Are you feeling like your job is taking over your life as a new speech-language pathologist? Drowning in IEP deadlines? Struggling to juggle it all? You are not alone. For many SLPs, finding a balance between work and the rest of one’s life is a goal – and a challenge. There is nothing that works for everyone, but here are five tips to consider when finding what works for you!
1. Define your priorities
“Work-life balance” is vague and has a different meaning for each individual. Identify what exactly you’re striving for by focusing on what is important to you. By nailing down your priorities, you can better figure out how to make time for them, whether those priorities are work, family, relationships, health, fitness, gardening, pets, or crossword puzzles.
This is also an opportunity to notice if you are spending too much time on any commitments that are not priorities. If something isn’t adding value to your life and you are able to stop doing it, consider cutting it out. Say no when you need to.
This is something you can even do before accepting a position! Be on the look out for these 7 warning signs that you shouldn't ignore and make sure your new gig lines up with your priorities.
Once you have a clearer image of your priorities, consider setting a tangible goal for yourself. Maybe you want to reduce the amount of time you work on the weekends, or maybe you want to find more time for your knitting projects. Whatever it may be, write a clear and achievable goal (just as you would for your students, though you can probably save yourself the data collection headache).
2. Find physical separation
Mentally separating yourself from your job can be difficult, especially as a new SLP. You might find yourself dreaming about work or wondering how to help your students as you’re trying to fall asleep. Even if you have a strategy for calming your mind, such as yoga, meditation, or journaling, those thoughts can be persistent. Try setting some physical boundaries so you can leave work at work.
Choose one tactic to separate work from your home life and try it out over the next month or so. If it’s feasible, stay at work until you’ve finished what you need to accomplish that day. Go in early if that better fits your schedule and allows you to catch up. If you need a change of scenery, try your local library or coffee shop to keep those IEPs from infiltrating your home life.
Although it can be cozy to finish your progress reports on the couch with your favorite TV show buzzing in the background, be careful not to work at home regularly if it decreases your productivity or increases your stress.
3. Think smaller and break down tasks
One drawback about the school setting for many SLPs is the workload. Dividing the lengthy to-do lists into manageable tasks can be critical to maintaining sanity in this setting. No matter how hard you work, it might feel as if you can never get ahead.
The seemingly endless influx of work can be out of your control, so make peace with the fact that there will always be more work. Focus your energy on what you should do now. If writing up that entire evaluation report at once is intimidating, aim to complete a section per day. Plan to schedule the IEP today, write the present levels tomorrow, and brainstorm goals the next day.
Find a system that works for you, whether it’s setting 1-2 manageable tasks per day or looking ahead at the week. Be reasonable about what you can complete. Feeling accomplished by completing little tasks each day is more rewarding and productive than avoiding everything because the checklist looks overwhelming.
4. Schedule time for yourself and other priorities
This is easier said than done, especially if you have additional obligations, such as another job or a family/pets to care for. Nonetheless, neglecting to care for yourself has consequences. Set aside chunks of time for yourself and your hobbies, and write them into your calendar if it holds you accountable. Even if it feels like you can’t handle anything other than your job, signing up for that once-a-week volleyball league or once-a-month book club might be exactly the break you need.
It can be simpler than that. Take the sick day when you need it. Make time for a walk in the park or a calming bath. Read the novel you’ve been wanting to read. Plan a date night or a night with friends over the weekend. If “treating yourself” is foreign to you and you’re happier caring for others, help a family member or volunteer in your community!
No matter your setting, taking care of yourself is important. Here's our Survival Guide for New Grad Speech Therapists to help you keep the stresses of work under control.
If your weekdays are simply too demanding, work hard and reserve the weekends for yourself and your loved ones. Or, schedule 2 hours to address important work tasks over the weekend and call it a day. The key is to find your own balance and spend some time on activities you love.
5. Make it an ongoing effort.
A work-life balance may not be something you can “find” or “achieve.” It is something to constantly strive for. It will fluctuate – it’s a balance, after all. Some weeks you may tip the scales toward work when you have a lot of IEP meetings. Other weeks you may find you don’t think much about work when you go home. Don’t be hard on yourself if you haven’t found a balance yet. The balance you desire might come more easily with time and experience. As you find ways to be more efficient at work and get used to the demands and pressures, you might naturally think about work less.
If you're struggling to get everything done, talk to your supervisor or mentor and see if there is any support available to you. Even if there isn’t, giving a heads-up now could help you to avoid a bigger problem later on. If you’re starting to feel concerned about your mental health, take action by seeking professional help or making a change in your responsibilities. You may find a way to handle everything out of necessity, but make sure you are not going to extremes and keep reasonable expectations for yourself.
If you need a change, pick one tip from this article and implement it next week! Take an afternoon to reflect on your experience or come up with your own ideas. Talk to a mentor or peer and see what has worked for them (or talk just to vent)! Knowing you are not alone can make a big difference. Remember that it will take time and there is no golden solution, but there are ways to make a difference in the way you manage your own life and well-being.
Have any tips that have worked for you? Leave a comment below!