Managing your Mental and Spiritual Energy, for physicians

a physician water-squirting his pager

This is a continuation of my thoughts on “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, as published in the Harvard Business Review. The first series in the post dealt with physical energy, the second, on emotional energy.

Mental Energy

  • Reduce interruptions by performing high-concentration tasks away from phones and emails.
  • Respond to voice mails and emails at designated times during the day.
  • Every night, identify the most important challenge for the next day. Then make it your first priority when you arrive at work in the morning.

This is nearly impossible on the wards since so many people want to page you. I did, at one point, try using a Bluetooth headset on my cell phone so that I could answer phone calls more efficiently. I noticed that the more efficient residents would enter in orders, write notes, and present cases (i.e. multitask) during rounds. The point that the authors try to make is to emphasize how important it is to reduce clutter, and it relates to a condition one psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Hallowell, has labeled attention deficit trait.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF ADT? The pace of most people’s lives these days induces it. We’ve never seen in human history the technology that we have today. I think it’s basically technology driven. Why are we doing it? The short answer is because we can—because we can transmit so much information, we do. Because we can access so much information, we do. Because we can sign up for so many tasks, we do. Throw in global competition, job insecurity and all the other fears driving people today and the next thing you know, you get the phenomenon of ADT.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ADT? Distractability, restlesseness, a sense of “gotta go, gotta rush, gotta run around” and impulsive decision-making, because you have so many things to do.

So mental energy isn’t something that we individuals can completely take control of. Hospital and clinical systems need to change instead: perhaps using Android smartphones with Bluetooth headsets instead of ancient pagers.

Spiritual energy

  • Identify your “sweet spot” activities — those that give you feelings of effectiveness, effortless absorption, and fulfillment. Find ways to do more of these. One executive who hated doing sales reports delegated them to someone who loved that activity.
  • Allocate time and energy to what you consider most important. For example, spend the last 20 minutes of your evening commute relaxing, so you can connect with your family once you’re home.
  • Live your core values. For instance, if consideration is important to you but you’re perpetually late for meetings, practice intentionally showing up five minutes early for meetings.

Physicians should absolutely migrate towards a particular area that gives them fulfillment. At our Business In Healthcare elective course at the UC Irvine Merage School of Business, one of our speakers, Felice Gersh, MD, got fed up dealing with insurance companies and launched Integrated Medicine, which incorporated her interests in integrative, complementary and alternative medicine along with her background as an OB/GYN surgeon. At UCSF (the University of California, San Francisco), I met John Chamberlain, MD, an attending physician who did a surgery residency, then became a psychiatrist, ran the Consult & Liaison service at Langley Porter Hospital, and now is pursuing his passion in forensic psychiatry. It’s absolutely important to identify your “sweet spot” early on, and throw all your energy into this.

In medical school, I couldn’t believe how often I heard physicians advise first-year students, “Oh, you’ll find your specialty in your third year. It’s too early to do that.”

Bzzzt, wrong. If you can’t plan things out, you’ll set yourself up for failure!

It’s never too early to plan the next several years from a bird’s-eye view, plus, if you figure out too late that your passion happens to be in a competitive field like dermatology, you might not even get to pursue your passion at all.

So always, ALWAYS, find your sweet spot, and prioritize that.

(picture credit: Flickr user mkmabus )

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