Taking care of you, because no one else will

The concept of “self-care” is definitely a cornerstone of wellness discussions. It also appears to have become something of a generational battleground. Staying at work for a week and eating poorly and not seeing the light of day is no longer considered the badge of honor it might have been. Nevertheless, we all have these pesky adult and professional commitments that preclude us from focusing on ourselves all day, every day.  Surely there’s a happy medium in there somewhere?

A lesson I learned about 10 years ago is that I need to have a list of the things away from work that bring me joy, and that it also helps me to recognize how often I need for them to be part of my life.  Examples?

  • Walks with Olivia– daily, at a minimum. This is important head clearing time for me.
  • Running– the benefits for me are myriad.  It keeps my head on straight, it gives me time to think, and I just feel better for completing a good run.
  • Yoga– I know that going to a weekly group practice is best, and it makes a difference when I keep this in my schedule
  • Live music– A couple of times a month.  The rules match my OR music rules: No rap, no metal, no Britney Spears.  I love Americana and “alt-country” (again, as many of you know) and also have a great fondness for outings to the symphony and the opera.
  • Reading, particularly literary fiction- I still remember getting halfway through my intern year and realizing that I hadn’t read a novel all year (and that I really missed it). The moment our in-training exam was done in January, I dug back into good novels and haven’t stopped since.

I put my own list out there not with the goal of making it your list, although I’m always happy to share ideas in any of these areas. I put it out there so that you can see that none of these are majorly time-consuming unless I choose to make them a Big Deal in my schedule.  In fact, it’s pretty easy with some practice to prioritize all of them in a way that I get to push the reset button for an hour or two AND still manage my grown-up responsibilities. And even though I fight it sometimes, I know that these things really do contribute to helping me be my most effective self.

So, what about making sure we’re our most effective on a day-to-day basis, even in the midst of a chaotic day?  I loved this piece in last month’s HBR, probably because all of the ideas they raise are things that I’ve espoused or embraced in one place or another.

  • Cut yourself a break: I’ve previously summarized this blog post from Karen Walrond as “Try your best, cut yourself some slack at the end of the day, rinse, repeat.” Why is it so much easier to be kind to those around us than we are to ourselves?
  • Value time, money, and resources: No is a complete sentence if something doesn’t align with what you want or need to get done.  Truly.  Practice it often.
  • Take a victory lap:  How often do we celebrate our “wins”, either individually or collectively?  This week I started something new to me on Twitter with #Wednesdaywins. If you’re on Twitter, I hope you’ll join in there.  If you’re not, I hope you’ll develop your own practice.
  • Surround yourself with good people:  Maybe it’s a product of being in my 40s, but I simply no longer choose to have time for people who drain my energy (see “value time, money, resources” above). I definitely view friendships as a mutually supportive enterprise, and have chosen to surround myself with spectacular people whom I LOVE having as part of my life.  Some of you have heard me say, “Find your tribe. Love them hard.” It’s key when things get challenging.
  • Update your workspace: Okay, I really don’t have much to add here.  I am better than I used to be controlling my desk piles.  Mostly.
  • Recharge and reboot: Those walks with Olivia?  That’s part of it when I get out of the hospital.  At work, sometimes I’ll just go for a walk between the Burn Unit and my “real” office. I’ll pause and fix myself a cup of tea. I’ll walk through our therapy gym so I have an excuse to stop and visit with one of our rehabbing patients. Or I’ll sit down and simply chat with someone I find interesting; this person can be a co-worker, a patient, or a family member. Sometimes just getting your head out of what it’s stuck in can make a HUGE difference. If you want to be Zen about it, it helps you detach from whatever is troubling you.

So, what can you do this weekend to be more effective for next week? It doesn’t have to be onerous, and ideally it will be fun.  Most importantly, I hope it brings you some joy.




Tomorrow is another day…

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?
Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

It’s an activity that looks different for each of us- and it only applies to self-directed responsibilities.

It’s been identified as a basic human impulse, and one that we know is inherently irrational.

We do a remarkable job ignoring its consequences.

When I was in college and needed to write papers, it usually resulted in mass quantities of baked goods or a large roux pot of étoufée.

Now?  Well, now it occasionally (thought not always) looks like a blog post.

We are all, each of us, procrastinators by nature. The reality of a future benefit of whatever action or task we are putting off is far less significant to us in a given moment than the potential immediate gratification of something else we could do right now- particularly if the delayed action or task isn’t something we actually enjoy.  Those things in the future tend to be pretty abstract as well- and they are certainly more abstract than something sitting right in front of us.

Sometimes procrastination can be used to our advantage; poet David Whyte appropriately mentions that it may provide time for ripening of ideas. He also counsels that we should use procrastination as an opportunity to careful sit with why we’re delaying the action or task in question, reminding us that sometimes the time that it gives us provides us interaction with something much bigger than ourselves.  I’ve felt this more than once when I’ve given myself a bit more time than I might have liked while working on a manuscript, only to find that when I finally do get my backside into the chair that it magically ends up “just right.”

