I feel pulled in different directions each day: called to serve my family and also called to fulfill my career demands. I find that the following approaches have helped me find some peace and organization in my busy daily life.
Writing Down My Goals
I physically write down my goals for the days and weeks ahead. I keep a journal and jot down thoughts before they escape. Each morning I try to focus on one or two achievable goals. Our modern lives are bombarded with constant streams of social feeds and updates. Having my goals written down keeps me focused and organized.
Keeping My Goals Short and Doable
If one of my goals remains on my list too long, it is often because the goal is too large, or I am not yet ready to achieve it. I think harder about how to reword the goal to achieve tangible results. I strive to break down bigger vague goals into quick achievable steps.
Setting Practical Deadlines
Having deadlines has made me more accountable and productive. After each of my goals, I set a reasonable “due date.” If the due date passes, I analyze where I may have went wrong in my estimations. Or, I think about what challenges may have come up to monopolize my time. I then choose a new deadline, taking into account my track history.
Re-strategize When I Don’t Reach My Goals
Life can get complicated and messy. Life does not always follow the course I want it to take. Sometimes traffic will make me late. Illnesses come up when I least expect it. Another emergency arises. This does not mean, however, that I need to throw away my plans or live a chaotic and disorganized life. Instead of looking at this negatively for too long, I consciously try to see the disorder of life as a challenge and a way to become better, stronger, and more resilient.
Practicing Gratitude Each Day
I strive to focus on 3 things in my life every evening that make me smile. There is so much I am thankful for. I have bad days interspersed with my good days, but regardless of what happened, I try to take 5 minutes in my evening to focus on what has brought me happiness and joy.
We have all had an injury, be it physical or emotional. My recent marathon training and first marathon included fortunately minor and self limited injuries – bruises, scrapes, strains, and sprains. In my day to day encounters with other people, disagreements and negative exchanges of energy crop up from time to time. From these encounters, I have suffered emotional bruises. I have honed my approach to injuries over the years, and broken it down into 5 steps. My approach has helped me cope and thrive, and I am happy to share my approach with you here.
Acknowledge and name the injury.
Come up with a realistic plan for rehab.
Revisit your rehab plan regularly. If things are not going as you expected, adjust accordingly.
Return to your normal activities. Take a moment of gratitude for your return to normal activities, and your ability to heal from your injury.
Troubleshoot why the injury happened, and strategize ways to avoid the same injury in the future.
1. Acknowledge And Name The Injury.
This allows you time to comprehend and describe the injury to yourself. Physical injuries are often obvious. A scrape or abrasion of the skin. An evolving bruise. An ankle sprain causing pain and limping. More complex, however, are injuries and hurt under the surface. Overtraining and burnout. Hurt feelings. Disappointment at missing out on an opportunity. Anger when someone else has wronged you.
I recommend you take several minutes to yourself and ruminate over the injury. What is it that you feel? Why do you feel that way? Do not simply think negatively and take a “woe is me” attitude. “Well, I fell and now I have a big bruise on my knee. What will I do now?” Rather, better evaluate your feelings and response to the injury. What are your collections of feelings causing you to feel badly? What are the physical symptoms and emotional symptoms that you feel, and what was the sequence of events leading you to this?
2. Come Up With A Realistic Plan For Rehab.
Physical injuries are no fun. If you are training for a specific goal, they can seem insurmountable and goal ending. However, do not take such a quick, pessimistic approach before fully analyzing the situation. Where are you in your training? How long will it take to recover or heal? Is there a way to cross train through the injury, in say 3-4 days? How can you reasonably but safely return to your sport?
Emotional injuries are equally unpalatable. It may be wise to take 5-10 minutes to yourself to think through and meditate over your feelings. Also yourself to privately feel what you feel, on your own time. If you can, allow the feeling to burn out a bit before returning to your usual activities. Consider talking to those around you about what you are experiencing. Or consider journaling about your experiences right there on the spot or later in the day. Come up with a time period over which to feel what you feel.
