This post in itself is a microcosm of the topic I want to discuss today. I have been unable to post for a few weeks, so please excuse my absence from the blog. I’ve been on an ICU (intensive care unit) rotation for the last few weeks, and boy has it been intense. It has definitely lived up to the name. It has been a ton of fun though, caring for really sick patients, working with an awesome team of doctors, and learning a bunch of great medicine along the way. I’ve really immersed myself in my work, by necessity really, given the long hours on this rotation. But that has been part of the fun of the experience. With that said, I’ve tried to maintain my life outside work by making time for the things I love to do. I’ll admit, it has been tough. And I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge that it is draining to work or study endlessly without real breaks for leisure and pleasure. So I want to talk today about the importance of that time outside work and how to ensure it is spent wisely.
Outside of the main piece of advice I want to offer today, one concept is certainly paramount to getting as much rejuvenation time as possible outside of work: efficiency. It goes without saying that the more efficient one is with their work or studies the faster they can achieve what they need to and the more time they can allot to other pursuits. Jay has a number of posts (how to be efficient, reading textbooks efficiently) which discuss effective strategies at boosting efficiency that can be very helpful, particularly when studying during undergrad or medical school.
Beyond this I do not have too much sage advice, with the exception of one simple concept. It truly is simple, so forgive me if this seems mundane. But it took me some time to realize this and it is still challenging to actually implement this in my life today, so I will offer this thought here. I find that the most important way to ensure that you spend time doing what you enjoy outside of work is simply to do those things in small doses, no matter how short the amount of time.
First, identify what it is that makes you happy and helps you recharge. I’m sure we all know what these thing are, but it may be helpful to reflect on it a bit and identify a few things that are feasible to augment in your daily life. Is it running, soccer, or weightlifting? Is it painting, cooking or reading a book? Is it simply spending time with family or friends? Identify what few things help you recharge the most and reset you to the most peaceful state of mind.
For me it has always been basketball. I certainly have other interests and ways I like to spend my time, but being on the court is by far the best stress relief for me. With the exception of days I play poorly (which I’ll admit are more frequent now that I play less often), I generally come away from the court feeling great. When I started medical school, there was a steep decline in the amount of time spent on the court. I used to play primarily pick-up games, which entailed about an hour to and from the court and anywhere from 2-4 hours of actually playing. If we do some simple math, this was usually around a 3-5 hour commitment. Now this was feasible for me in high school and undergrad but quickly became very difficult in med school. As a result I simply stopped playing, with the exception of days off and rare vacations. For a while this really affected my quality of life. But once I realized the concept I mentioned above, that I could play basketball in smaller chunks, I began to return to the game.
These days I try to play basketball a few times per week in whatever capacity I can. Even if it is only going to a court to shoot around for 30 minutes, I do it. I’ll go play pickup for 1 hour instead of 3 as I used to. Before I would sit around and wait for a day when I had a big chunk of time to play, as I did in the past. But that day would rarely come, and as a result I wasn’t doing one of the things that makes me most happy. Now I play in small chunks, fitting time in whenever possible in my busy and erratic schedule. It makes a difference. I am noticeably happier.
So as simple as it sounds, I would encourage you to each day take a brief amount of time to do some activity that you enjoy. Run for 30 minutes instead of the hour you are accustomed to. Make a simpler meal rather than the gourmet delight you would aspire to prepare. Hang out with that friend for one hour, even though you know you could talk all day. Meditate for 10 minutes to clear your mind and calm yourself. Whatever your passion or hobby might be, do not compromise on it. Do not wait for the day when you’ll have lots of time to dedicate to it. The reality is, you never know when that day will come. Instead make a dedicated effort to find time for that activity, even if it has be smaller chunks of time fitted into a busy schedule. You will find that some daily stress relief with this method will go a long way for your quality of life as well as your productivity at work or in the classroom.
As I wrap up this post, I’m so glad I finally heeded my own advice. I finally sat down and took the time to write. I really love writing, and I’m always excited for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all on this blog. But for the last few weeks my busy schedule has prevented me from writing—and that’s OK. There will certainly be times when you are so busy, so immersed in your work or studies that you truly can’t make time for other pursuits. It’s important to accept that, but to try to minimize those periods and maximize the times that balance between work and play is the pervading theme of your life. So as I finish this post, this hour doing something I really enjoy, I feel happier than when I started. I encourage you, as often as possible, to find the time in your busy day to do the same.