However…we all know that procrastination isn’t entirely to our benefit.  We know we need to keep up with our documentation, but sometimes the Epic inbox is just so…overwhelming.  We know we should respond to a couple of emails from colleagues, but we’re going to say “no” to something they’re asking us to do and we don’t want to disappoint them. The phrase I’ve come to use around the types of tasks we tend to put off even though they are necessary?  We have to eat our broccoli (or some other vegetable that may not be your personal favorite).

This week the HBR website had some tips and tricks on how to beat procrastination for those times when it’s not working in our favor. I have a favorite from each group- in the first group, it’s thinking about how great you feel when that task is completed.  Admit it, it’s nice to have your Epic in-box empty. For the second group, it’s figuring out the first step that you need to take to get started; this concept works best for more abstract, bigger things (like starting a manuscript).

So, what are you going to get done today that you’ve been putting off?




Time’s up!


The beast that is a necessary part of what we do when we work in teams and groups.

An activity that can either energize us and focus our efforts or drain us and lead us to disengage.

I love a meeting that is focused, that is well run, and that lets everyone at the table have an opportunity to weigh in.  I particularly love it when we’re able to “wrap up” with next steps that include accountability for team members.  Putting those items into meeting notes then following up on commitments are how we become more effective.

I loathe a meeting that meanders, that belabors points, that allows those who talk a lot to monopolize the group’s time, censoring the wisdom of those who don’t always speak up first.  Good ideas don’t necessarily get a platform, and those holding those ideas may end up not feeling valued.  Again, disengagement is where good organizations go to die.

I’ve recently been experimenting with a couple of new spins on meetings.  One is the idea of not scheduling them for the Outlook-mandated hour; most of my meetings get scheduled for 45 minutes.  This is conscious because (1) very few things actually need a full hour and (2) it gives me travel time/ recovery time/ task switching time in between.  I’m particularly possessive of the buffer when the prior or following meetings are ones that I anticipate to be challenging or complex. Some have advocated for 30 minute meetings, a practice I haven’t yet quite adopted. Perhaps that’s next.

The other experiment is putting a time stamp/ shot clock onto meeting agendas that are tailored to how long discussions should optimally take. While this forces an adjustment for groups that haven’t worked with them before, they definitely do adapt over time…and it helps keep the meetings on-target and on time.  Two things are key to making the shot clock work.  First, have a timekeeper who keeps everyone honest and lets you know where you are versus the allotted time as it approaches.  Second, have a “parking lot” for ideas that come up and don’t fit within the boundaries of the current discussion.  During the meeting wrap-up portion, make sure to generate a follow-up plan for things put into the parking lot.

Happy time-effective meetings to you!


Apps and other life hacks, December 2015 edition

I’ll admit that I’m sharing some of this in hopes that readers will share their favorite apps and life hacks that they are using with me- I am always eager to learn in this area!  Disclaimer:  Apple bias coming your way.  Sorry not sorry.

So, what are my current favorites?

  • If you’re looking for an excellent meditation app/ program, check out Headspace. And yes, I was using it prior to reading this piece in the New Yorker about its founder.
  • Need a white noise app when you’re staying in a hotel room with lots of outdoor noise?  Sleep Pillow has been a lifesaver for me with some of my recent travels that have included generous amounts of ambient hotel noise.
  • As much as I hate admitting that we have an air quality issue in Utah, we often do.  The Utah Air app is great for my asthmatic self when I’m trying to decide if it’s okay for me to run outdoors or if I instead have a hot date with the treadmill.  Fortunately, I haven’t been faced with those issues yet this winter- unlike last year.
  • I’ve never been wild about the iCal in terms of user-friendliness.  Enter Fantastical, which I am completely smitten with for its natural language scheduling abilities.  I have it for the Mac and the iPhone.
  • And my last e-tip for you is Sanebox, which I know I’ve mentioned before.  It has integrated seamlessly with my University email account, and I love that it is “trainable” and now presorts 85% or more of my email based upon priority status.  Sane BlackHole may be the best feature EVER, particularly for all of those annoying emails from predatory open access publishers.

And my non-electronic life hack?

Blue Apron, of course.  It’s not dirt-cheap, but I know I waste less food with my subscription that I used to without it. Most importantly, it’s made both my mom and me slightly more adventurous cooks, encouraging us to try our hands at things we NEVER would have made otherwise.  We still do have to do the food prep, but I love that the grocery shopping and sourcing piece is done for us.  Note:  I have some free meals to share if you want to give it a go.


So, what life hacks and electronic helpers are rocking your world right now?  Teach me something!

Eating the frog

(And other practical tips for “simple”)

Last week I participated in a webinar that included Andrew Mellen, who I would describe as an organizational guru, or as an unstuffer of stuff.  I was interested for two key reasons:

1.  I am not in “stuff equilibrium.”  I openly admit there’s some clutter in this house, and some things I seriously need to consider rehoming.  And no, we will not discuss my shoe “situation” right now.

