The Times of London: Work-Life
From The Times
December 4, 2007
Work – Life
How is your work-life balance? You can’t succeed unless it is good, says leading
US life coach Ginger Cockerham, who gives ‘ laser coaching’ to readers of The
Times. Here she looks at the way a busy surgeon manages her time.
Jane Linsell, 53, has been a consultant colorectal surgeon for 13 years. She also has a hospital
management role as the divisional director for surgery, theatres and critical care. Her husband, a selfemployed coffee trader, does the shopping and cooking.
Jane finds her job hugely rewarding, but being on call one night in five and one weekend in five, and
keeping up with her work e-mails, mean that she struggles to find the time — and the energy — for
herself, her husband and leisure activities that they enjoy.
“I love my garden, but this year I have hardly done any gardening because of work demands,” she says.
“It gets frustrating. We like walking, the theatre and ballroom dancing — but that’s difficult when your night
on call isn’t on a regular night.
“The only thing I’m good at is taking holidays, though you come back to another load of e-mails and can
never get on top of them. I daren’t go more than three months without a holiday, or I become shorttempered. The patients won’t notice, but people who work closely with me will.
“The bit I find difficult is the management side. The surgical side can be demanding physically and
psychologically, but it’s something I was trained to do, I’ve done for a long time and I really enjoy. I love
the patients: because I do cancer work you tend to build up a rapport with them, even when times are
bad. It’s a real privilege.”
Jane’s typical working day
6.45am Get up, have tea and toast, take my husband a cup of tea.
7.25am-7.50am Drive to work.
8am Ward round, a meeting or see patients before theatre. If I have an hour to myself I try to catch up on
e-mails or the tons of paperwork. I get about 30 e-mails a day, none about second-hand cars. A few are
patient-related, most are about my management role. Some of them have got massive attachments.
8.30am-6.50pm Some days I do operating, some days an out-patients clinic, some days endoscopy and
some days I do meetings and see patients. I don’t often get a break. I take my own sandwiches because
otherwise I don’t get any lunch, and I eat either in a meeting, while I’m trying to answer e-mails, or as
somebody’s firing questions at me. If I remember I get a drink, but I don’t always remember. I drink a
moderate amount of coffee during the day, but my biggest problem is that I don’t drink enough of
7.15pm Home, and my husband will have a meal ready. We almost always eat together unless I do
emergency calls, or if I’m held up at the hospital I might have my tea in the microwave. My husband cooks
from fresh ingredients; he’s very skilled and I couldn’t manage without him. We have a cleaning lady — I
can do washing, but that’s about it. I’m fairly untidy.
8pm The management side of my work means that I’m often writing things, reading, preparing for
meetings, signing letters, answering e-mails at home. I do sometimes watch telly, but I might have my
computer on my knee and paper surrounding me. Otherwise it’s difficult to keep up.
10.45pm Cup of tea and bed.
GINGER SAYS . . .
Jane and I started by celebrating how fortunate she is to value her work and love her patients. That’s
where her skills and talents are. She said it is the management role that drains her energy.
A recent success in delegating encouraged her to explore with me how she can delegate more in that
arena. For her to do this two things are going to have to happen. She’s going to trust the people that she
delegates to, and she’s going to have a reporting system so that she is assured that the things she has
delegated have been done.
This will reduce her e-mails dramatically because people won’t report to her on the details of each task,
just the big picture. As they are accustomed to copying her on all details, it will be necessary for her to
educate the team as she puts the new reporting system in place.
She’s agreed to have the system in place in two weeks and she’s going to e-mail that to me.
The second thing we talked about is that Jane doesn’t have any time for herself in her working day. She
eats while she’s doing something else, she isn’t even drinking properly. She said just talking and thinking
about this had made her buy fruit juices and so she’s already made one change.
I asked her to take a 30-minute recess every day where she relaxes, takes a walk, has a leisurely lunch,
or whatever. She said she didn’t think she could do that every day until she delegates more, but she
would commit to doing it twice a week.
Coach’s note: It’s because Jane doesn’t ever take a break when she’s working that she feels completely
wound up. Her working day is almost like a perpetual sprint, where it should be more like a marathon, and
because she sprints all the time she feels she needs a holiday before she reaches the point where she’d
Executives need a period of relaxation or de-stressing every day, even if it’s brief, and by doing that a
couple of days a week she’ll start to see the benefits.
© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.