Does your desk ever look like this? Mine does. WAY too often. Insert the piles of papers, books, journals and mail I need to get to on the side also. When I look at this photo, it seems absolutely ridiculous. Why on earth do we need THIS in front of us? I feel stress building just looking at it. THIS is a way to burnout - and burnout quickly.
I am an academic physician and wear a lot of hats. I take care of patients in the hospital and in the clinic. I have administrative duties. I give lectures to medical students, residents, fellows and healthcare professionals. I write and publish papers. I work on clinical research. I am a blog administrator. And this list is not comprehensive, yet it is only my job.
Add on my personal roles and the list is REALLY long. Sound familiar?
Am I overcommitted? Maybe. Probably. But, am I doing things I find to be valuable from a personal and professional standpoint? Yes. Yet, I have suffered from severe burnout, the-kind-that-makes-you-want-to-quit-your-job-forever, burnout.
The picture above reminds acutely of the risk of burnout. Why? Because it seems we are ALWAYS connected. ALWAYS on-call, even if we aren't.
I recently was traveling with a few doctors and we were all rejoicing that we were not on-call for the weekend. Guess what? The phones still rang with patient issues. Text messages, emails, pages. They still happened.
I went on a vacation shortly after this and knew my cell phone coverage would be spotty at best. I warned everyone at work I would likely be unavailable. I did something I NEVER do. I left the laptop and ALL the work at home. I didn't even bring a BOOK related to work. Some of you will think this is crazy and you are able to leave work at work all the time. In academic medicine, I do not know a single soul who doesn't bring work home, or on vacation, or take vacation days to work. But, for those of you who know what I am talking about, you will understand that this was profoundly anxiety provoking. Work had become like a safety blanket and without it, I was freaking out.
In the end, I spent 4 glorious days on an island with friends. Most people could get cell coverage from one spot on the dock - if you stood on one foot, touched your nose and faced the east. I did not perform this ritual and was COMPLETELY disconnected. It was so freeing. I actually forgot about the to-do list when I was not constantly reminded of it from one of those many devices or the work-related reading I always have on hand. I hung out with friends without always having work in the back of my mind. I stared out at gorgeous views of Lake Superior from the beach. I was ME without having to be Dr. Cawcutt. I felt renewed.
In full honestly, yes, there was a little panic as I came home about how far behind I would be. How many emails I missed. But guess what? The world turned without me being constantly plugged in. My office was still there, the hospital did not burn down and life went on. In the end, it always will go on if you unplug. It is extremely unlikely that an insurmountable catastrophe will destroy your world because you turned your phone off. And your laptop. And your ipad.
Great, right? I was all unplugged, reconnected to friends and renewed. I was EXCITED about how fabulous this was and wanted to share it.
The first person I spoke with at work when I returned asked me how I was. I explained the above in 1 or 2 sentences and heard "I could NEVER do that." I asked why, and heard work. There's too much. This person had taken vacation days to work and was resolute that unplugging was not an option.
I argue that it is not an option, it is mandatory. It is required to maintain wellness, to prevent burnout, to not loose ourselves in our jobs lest we never find the way back.
Look at these two images below. Do you feel calmer looking at one? Do you feel more stress? I do. I will choose the beach every time, sans electronics, because I know its not selfish to take time off. It's not lazy to lay on the beach, stare at the gorgeous colors around you and listen to waves roll on the shore. It is wellness. It is prevention and prophylaxis against burnout.
I'll work with the left, but I no longer carry all devices with me all the time.
But I will plan for and embrace the right.
See you on the beach.