2.  I’m always looking for great ideas on how to better manage my stuff/ time/ life in a way that keeps space in there for the joy but doesn’t require me to swim through a sea of much to get there.  Really, I’m seeking simplicity in the midst of a completely crazy life.

Statistic he started out with, and that opened my eyes:  80% of the information that we keep we never use.  80%.  (((SIGH)))

Subsequently he moved to referring to clutter as “deferred decisions” (who told on me and my procrastination?!?) and differentiated uncluttering into the categories of managing historic accumulation and preventing it going forward.

The time management discussion helped to reinforce something I started doing a couple of months ago- I’m using the Timeful app to put tasks into my schedule so that my to-do lists don’t become a dead letter office.  Somehow, I’m much more accountable for going to yoga or working on that manuscript if it appears on my schedule.  I get that it’s a mind game, but it’s one that helps me to stay on task.  I also learned about toggl, which helps with time tracking.  I’m playing with toggl a bit right now, trying to learn how to interface it with the rest of my time management, but it appears it will be a great way for me to get some realistic estimates of how long tasks are taking me.

Confession:  I’m a procrastinator at times.  Not about everything- there are tasks that I dive into with relish because they are things that I’m really passionate about.  But yes, I can be a procrastinator, deferring things until they are forced.  Today was a great example of this overall- while I was on time for my 3 meetings and did get an errand run in a timely fashion, I didn’t make the progress I intended on a manuscript, nor did I finish grading the OSCEs from my last student group.  I did, however, cook a lovely dinner for myself, and I got a good workout in.  And, of course, I’m blogging.  I’m doing the “fun” things that make me feel good, and I’m not eating the frog- or doing the task-y, unglamorous stuff that I don’t want to do today (said in my best whiny voice).  I’ll admit that I set myself up for failure this morning because I scheduled in 30 minutes for the manuscript, and didn’t actually put the OSCE grading on my schedule…then when I sat down to do it, decided instead to set up my new wireless keyboard and track pad.  And load Office 2011 onto my home office Mac.  Yes, anything but getting work done, it seems.

For tomorrow, I’ve already “eaten the frog” as far as managing my tasks into my schedule.  I won’t get to start with the stuff in optimal time slots; I need to pick up Christmas tamales, and I’m doing that at 8 am to beat the rush later in the day.  But it’s all got a home, and just for tomorrow I’m not going to move things around and see how that goes.  Oh, and I’ll be done working by 1230 so I can go to yoga.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Managing, or being managed by, time

If you Google “time management,” the result is a potpourri of tips and tricks for better ways to manage your time.  You know, fix your to-do list.  Stop answering emails right away.  Don’t procrastinate.  In short, most of what you find implies that we struggle with time management because we lack adequate self-control to stay off of Facebook, to not spend time gossiping in the hallway, to prioritize our activities.  We get advice to try OmniFocus or Remember the Milk or some other system for maintaining your to-do list, which I affectionately refer to as my list of unachievable tasks.  Please note that I specifically identified these two systems because I have failed using each of them.  There’s your true confession for tonight.  Well, that and so far Bullet Journal seems to have the best longevity for me- there’s simply something about the commitment of writing things down that seems to help me.  Maybe it’s that as a Generation Xer I’m not actually a digital native.  Maybe it’s that I love being able to use different color pens for difference domains of my life.  Maybe I just like my handwriting.  Regardless, I have a hard time believing that any struggle I perceive with my own time management reflects a personal failure.

I’ve been contemplating the whole time management issue quite a bit lately, mostly because I am acutely aware that I have days when I’m wildly productive and then I have days like…well, today.  I promised I would get part of a manuscript written; I didn’t (sorry, Sarah).  I intended to get some administrative stuff finalized for the clerkship; I didn’t (this might get done tomorrow).  I did make it to three meetings, handled two conference calls, and did some great self-care (including a long dog walk this morning, a good weight workout, yoga, and a massage).  What I realized about today’s schedule is that I treated all of the things that I got done as the “big rocks” for the day- and honestly, they probably were for where I am right now.  Though I thought about it, I didn’t book in a time to work on the manuscript or the clerkship stuff.  I also ended up in a position where the times that would normally be my most productive times for those sorts of activities were not what I had available.  I recognize that in academic medicine we often can’t be picky about those things, but when I’m not on clinical service I certainly try to optimize.

Last weekend’s post from Eric Barker discussed creating a system for managing time and activity.  While he says it’s a schedule, there’s room for individual variation.  Most importantly, as I read it I realized that everything he mentions is the stuff that I do when I’m at my productive best.

And because of Tip #5, that’s all I have for tonight.  I’m going to relax and read, maybe head out for another dog walk before bedtime.  That manuscript section is priority #1 for tomorrow, and it will be my first work task.