For example, on my evening after a “bad day,” when I get a moment alone, I allow myself 15-30 minutes to think through what happened. I then try to push it down and use another 15-30 minutes to look toward the positives, and what I can do differently the next time. The next morning, if the negative situation returns to my mind, I set the thought aside and instead focus on my day ahead and think how I can do things better.
I find dwelling on the past too long, and what I cannot change, is harmful and counterproductive . I have instead taken a strategy of setting a time limit on my thoughts, and then think more of the present and my future actions.
3. Revisit Your Rehab Plan Regularly. If Things Are Not Going As You Expected, Adjust Accordingly.
I try to do this every few days or every week as I am in my rehab plan. It helps me assess my progress objectively, e.g. “I feel 70% back to normal. ” I then see if I can adjust my return to full activity sooner or later than I expected. This constant assessment and adjustment is helpful not just with injuries but other aspects of your life. For example, I use this when I assess my spending plans or my progress in paying off my debts.
4. Return To Your Normal Activities. Take A Moment Of Gratitude For Your Return To Normal Activities, And Your Ability To Heal From Your Injury.
When you feel ready, go ahead and make the leap! Go back to the activity you enjoy. Do not simply rush back into what you love. I find it helpful to briefly appreciate how I was able to heal and overcome the injury I had a few days or a few weeks before. Practicing gratitude is a great habit, particularly when celebrating your accomplishments.
5. Troubleshoot why the injury happened, and strategize ways to avoid the same injury in the future.
As a scientist and engineer, I like to analyze systems and why things are running the way they are. I particularly try this analysis when things are not going smoothly. For example, if you feel burnout and excessive fatigue, try to analyze why. How much are you training? How much sleep are you getting? Has your nutrition been satisfactory or poor? Once I write down some of the factors that I feel led to the injury, I try to come up with ways to prevent a repeat injury. In the example above, I would re-analyze my sleep patterns, and work to get to bed 10-15 minutes earlier each night until I felt more rested.
The Rollercoaster of Life
I hope the tips I have shared will help you as you work through your next injury. Please feel free to share your own strategies for overcoming obstacles in your own life!
I completed my first marathon in Columbus, Ohio on October 15, 2017! I feel blessed and fulfilled with my accomplishment. I finished in 4 hours, 31 minutes, and 3 seconds. My goal was to finish at 4 hours and 30 minutes, so right in line my goal! The weather was warm and humid, but only a brief several minute drizzle late in the race.
My months of training served me well, not only in my physical stamina but also in conquering my mental game as well. 26.2 miles is a long time to be inside of your head. The first 13.1 miles was crowded with half-marathoners, thousands of welcome distractions from my discomfort.
The second half was much less crowded, and was truly a mental challenge, not just for my increasing pain and fatigue but also questioning my goal and my ability to carry out the race. Due to challenges of working full time and fitting in training for a marathon, I had only completed a 17 mile long run in my training.
As I got past the 17 mile marker, I rejoiced at my success but also wondered if I could make it 9 more miles to the finish line. I concentrated my energy on pushing these negative thoughts aside. I consciously replaced these thoughts with the reminder the cumulative fatigue I had endured with my training. I would repeat to myself “You’re good. You’ve got this.” (Sometimes I would whisper it to myself as well.) The 50-60+miles of running a week increased my endurance and ability to withstand the challenge. The crowds of fans and volunteers were also amazing and full of positive talk to keep me going.
My Number One Fan
My husband was the most wonderful support for me during the race. He was my companion and chauffeur, and my #1 cheerleader. But more importantly, he was supportive and understanding during my hours of training for the 5 months leading up to the race. Running 40-50+ miles a week takes a lot of time and commitment for the athlete, but is also trying to the athlete’s loved ones. Several hours spent running means less time for your loved ones and other pursuits. My husband’s support behind the scenes was invaluable and necessary for my success with my running hobby.
Rest and Recovery
I am currently in my 2 week period of rest and recovery, with a leisurely and enjoyable return to running. I am catching up on much needed sleep and quality time with my family. I am reminiscing about the hours I devoted to not just the race itself but also the 20 weeks leading up to the race. I am so happy that my first marathon experience was a success!
My next running goal will be this spring: The Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6, 2018!
