Sunday, 7 September 2014

You can do anything once you stop trying to do everything

My parents, who live in Cardiff, escaping the Obama et al circus, arrived last Thursday to spend a couple of days at the House in Scotland. Later on today we will go back down to Bolton where we will be joined by 13 other members of my family for a meal, hopefully outside if the sunshine holds! I am so looking forward to this down time. These days I treasure my weekends and try very hard to leave work behind until Monday morning. It’s my way of trying to achieve a healthy work – life balance.

Achieving a healthy work – life balance sometimes feels impossible. It’s taken me a long time to realise that you can’t put a good life on hold. Likewise it’s a fallacy to think that if you have enough time you can get everything done, you are never done! Twice last week I had days where I had back to back meetings for 10 hours each day. It is a situation that was immensely frustrating in many ways. Research undertaken in the US by John Robinson, Professor of Sociology, suggests that the happiest people are those that have little or no excess time yet seldom feel rushed.

This is something I am sure many of us can identify with. My frustration last week was caused in part by the sense that the constant meetings, one after the other, robbed me of any control over my work load and how I might best meet the demands being made of me. It is not true that as Head of School I can easily determine who I will meet and when. I have learnt over time the effectiveness of delegation but on occasions I have to do what only the Head of School can do. I try and practice what has been described as transcendental leadership. I am here to serve others in ways that enable them to more effectively make their contribution to our endeavours.

Like most people I can sometimes fall into the trap of simply getting started on dealing with whatever happens to be on the top of my pile of 'must do' things. But proximity does not equal priority. Of course it would be foolish for anyone to think that its possible to be able to do everything. I am constantly asking myself what it the most important thing for me to be doing right now, what is it I need or want to prioritise. Just because something (usually a request from someone else) is deemed urgent, it doesn't make it important and vice versa.

Most of my working life I have wrestled with making the choice between something being urgent and important. At times this dilemma has resulted in my taking decisions which throw the healthy work – life balance into complete disarray. Often it’s been the 'life' part of the equation that has come of worse and I am sure that family and friends will have suffered as a consequence.

Jeremy Hunt the current UK Health Secretary last week proclaimed that patients should expect the same standard of care regardless of the day of the week, and more doctors and nurses should work weekends. Currently many contracts for doctors and nurses do not state they are required to work weekends, and when they do work at the weekend they are paid an enhanced rate for working so called un-social hours. The consequence is that there is fewer staff working at weekends. The evidence points to this lack of staff being linked to higher death rates and complications at the weekend. As a consequence Jeremy Hunt is trying to make 7 day working the norm. All of which I applaud and support. However, ignoring the potential impact this ambition will have on health professionals work – life balance is likely to come at an even greater cost. For me, well I am trying to get into the habit of saying each and every day that I can do anything I want to do once I stop trying to do everything.