Maintaining Worklife Balance with Dr. Nell

Dr. Nell Ostermeier
August 12, 2020

RooLive: Wellness Webinar - Maintaining Worklife Balance

If you can take steps towards greater happiness in your workspace, all that goodness and restoration you accrue during time away will last longer. You’ll be able to maintain better OVERALL balance in both spaces – Work and Life – and your happiness will shine through during team interactions, client communication and patient care. Dr. Nell Ostermeier joined us on an engaging webinar about simple, effective steps you can take to find pleasure in your place of work in order to make your time away from it more valuable. You can view the webinar here.

Roo4You Blog: 6 Tips for Worklife Balance

Nope. It’s not a type-o…I don’t mean “work-life” balance. I’m actually talking about “worklife” balance, your balance AT work, not how you get AWAY from work. Too often when I talk with colleagues or friends about work-life balance, the goal seems to be “How can I get my work done, power through it, and basically just survive so that I can get away!” The problem with this compartmentalization tactic is that the space that you leave is the same space that you come back to. The things that were stressful or that you didn’t like about being at work don’t go away when you do, and often they get worse. I learned this first-hand as a veterinary practice owner and anyone holding a leadership position in their field can vouch for the same.I’m a firm believer in work-life balance and taking time away from your job or daily routine to restore. However, all of that goodness and resiliency that you accrue while you’re away will gradually (or not so gradually) dissipate as the challenges begin to pile on again. So, let’s do something about it! Let’s move toward worklife balance so that we can truly achieve and enjoy work-life balance. Here we go!

Breakfast doesn't have to be gourmet to be valuable

1. Eat your breakfast!

This can mean literally making sure that you get your nutritional requirements and coffee (Yes, please!) before getting to work, AND it can also be symbolic for giving yourself some “me” time before getting to work. This prep routine will vary for each us based on what makes us feel good. For me, this means a morning meditation, walk with my husband, doting on my tiny dog, some good coffee and a breakfast that’s not rushed. I get up at 5 am to do all of this at my leisure before being bright and alert for rounds at 8:15 am. NO, you don’t have to get up this early to have a good “Eat your breakfast” routine.

Maybe for you, the routine is just having some tea and scrolling through your personal Instagram account. Whatever it is, identify the routine that makes you feel good and figure out how much time you need to complete it each day before work. Set your alarm and carve out the time. We all know once you walk in the office door, our time is not entirely ours. So, make this time all about YOU!

2. Clear your space!

Okay, I admit it, I’m a very proud “pile” person so this is not my strong suit. But, I do recognize how much better I feel when I clear some of those piles out of my workspace. I also practice Qi Gong and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) so I get the value of Feng shui and the benefits of feeling at harmony with the physical environment around me. Working in the veterinary space is messy. Let’s not contribute to unnecessary mess in the physical workplace. What about mental space? Yep. Clear that too. Take a few moments to breathe and let go of personal problems or distractions (it’s only temporary!) before you walk in the door or start your videoconferencing for the day.

3. Minimize Distractions

Let’s talk about distractions – we could have an entire blog just on that subject alone! But, in order to keep from getting too distracted (pun intended), we’ll just have to streamline. You can do the same thing at work. First, turn off your smart phone if that’s an option or at least turn off the ringer and notifications. Come on, you know how much a little time here and there on social media and texting adds up! Plus, are you really giving your patients the best care if you’re also reading rants on Facebook while they’re counting on you? Social media has its place. I don’t turn my phone off because I love getting great action shots of the pets and people I get to work with. But, I also don’t post or read posts while I’m working with patients. I don’t have notifications on. And, I certainly don’t text and treat! Streamline your worklife to work. Leave the personal stuff for “life” time.

