This post has been authored by Stacy G. Smith, MS, LPC as part of our guest post series. Learn more about Stacy at the bottom of this post.
Finding Your Work/ Life Balance as a Private Practice Owner
Getting started in private practice was one of the most exciting moments of my career– it was also one of the biggest learning experiences of my life. Coming from an agency setting, I never really thought about a work/life balance. I was working Monday through Friday, had nights and weekends off, and in hindsight, had no job responsibilities outside of working hours. Whenever the topic of work/life balance came up, I always brushed it off thinking, “it’s really not that hard.”
When I officially left the agency, and became a private-practice owner (yes, I jumped right in!), I initially had plenty of free time – almost too much free time – waiting for those initial clients to start rolling in; and when they did, my wide-open calendar made scheduling new appointments a breeze. I was beginning to experience the “set your own hours” benefit that everyone talked about when starting their own practice, and I was loving it. My work/life balance couldn’t have been any better.
Until… I started getting busy.
Fast forward a few months, and the difficulty of finding balance finally hit me. As calls started coming in, and the available hours I had initially allotted became fewer and farther in between, I had to decide:
- Do I turn away an ideal patient, or do I find a way to take on “just one more?” (because a larger practice equals more success, right?)
- Do I accommodate those who want to reschedule appointments during my lunch break, or do we skip our session for the week?
- Should I say I don’t have an 8:00pm opening, or can I justify making a “one-time” exception?
If you can relate to the above examples, or have similar ones that frequently show up in your practice, how do you handle them?
I fell into the trap of endless accommodation.
For the first year of practice, I noticed myself doing this left and right. I also made the mistake of thinking a practice of 25 clients equated to a 25-hour work-week. What I failed to take into account were all the non-client hours that quickly added up: documentation, case-conceptualization and planning, networking, marketing, supervision, trainings, and insurance calls. Taking on “just one more” did not only mean adding just one more hour of work to my week.
In the blink of an eye, one or two “exceptions” turned into me working weekends, late nights, and early mornings. I was feeling run-down, tired, and though I hate to admit it, even resentful. I came home one night at 9:30pm and thought, “I’m one year into private practice and I’m already burnt out?” I knew something had to change, but what was that magic formula for creating a work/life balance?
For me, the following four items were the key to restoring balance.
- Instead of asking clients what days and times they are free, I now offer them options of when I am available, then have them choose what works best for them. If a client wants to see me, they will adjust their schedule to make it work. If not, I know another call will be right behind.
- Reducing the number of back-to-back clients has allowed me to have a reasonable break to decompress, eat, and stay on top of my notes. By completing documentation in the office between clients, I no longer have to worry about taking notes home with me, which means more quality time spent with family.
- Time Limits: Setting concrete days and hours I will be in the office has allowed me to build a more predictable and manageable schedule. Knowing your morning and evening limits prevents feeling resentful for having to wake up too early, or stay too late, and miss out on life at home. I set my days and hours in TheraNest’s calendar settings, so in case I get the itch to click and make “just one exception,” a nice red box will pop up to remind me otherwise.
- Client Limits: “The more the better,” does not always apply in private practice settings. There came a point where the more clients I took on, the less better I felt. I now have a personal client limit that I stand by, especially when the “just one more” mentality comes knocking.
The key to developing a healthy work-life balance lies in the execution. Assertively standing by your plan, and communicating it with others, is essential.
- “Sure, that works for me!” turned into “Unfortunately, I don’t have that day/time available.”
- “What days and times are you free?” is now “I have Tuesday at 5:00pm and Friday at 3:30pm – which option works best?”
- And “Yes, I have an opening on weekends,” has become “No, I am only in the office weekdays.”
- If you built in a day off, or even an afternoon off, during the week, truly use it as your time off. If we start designating our time off as a “catch-up day,” or “networking day,” then it no longer becomes a day off. Use this time to schedule in a self-care activity, or to plan a fun and relaxing event for next week.
- Schedule in your self-care. Personally, I try and engage in at least three fun activities each week that are just for me – walking around a Home store, scrapbooking, meeting up with a friend, watching a movie, etc… It’s like having a date with myself – and I certainly don’t want to keep cancelling! These activities can give you something to look forward to, and often serve as motivation to complete your work more efficiently.
With a few small changes, I was back in control of my hours, my free time, and my overall happiness! I’ve learned that establishing a healthy work/life balance does not have to be an elusive idea in private practice, but instead can be something that is very much obtainable.
If there’s one gift to give yourself this holiday season, consider taking that first step towards executing a plan for balance. I promise – you won’t regret it.
Stacy Smith is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Stacy takes a special interest in the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as well as Generalized and Social Anxiety, and has been intensively trained in the use of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, including Exposure and Response Prevention. Outside of the office, Stacy enjoys scrapbooking, exercising, and spending time with family.
To learn more about Stacy and her practice, please visit www.StacySmithCounseling.com