with your daily, weekly or monthly learning plan every now and then and make regular changes when needed.
Forecast your 'hot spots'
Things often run in cycles. This includes healthcare ‘busy’ periods that are influenced by rostering, the time of year, common pay days in your community, etc. With this in mind, it’s important to identify the days, weeks or months each year when you’re usually busiest and adjust your learning plan accordingly.
Now, this goes both ways: when you’re likely to have a calmer week at work, set aside an extra hour or so to complete some learning.
You might complete some learning while watching your favourite TV show, or you maybe you spend an hour completing a few topical lectures with a friend before heading out to dinner one night. However you do it, have an understanding that busyness fluctuates – and it’s a sign of professionalism and maturity if you’re able to keep up with it.
Set a hard start and end time for your learning sessions – and hold yourself to it
Training yourself to switch into learning mode whenever you need to is an essential skill - and will pay its dividends.
You have 30 minutes between leaving work and catching the bus? Take out your phone and complete a short Ausmed course on perioperative hypothermia to pass the time. That’s half an hour banked for later when you’re home to switch off your work brain and do something recreational.
In short, when you master the skill of switching into ‘learning mode’, your learning sessions will stop bleeding into other areas of your life. It may seem like overkill to do a hard ‘pens-down’ when the clock strikes, but stopping within a minute of your learning ending is great for your mental health.
Make it easier for yourself by setting a timer; you won’t constantly be checking the clock or worrying you haven’t studied for long enough. Finish when the alarm sounds and complete anything you missed in your next session.
What else is there to learn?
Balancing your workload with your learning plan and goals is only a small cog in a bigger learning machine: you need to be confident in your learning efficiency for true balance to be achieved.
To find some in-depth articles about optimising learning efficiency, check out these Learning Theory publications on The Handover;
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