10 Effective Ways Nurse Practitioners Can Achieve Work-Life Balance

Written By: Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC

Nurse practitioner work-life balance is something that we want, and may even talk about often, but that is challenging to achieve. When you love your job, are passionate about your patients, and have become accustomed to working long and hard hours, self-care may fall to the wayside. So how can nurse practitioners achieve work-life balance? By developing healthy habits and advocating for yourself as you do for your patients. From more intensive self-work to little things you can do in your clinic, here we will discuss the 10 effective ways nurse practitioners can achieve work-life balance.


Why Work-Life Balance Is Important For Nurse Practitioners?

As a nurse practitioner, work-life balance is key to your personal and professional success. You will have a physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging job, and being at the top of your game requires that you recuperate effectively and maintain balance in your life. When you are stressed, you will not be able to function as well as you otherwise would and risk both the wellbeing of yourself and your patients. However, it’s not all about your ability to work well. There is more to life than working. You should prioritize hobbies and people you care about so that you can enjoy the world that you live in.


(The following are 10 effective ways that can help you achieve work-life balance as a nurse practitioner.)

1. Keep work at work

While it’s true you can’t physically bring your patients home with you, don’t let that fool you into thinking that nurse practitioners don’t take their work home with them. Some days you will find you get backed up at work and are running from patient to patient with little to no time for your administrative tasks like writing clinical notes. At the end of the day, all you may want to do is head home and write them from the comfort of your couch. If this is what you want, go for it, but be wary…this thins the boundary between work and home. My advice is to come in early or stay a little late and finish the notes. This way your home time remains your home time.

Note: 2020 and 2021 have changed the face of health care. Many nurse practitioners find themselves working from home, whether it is telemedicine or administrative days. This blurs the line between work and home, and there’s not much you can do about it. However, there are some small things you can do to compartmentalize work away from your home life. Keeping your workspace at home to a designated area can help you prevent it from seeping into your downtime. You don’t need a separate office or a big house, even a small table in a corner will do. Additionally, avoid working from bed. This is not good hygiene practice and is a surefire way for your subconscious to start associating bed with work.

2. Start with your interview

The culture of the organization, hospital, or clinic you work for plays a prominent role in whether you will take your work home with you. It’s best to get ahead of this one and ask about expectations and support for achieving work-life balance as a nurse practitioner during the interview phase. Requesting designated administrative time (i.e., a block in your schedule for you to catch up on patient phone calls and notes), asking to only see a certain number of patients per hour, or seeing if you can get voice to text transcribing for your notes may be helpful. Having clear expectations between you and your supervisor from the start can make your work environment more comfortable and prevent communication issues down the road. Let them know from day one that your commitment to the job and organization is not at the expense of your wellbeing.

3. Prioritize your health

We see it all the time in health care: health professionals who preach a healthy lifestyle to their patients but don’t put that same energy into taking care of themselves. You don’t need to be an Instagram fitness guru to be a good nurse practitioner, but you do need to be healthy to keep up with the stress of the job. Additionally, it sets a good example for your patients and you are less likely to get burnt out. By prioritizing your wellbeing and health you will naturally achieve more of a work-life balance as a nurse practitioner.

4. Spend time with loved ones

Putting everything you have into your work can of course lead to job success, but we all also need our support networks outside of work. Spending time with loved ones and prioritizing personal relationships can help you stay centered and balanced. This also ensures that you continue to have a support network if you do struggle to achieve work-life balance as a nurse practitioner.

5. Develop boundaries

One of the ways in which nurse practitioners can achieve work-life balance is by having boundaries with themselves and others. It can be all too easy to get caught up in overworking yourself or taking your work home with you if that is the culture in your work environment. If your colleagues frequently take their work home with them this behavior can become normalized in your work environment. If you think your employer may be expecting this of you when it’s not in your job description, you may have to actively tell your colleagues and/or supervisor that this is not something you want to do. Setting boundaries may also look like not taking on more tasks or assignments when you feel like you are already spread too thin. In a “yes culture” this can be challenging. Learning to say no is a skill that takes practice.

Not only will you need to practice boundary setting with yourself and colleagues, but also your patients. Unless you are on call, patients need to understand that your time is not only for them. Showing up on time for appointments, calling during clinic hours, respecting how many concerns can be addressed during a certain appointment time is essential for you to optimize your time while at work. This also helps reinforce a respectful patient-provider relationship. Ultimately nurse practitioners can achieve work-life balance by carefully setting boundaries with themselves and others.