We all want to end our day feeling fulfilled. As a working mom, I want my every action to count for good, be it with my family, friends, or my patients.
I recently read a post by Dr. Rebekah Bernard about burnout in women physicians. If you haven’t read it and you are a female physician, it is definitely worth a read. Even if you aren’t a female physician, though, it is an empowering article to challenge you to change your situation for the better.
Dr. Bernard’s words inspired me to write this piece on 3 tips I have used in my own life as I strive for a more efficient and happier work day.
3 Tips for a Better Work Day
Planning your time. Live each day as it comes, but plan not only the day to come, but also the weeks and months on the horizon.
Touch each item once. Be decisive in your tasks.
Keep work at work. Or at least, do this as much as you can.
1. Planning your time.
You can go into each day without a clear game plan, and come out okay. However, having a loose framework personally helps me accomplish more and also leave work at the end of the day with a sense of purpose. I also feel that planning each workday, week, and month will give you a feasible and realistic way to accomplish your various tasks.
The following 3 steps outline how I strategize my work day:
A) Arrange the skeleton of your workday first with things you must do (for example, get kids up and dressed, shower, drive to work, activities after work).
B) Look at your daily schedule in terms of things that may be different (for example, my patient schedule varies, or you may have meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays). You can then pencil these into your day.
C) Create a list of tasks you need to get done and tasks you want to get done, and allot a bit of time for each of them. You can then fit them into your day in time slots where you are unscheduled. For example, you have a 30 minute block of time between arriving at work and before your first meeting – here you can plan to do a chunk of your paperwork (e.g. complete half of the paperwork on your desk). You should prioritize the “need to do” tasks, and then the “want to do” list should gets pushed down lower on your list.
I try to approximate how long each task will take (for example, answering 2 messages should take me about 5 minutes; addressing 10 emails should take me about 8 minutes total). I have come to realize over time that I underestimate tasks, so I add some wiggle room (e.g. adding a minute or two), particularly when I am tired, stressed, or feeling under the weather.
I break up huge tasks into smaller doable ones. For example, I may come in Monday morning with 10 refill requests. I set a goal for myself to complete 2 refills before seeing my first patient, and then filling 2 more after each of my patients when I get a couple minutes of down time.
This planning system works for me, and I do it loosely in my mind as I go through my day. It takes practice, but the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. And doing things this way makes you feel more in control of your day, and less like that huge task list owns you and is going to defeat you.
You are of course welcome to write everything down. I do write down things on my Google Calendar, and I tried in the past to write things down for a few days, but I find that being too regimented gets stressful when I get behind.
Another tip for you to arrange your life is to plan to use a spare hour or two on your weekends to plan weeks and months ahead. For me, this usually involves planning my hobbies, my husband’s hobbies, vacations, family activities. These things I do write down, as juggling multiple calendars gets confusing. I have also started setting goals for myself with my health and fitness, finances, and vacation/rest. Writing these down helps to set you up for success.
Plans do not have to be set in stone, but having things loosely “penciled” down helps you get things out of your mind and somewhere out there in the real world. While doing this exercise, I realize that sometimes my goals are a bit lofty, and I need to break them down into more doable chunks. Getting your wishes written down and arranged in the weeks and months ahead will make them more real and achievable.
I also realize as you are doing this planning that unfortunately things do NOT always go your way. Illnesses will come up. A family emergency will arise. I try to be adaptable and less rigid with my schedule when this happens. The list of “things to do” and “things that are nice to do” will always be there, but that does not mean they are a must.
When an emergency arises, you should take 30-60 minutes to problem solve as soon as you are able, and determine what absolutely must be done, and what can wait. Once this is prioritized, you can break down where to fit each of the tasks you must do. You can write down the leftover things that must wait, and try to strategize when you could next complete them (e.g. next week on your day off, or next weekend when you do not have any plans).
One other piece of advice: do not overextend and overschedule yourself. You need to learn to say “no” to things that do not matter to you. If you have more free weekends and free time built into your schedule, these inevitable disasters that arise will not totally derail your life. You will have an extra evening, an extra Saturday morning, a spare Sunday afternoon here or there to “catch up.”
