Four Tools for Reducing Burnout by Finding Work-Life Balance


If your career feels like an 800-pound gorilla that's been crowding out the rest of your life, it's time to find some balance.

Fam Pract Manag. 2016 Jan-Feb;23(1):28-33.

Author disclosure: Dr. Drummond is an author, speaker, and consultant on the subject of physician burnout. © 2016 Dike Drummond, MD.

A new study has found that, between 2011 and 2014, the burnout rate among family physicians increased from 51 percent to 63 percent.1 Yes, you read that right. Nearly two-thirds of us are experiencing burnout.

In previous articles in this series on physician burnout (see the “Series overview”), we learned that burnout occurs when our mental, physical, or spiritual energy accounts have a low balance over time. To prevent burnout, we have two options:

  1. Decrease our energy expenditures by reducing stress (see article two in this series),

  2. Increase our energy deposits by finding ways to recharge and create more balance in our lives.

In this article, we will discuss the latter, specifically, four tools for creating work-life balance.


This three-part article series has explored the following:

To implement the tools effectively, it is important to understand that work-life balance is not a “problem.” Problems have solutions, but there is no simple, one-step solution to work-life balance. Instead, work-life balance is a dilemma. It is something you must attend to regularly using a multi-part strategy. If you are not paying attention to it at least twice a month, you will be out of balance very quickly. For many of us, this tendency to be out of balance began as early as our premed days.

The reason work and life seem in direct conflict so often is simple. The time and energy required for each comes out of the same pie. Each must take from the other because the pie is finite. Managing this give and take is an ongoing process, but the tools presented in this article can make it easier. We'll get to those in a minute, but first let's address a gorilla.

The 800-pound gorilla

Imagine for a moment that you live with an 800-pound, silverback lowland gorilla in your house. This is a wild gorilla. He is not a circus animal and doesn't know a single trick. Imagine how much of your house this gorilla would occupy and how much space he would leave for you and your family. You would be relegated to just the outer edges of each room, and the gorilla would make a mess wherever and whenever he wanted.

The gorilla is your career. The house is your life. Without strong boundaries and good balance habits, your career will tend to crowd out your life, leaving you just scraps and making messes at the most inopportune times. The career that was supposed to enable an extraordinary life can dominate the house, leaving little room for anyone or anything else.

But all is not lost. This gorilla can

About the Author

Dr. Drummond is a family physician, CEO of (, and author of the Burnout Prevention MATRIX Report containing more than 117 ways physicians and organizations can work together to lower stress in the workplace ( He was a general session speaker at the 2014 AAFP Scientific Assembly.

Author disclosure: Dr. Drummond is an author, speaker, and consultant on the subject of physician burnout. © 2016 Dike Drummond, MD.



1. Shanafelt TD, Hasan O, Dyrbye LN, et al. Changes in burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in physicians and the general U.S. working population between 2011 and 2014. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(12):1600–1613.

2. Seeman TE. Health promoting effects of friends and family on health outcomes in older adults. Am J Health Promot. 2000;14(6):362–370.


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