By Pathusha Pushpakanthan
Year 2 Kings Medical Student
I think I should start off by admitting that I still find it very challenging to achieve a good work-life balance from time to time. Especially now as I write this post during our third lockdown - sitting at a desk all day is not easy! Whilst researching for this post, I came across similar tips shared by leading career mentors, medical trainees and from students themselves.
So, to begin with, what is a work/study - life balance and why is it so important?
· Work/Life balance is reaching an equilibrium between meeting the demands of your studies or job, with meeting the demands of your own needs.
A healthy balance helps to:
develop a healthier mindset against challenges that appear in either aspect (work or life)
I remember in the first term of medical school, the transition to this new level of study was overwhelming and it put immense pressure on me. I focused all my efforts into studying and put my self-care in the passenger seat, affecting my sleep, mood, and memory. There are many studies demonstrating that a poor work-life balance affects both physical and mental wellbeing.
Here are a few tips that hopefully you can use to help build your own plans to achieve this balance:
1. Effective Time Management
This is a tricky one, not only because when I hear “time management” I get flash backs to
medical school interviews, but because it is not easy to set times in the day to achieve
certain tasks when there are so many distractions, or tasks that end up taking longer than expected.
Use a planner to organise tasks /Calendar on your devices
Making more realistic goals, both on what you need to achieve for work and for your own wellbeing
I put a huge emphasis on realistic goals because a common pitfall when setting goals is planning to tackle too many tasks in one day. You may feel disappointed at the end of the day when you don’t manage to complete all of them.
Making goals for your own wellbeing – personal goals
I like to split my diary into work goals and personal goals each day. This can range from simple house chores to taking a bath or even cooking a home-made meal. A useful resource that I found aside from a diary/calendar, is the app Trello – it’s a free tool that allows you to organise the different projects you have on one board. It also allows you to track the progress of each of the different projects.
2. Good Studying and Relaxing habits
This is a key skill to home in on, as a mind that is switched on all day is not sustainable
and will most definitely lead to burn out and poor mental health. The first step to building
better studying and relaxing habits, is :
Separating the study environment from the relaxing space
This may not be possible if you live in halls, but what I like to do is to find a
small quiet cafe nearby or go to the library to work.
The aim of relaxation is to decompress the mind and body. I put body in bold, because as a medical student it is so easy to sit in a chair all day and study without moving about much. Simple things like a quick walk to get a coffee or even sticking your head out of the window for a few minutes and breathing in fresh air, can lift your mood and help you to produce better quality work. Another key habit that I have learnt, is:
Establishing a good sleep pattern.
Professor Mary Morrell undertook research on the importance of sleep which showed that a lack of sleep can lead to poor brain function (specifically memory consolidation to retain what you have learnt), as well as poor immune function.
To summarise this tip:
Creating a distinct study environment, moving your body and a goodnights sleep are good studying and relaxing habits.
3. Acceptance that this balance can’t always be perfect
My final point, that many of my peers also feel, is that once in a while you may feel stuck
and overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do. The boundaries that you had set for yourself may disappear. Sometimes it’s hard to even realise that you aren’t giving yourself that time to replenish the mind. If you do realise it, be kind to yourself and remember that you are not alone in feeling this. Many students get overwhelmed by work, but realising that you haven’t achieved this balance, will allow you to change your habits and do something about it!