Work less to earn more – achieving a work-life balance

‘I was able to focus on what mattered’: Maaz Sadiq shares his advice for achieving a better work-life balance in dentistry.

Recently, a colleague posted to one of our online forums complaining of the same things we’ve all heard before – feeling stressed, overworked, overthinking every little clinical decision, aimless, hopeless for the future, fed up of dentistry and wanting to leave but not knowing how. A lot of the advice from other dentists was along the lines of: ‘Quit now and retrain in a different career.’

This isn’t bad advice, and it can work for some people, but it puts you in a precarious position financially and is therefore hugely stressful. So, I want to offer a different path. In most cases, when dentists share these complaints with me, there’s a very simple short- to medium-term solution that will eliminate most of their issues: drop your working week down to two or three days, even if only temporarily.

You see, something amazing happens when you drop a few days after being severely overworked. You begin to heal your body and mind.

Taking your foot off the pedal

When we are stuck in the grind of full-time dentistry, we take for granted that it is an incredibly demanding career, physically and psychologically.

Unfortunately, we often only realise this when we ‘hit the wall’. After working flat out for a number of years, you inevitably reach a point of complete mental and/or physical exhaustion.

It’s a bit like dehydration. By the time you actually start feeling thirsty, you’re already badly dehydrated. When you take your foot off the pedal after hitting the wall, you will heal, but it will take much longer than if you’d been proactive in prioritising self-care.

Dropping down to part-time dentistry does a few things. First, it allows you to recalibrate your clinical efficiency. Because you have more days to recuperate, it’s easier to take stock of the time you are working.

You have more mental space to cut out dead time, focus on your treatment quality and enjoy conversations with your patients, which is guaranteed to lead to more discussions around private treatment.

I don’t need to tell you that all of this is a powerful positive feedback loop that is going to massively improve your overall career satisfaction. It allows you to reflect on everything that has been stressing you out and realise that actually, that patient who complained about ‘x, y, and z’? Maybe it’s not that big of a deal after all, maybe you’ve been blowing it out of proportion. You were just too stressed and overworked to see it.

Reminder of what matters

Working less also forces you to take a step back and put things into perspective, to realise that dentistry is not the be-all-end-all. That there is more to life than dentistry.

You are forced to sit down and ask yourself: ‘What would I like to do with my time, if I wasn’t working so much?’ This is a question I ask my delegates regularly because 90% of the time, they are completely stumped by it, which is pretty heart-breaking when you think about it.

We get thrown so quickly into this vicious circle of working to live, to pay off expenses, to buy more expensive things that require more money and therefore require us to work more, and so on.

When did we forget that life is about living and experiencing the exciting as well as the mundane? It’s not just about working to pay off an increasingly expensive lifestyle.

Rapid improvement

And for those with a family, you’ll notice a rapid improvement in your relationships. You need to understand that, contrary to what many of us think, your family needs your time more than your money.

They will flourish when you spend time with them, rather than buying them expensive things – gadgets, clothes and so on. It’s only once you start giving your loved ones more time that you realise they don’t need as much money or material things as you thought. I know all of this because it’s exactly what happened to me when I was finally in a financial position to cut down my clinical hours.

I continued on one to two days of dentistry a week, and I genuinely started to look forward to going to work, seeing my patients and having banter with my colleagues. After six years of experiencing dread the night before work, it finally went away and I was able to focus on what mattered – my patients when I was in practice, and my family when I was at home.

Give part time a try

Over the last three years of coaching dentists on how to improve their financial contentment, one of the biggest messages I help them take home is the following: as a dentist, you don’t need to work as much as you think to live a happy and fulfilled life.

A contented lifestyle is not necessarily proportional with your income, especially when a consequence of that income is a horrible work-life balance. Allow yourself to work a little less, even if it’s temporary. Focus closely on the improvements it has on your mental and physical health, then return to full-time work with renewed vigour, a clear mind and revitalised goals, but only if you want to.

For many of us, we decided to never return to dentistry full time.

One of my clinical tutors at university told me something that has stuck with me ever since: ‘The happiest dentists I know work part time, and the rest of the week, they do something they love’.

I took that to heart and made a firm intention to never fall into the trap that all overworked dentists fall into. Give it a shot. It’s a lot easier and a lot less scary than you think.

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. 

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