4. Get comfortable saying NO.

Distractions also come in the form of questions, requests, and conversations. These are unavoidable and part of the veterinary worklife, but we have more control of the timing than most of us think. Our first reaction to these distractions is usually to react. However, it might not be the best time to stop what we’re doing and shift gears. Try out some new phrases that say “No” nicely and also offer a solution at the same time. For example:

  • “If I stop and answer that right now, you might not get the best answer. Can you come back to me in 5 minutes?”
  • “Of course, I can help. I’m right in the middle of something, can I come find you when I’m finished? Where will you be?”
  • “I’d love to have that conversation, but if we have it right now, you won’t have my full attention. Can we check in right before lunch break?”

These are all ways to say “No” while still providing support and the chance for a productive outcome.

There is also the difficulty of saying “No” to patient and clients. YES, there are times we will have to say NO. If you are feeling time stress or pushed beyond your professional limits, take a moment to evaluate. Is saying “Yes” the best thing for the patient? Do you honestly have the time and energy to care for them right now? Is there an option to consider that allows you to provide better care later? Do they need to be seen somewhere else right now so that they can get the care they need and you can care for the patients already on your schedule that day?

And lastly, don’t feel guilty about saying “No” to unreasonable requests. We are fortunate that veterinary clients tend to be very compassionate, empathetic folks. However, there are always a few that will push the limits, especially if they’re dealing complicated financial constraints. You have to balance what you provide and the value you receive. If you don’t, your business will not be sustainable and burn-out is just around the corner. The value you receive at work funds your work-life balance.

5. Break and Breathe

Like I said, our time is not entirely ours when we start the veterinary workday. Also, as I said before, we have more control over time at work than we think. Research (and my personal experience) shows time and again that taking breaks makes us more productive. It’s like hitting the reset button. Working in the veterinary field, we often feel a huge amount of time stress and the pressure to push through, to write one more chart, to complete one more task, to call one more client before treating ourselves to a break. The fact is, we would actually get those charts, tasks and phone calls done more efficiently and effectively if we feel fresh.

The best way to freshen up is to take a break. For me, no matter how slammed my workday is, I ALWAYS take a walk at lunch. Some days I get 45 minutes in, some days only 5 minutes. But, no matter how much time I can take, the point is that I’m taking it…and I always feel better. A walk might not be an option for you but breathing is an option (and a requirement) for everyone. Let’s try it.

Before you move onto the last tip, please humor me by completing this breathing exercise:

  • Breathe in through your nose for 3 counts, then out through your mouth for 3 counts.
  • On the inhale, fully fill your lungs, on the exhale fully empty your lungs.
  • On the exhale, envision that you are letting go of distractions and negativity.
  • On the inhale, envision that you are breathing in focus and positive energy.

6. Have fun!

I’m so glad you’re back, don’t you feel better now? You’ll feel even happier if you practice this last tip. What can you do to make your workday fun? Joke (and laugh) with a coworker, chat with your client about their weekend plans, swap travel stories with your colleagues, share a piece of chocolate (no, not with a patient), order a special coffee or lunch to be delivered, take time to interact with a patient that doesn’t include poking them with a needle, watch YouTube videos about “How to pill your cat” or “What is a reverse sneeze”…Okay, just kidding on the last one, but they can provide a good laugh! The point is, find something quick and easy that you can do periodically at work, that makes you smile and REPEAT. These are examples of good distraction that you can infuse into your workday, to balance the responsibility and intensity of our field with having some fun and enjoying your job.

So YES, get out there, get away from work, restore, live your LIFE! At the same time make sure you’re putting effort and awareness into your flow and enjoyment at WORK. This way, the space you come back to after getting out to live, is the space you want to be in for work. Work-life balance and worklife balance - we need both to achieve our highest level of happiness, to provide the best care for our patients, and to remain sustainable in the face of everyday career challenges. Get to it – start living your best life at work today!


Nell Ostermeier, DVM, CVA, FAAVA, Integrative Vet, Motivator, Educator, Human People + Pet Integrative Therapies


"At the same time, the work of cultivating mindfulness is also play. It is far too serious to take too seriously — and I say this in all seriousness!"

-John Kabat-Zinn

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