2. Touch Each Item Once.
Be decisive. This is a must if you want to get your day running smoothly, and keep yourself sane.
I have seen this tip time and again in several articles on working more efficiently. I am a perfectionist and “Type A” in my drive to do the best and most accurate work I can do. This allows me to thrive and do good work, but it is also detrimental when I am agonizing over things that really do not matter. I grammatical error in my note, or a small typo in punctuation really are very minor.
I have learned over time to “let things go” and it has really helped in my ability to get my messages and emails written, and my progress notes done. I also remember in residency agonizing over decisions. I would save a lab result or a message in my Inbox for several hours or a day or two, agonizing over what to do. Really, however, my first gut instinct would be the course of action I would take.
My habit now is to set myself up to truly touch things once. Once I have opened up an email, I look up what I need to look up, think of a viable answer, and send it on. I sometimes try to think through all of the possibilities (What if the patient wants this or that? What if they say no to my proposition? What if they say yes?!)
I have struggled to be less complete and thorough, and be more succinct in my work. Doing this relieves a lot of stress, and is more efficient as well. It is okay to be quicker and shorter with your actions. The person you are working with will reply, and guide your further action. You do not have to think of every possible scenario and plan for it. It only matters what this scenario will prove to be. Let life guide you where you need to go.
Keep Work at Work (As Much as You Can)
I strive to do this more and more in the last few years as my husband and I have built our family. My priority in life is to have a happy and healthy family, and feel fulfilled in the work I do. To do this properly, however, you need to have boundaries.
Starting out in residency and medical school, I was a work-a-holic. I would study often. I would stay up late. I would feel always behind, always catching up. I carried this over into my attending position after residency. And this is not a healthy way to live and work. I felt driven but unhappy.
As I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I have realized that life is more important than the work you do. I have learned to set healthier boundaries on my work life, and I feel happier with each and every limit I set. A great exercise I encourage you to do: write down 3 important things in your life. I guarantee keeping a clean inbox at work is NOT one of them. Why then, do we all strive to do this every day?
Over the last year, I have worked hard to keep my nose to the grindstone, focus at work, and work hard. I try to set a limit on how late I stay, for example, try to leave by “X-oclock” and get home. It helps to have an activity lined up (for example, I need to leave by 5:30 pm to pickup the kids at daycare), which often leads me to working more efficiently than I would have otherwise.
I also have worked hard to schedule short 5-10 minute breaks in my day. I have read several articles alluding to this, and I find it very much true. The old adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” definitely has some merit to it. If I stick it out and try to work straight for 40 minutes in a row, I find I am much less efficient. Taking just a 5 minute walk around the office helps to clear my head and boost my resolve to get more work done, in a quicker amount of time.
Being practical, however, I realize there are bad days or bad weeks when nothing goes your way. There will be times you get behind and need to catch up a bit at home. If you must do work at home, set a time limit and schedule it for a time when it won’t interfere with your family time.
My personal approach to working from home is scheduling chunk of time to finish my documentation or answer emails for a 1-2 hour block of time on a Saturday or Sunday evening. I then analyze my efficiency and see how accurate I was in my estimate of time. If I am off, what created the inefficiency? Hunger, fatigue, trying to multitask instead of single tasking, network slowness, shotty Internet connection?
Whatever caused the inefficiency in the past, write these down and try to
account for them the next time you must work from home. This will create a more accurate number. And if it is something you can circumvent (e.g. eating a snack to start with, or taking a nap before), do so.
“Catching up” from home is something I now try avoid like the plague, and you should too. I am happier because of this. If you must catch up and work from home, keep this intrusion in your life as short and efficient as possible.
You also should be honest with yourself before scheduling this into your free time. If you really have something else you “need” to do (catching up on your DVR, answering texts, etc), do those first, and then save the work for another, shorter chunk of time.
A good pair of running shoes and comfortable clothes are necessary to succeed at running. I have found seven other “nice to have” items to make your runs even better.
