Balancing the Grind with Helen Whait, Occupational Therapist & Founder of ActivOT

Helen Whait is an award-winning occupational therapist, an innovator and the founder of ActivOT, Australia’s first occupational therapy franchise which helps occupational therapists become successful business owners.

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

Three decades ago, I began my journey as an occupational therapist with enthusiasm. However, a decade later, exhaustion and burnout set in due to the challenges of work-life balance and systemic healthcare issues.

In 2002, I founded my own practice, but soon realised the broader problem of burnout in the healthcare field, where rates range from 30% to 64%. This issue negatively impacts both healthcare professionals and patient care. My business, ActivOT, emerged from the need for a better way to practise occupational therapy.

It’s Australia’s first occupational therapy franchise, focused on innovative models that prioritise occupational therapist well-being. As of August 2023, we have 58 franchisees across multiple states, representing a 38% growth since 2022. We’re creating a work utopia for occupational therapists.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

I usually get up and get my boys sorted for the day ahead – I still have one in high school. Being a mum is my number one priority! Once the boys are sorted I usually get to work!

Each night I set a priority list of 3-5 tasks for the following day that will help me move forward with my goals! It is easy to get caught up in the “busyness trap” but that won’t necessarily reap rewards in the business. By mindfully choosing where I spend my time each day I can continue to smash my goals!

Having a team to delegate to is key. I firmly believe in “doing what makes your heart sing” as this energises you – not draining your energy. Time is the one resource that we can never get any more of it – it is super precious.

I eat the frog first – always. My most productive time is in the morning, when the house is quiet and I am fresh. Sometimes I have meetings, but I always push them back to mid morning wherever I can, in order to give me that quality time when I am fresh to do my high level work.

I usually “slump” a bit in the afternoons (like most of us do) so I allocate time for emails and meetings/networking at that time. I always book time for emails and returning phone calls (and ignore them at other times) otherwise they interrupt my entire day (in fact they can take up my entire day if I let them!!)

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

Delegation is key! Do I need to be doing this? Does this energise me? Is there someone else who can do this instead of me?? These are frequent questions I ask myself. It helps with maintaining a balance. I am mindful about my priorities.

Often we say that our family or our partner is our priority but it is not reflected by our actions – we don’t make time for them and we put work first. My number one priority is my health – having nearly died previously and currently being immunocompromised means that I need to prioritise my health – if you don’t have your health you have nothing to give to anyone.

Sleep is a huge part of that for me. Often the tendency is to cut into sleep time – this is counterproductive as it makes me less efficient when I am tired – I end up spending way longer to complete tasks leaving me with less time. It can become a vicious cycle. By prioritising sleep I am ensuring I am fresh and efficient.

My other big point is that being organised is key. By investing time in organising I am being kind to my future self – it hugely reduces stress!! It also ensures maximum efficiency – so it actually saves time in the long run!

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

I committed to exercising 3 times per week. During this year I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone by taking part (training for and participating) in True Grit – raising $2k for the Black Dog Institute in the process. The Push Up Challenge – raising money for LifeLine as well as abseiling down the Intercontinental building whilst raising money for Puddle Jumpers.

Exercising for the sake of exercising/going to a gym isn’t really my thing – I have sought the support of a friend to ensure it is a social commitment as well and this seems to be working well for me. I enjoy the social aspect of Pilates so that keeps me going! Having other goals drives me to continue – whilst it’s ultimately helping my health it is also giving a greater purpose.

“It’s when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone that we grow”

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

  • Winging It by Emma Isaacs – I love her analogy about life being a 4 burner gas stove – each burner representing: work, family, health and friends. There is only so much “gas” – they can’t all be on high – it’s a physical impossibility. This resonated with me and I stopped “beating myself up” and learnt to become more mindful over which burners were on high (and when) things change day to day and week to week. It’s about being mindful and prioritising. My only addition to her analogy is that “sleep” provides more oxygen for the flames!! We can do more with increased sleep.
  • Get Remarkably Organised by Lorraine Murphy
  • High Performance Habits by Brendan Burchard
About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.