6. Know your limits

It doesn’t matter whether you are in health care or not, we all need an extra hand sometimes. We live in a fast-moving world where everyone’s accomplishments are online and in your face. Overworking is often encouraged (even if not explicitly) in the media. Companies and organizations may even reward this behavior rather than supporting employees to rest and ask for help. As a nurse practitioner, it is important to know and respect the limits of your scope of practice and energy. This is essential for patient safety. If your patient load is too high, if you are seeing too complex of cases, or you are just feeling run down and not operating as usual, do not hesitate to ask for help. Trying to power through is not only dangerous but can also throw off work-life balance for nurse practitioners. Avoiding seeking help when needed is a sure way for you to lose equilibrium between work and the rest of your life.

7. Manage your time

Time management is a skill that has been talked about since we were high school students, yet it is still something that many people have not mastered. Working efficiently to see patients, completing notes, and returning phone calls helps with nurse practitioner work-life balance. For example, what are you doing while your patient is undressing? While this might not be the ideal time to return a patient’s phone call, you could finish your last patient’s note, or even use the bathroom! Some clinics have policies where patients who are late past a certain time must reschedule their appointment. If your clinic does not have this (and even if they do), you may find that one patient being late backs up your whole day. However, if your next patient is there early, you could always try to room them and see them first. Discuss how your clinic staff would like to handle these situations so that you are all working together to optimize each other’s time.

8. Create a comfortable workspace

If you are distracted by cluster or not feeling a sense of calm in your workspace you will work less efficiently and may end up staying late to finish work. Administrative tasks like note writing can feel tedious for some nurse practitioners. Having an organized desk, comfortable chair, and decorations that make your space feel like your own can create a sense of calm in your office or workspace. Nurse practitioner work-life balance is all about working efficiently and prioritizing. If your workspace is comfortable you will be more likely to work efficiently. Additionally, having a comfortable workspace may give you more of an incentive to finish your notes at work rather than at home, if you feel like you can relax at work a bit. This can facilitate work-life balance for nurse practitioners.

9. Use your vacation time

While we know the US is notorious for not offering employees enough vacation time, many employees don’t feel entitled to their vacation time in the first place. The US does not require that employers offer a certain number of paid vacation days to employees. Nurse practitioners should look at their time off and not only recognize what a privilege it is to have it, but also that you have earned this with your hard work. Not taking the breaks from work that you are entitled to puts you at risk for burnout and resenting your job. It is not in our culture like it is in other countries to take the vacation time that we have earned. However, this is part of leading a healthy lifestyle and achieving work-life balance for nurse practitioners. It enables you to recuperate, destress, and come back to your job with a clear head and love for what you do.

10. Don’t reinvent the wheel

This is some of the best advice I received early on in my career, and it has contributed directly to my nurse practitioner work-life balance. Whether it’s trying to come up with a treatment plan that aligns with clinical guidelines and works for your patient, developing the best clinical note structure, or making a list of social workers in your area, see what people around you have done. When you are struggling with what might be the best clinical plan for a patient, ask your colleagues if they agree with your plan. They may have encountered a similar situation before and have new ideas or thoughts. If you love the structure of your colleague’s clinical note, ask them if they are willing to share a template. Check to see if your colleagues already have a list of social workers before you spend time making one. Not reinventing the wheel does not mean you are lazy; it means you are resourceful and respectful of the work that others have put in before you. Not only will this save you stress, but it will save you time and help you keep work and home separate.

Summing It Up

So how can nurse practitioners achieve work-life balance? As you have seen here this may begin before you even start your job. Work culture can dictate much of the balance that you have in your life and some of this (such as expectations and patient load) can be discussed when you are interviewing. Most of the ways described here are habits. It will take a little time and persistence for you to implement them in a way that works for you. It is important to remember that while as we may love our jobs and be passionate about caring for others, we need to put an equal amount of energy into caring for ourselves as well. These 10 effective ways to maintain work-life balance as a nurse practitioner tend to revolve around strategies that will help you keep your work and personal lives separate such as time and stress management.

Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
Lauren Jacobson is a registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner who is passionate about global health and gender-based violence prevention. She is Editor and an Advisory Board Member for the Global Nursing Caucus and volunteers with Physicians for Human Rights as a medical evaluator for asylum seekers.