In the last year of training, I have ramped up my running slowly and steadily. At first, I was running a mile 3-4 times a week and huffing and puffing. Now, I am averaging 50 miles+ week, and feeling confident and proud of my progress. I spent the first 5-6 months training for my first half marathon, and the last 5-6 months were devoted to training for my first marathon. (My Columbus marathon is coming up very soon, on October 15!)
The 7 running gadgets and tools below have been very helpful and valuable. These are the ones I use daily and truly love! I have sequenced these from least complicated/least expensive to those products that are more pricey, but (in my humble opinion) worth the higher price tag.
1 Body Glide
A must for long runs, particularly if you have areas that chafe and rub. Go for a long run on a hot day, and you will know which areas apply to you. Body Glide is pretty affordable and worth the investment- I buy mine on Amazon for about $10-$15.
2 Running Vest
This is a must to stay visible if you run in early AM or late evening, when the lighting is not ideal and you are less visible to drivers. They come in various designs and colors. My running vest cost me about $15 on Amazon.
3 Buddy Pouch
I have tried the arm bands and the fashionable “fanny packs.” I don’t like how the arm bands rub on my arms and when I am wearing wired headphones, it can be awkward. The fanny packs also rub and slide, and bounce when I run. This Buddy Pouch, however, is really sleek and attaches to the waist of your pants with magnets. If you have contraindications to a magnet (e.g. pacer/defibrillator) this is not an option. Otherwise, though, if this does not exclude you, I think this is a well designed and reasonably priced product. It comes in several sizes. I got an extra large sized Buddy Pouch (big enough to hold my phone, snacks and keys) for about $25 on Amazon.
4 Milestone Pod
This is a really neat device to analyze your running metrics. It attaches to the laces of your shoes, and tracks your gait and the miles you have run. There are other products out there that do similar work, but I like this one for its low cost and usable app interface. I have not tried the other products out there, but I think this product, is worth the cost to give a go. The Milestone Pod costs approximately $30 (on Amazon). (You may see running theme here with my recommendations. I admit – I am an Amazon Prime addict).
I have definitely seen an improvement in my stamina and comfort levels with running as I have used this product. By analyzing things such as my cadence, stride length, and ground contact, I have steadily altered my running style for the better. I run more upright, with quicker, shorter steps. This is not only more efficient, but more comfortable and more sustainable, allowing me for longer, happier runs.
5 ROAD iD
I bought this later on in my training after worrying more and more about my safety and “what if” I had an accident or became unable to speak for myself. I decided to a buy a product that fits right on my FitBit band. It lists my name, birth year, and contact info for my husband. Not only does it give me some confidence running, it also gives my husband some peace of mind. There is also an option for an extra subscription for a tracking app . This extra tracking feature allows me to send an alert to my husband about where I am running and how long I will be out. It also will send an alert to my husband if I am stationary for longer than 5 minutes. My RoadiD was about $30, and arrived in about 2 weeks.
6 Run Angel
I bought this product after reading online accounts of others who have been taunted or assaulted while running alone. I prefer to run alone, mainly for convenience of my schedule and I like to be alone with my thoughts while I run. The Run Angel is a wrist band with a loud 120dB alarm that is triggered by me pushing a button. Once I trigger this alarm, it will also alert my “angel” (my husband, in my case) that I am in danger. It was a bit pricey, shipping from the company which is based in Ireland. There is an offer for 15% off of your first order if you provide your email. It cost me about $100. I think this is a worthy investment for some peace of mind.
My husband bought my Charge 2 for me about a year and half ago, and I wear it daily. I had a FitBit Flex a few years ago, but I prefer the Charge 2 due to a bigger display and more tracking options. I like how it tracks not only my steps and miles, but also the elevation I have climbed per day, measured in flights of steps. The app is user friendly and offers options to follow and compete with your friends. This is one more way to keep you disciplined and motivated in your exercise and training. My Charge 2 currently retails for about $150.
A Few of My Favorite Things
These are a few of my favorite running things. Now, of course, you should invest in a pair of comfortable, reliable shoes and comfortable breathing running clothes to start with. But these additional “nice to have” accessories are my personal favorites that have made my runs more comfortable and fun.