How a Productivity System Can Decrease Burnout

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

This is a guest post by Vi Dinh, MD – a practicing emergency medicine physician and blogger at Physician Zen.  The Physician Zen blog focuses specifically on productivity as a means for decreasing burnout and increasing financial independence.  

If you can relate to Dr. Dinh’s message of increasing stress where it seems like their simply aren’t enough hours in the day, I encourage you to check out his site.  For now, check out the following guest post which has a similar bent.  It is chalk-full of great advice – a lot of which I plan to implement in my own life!

Take it away, Vi!

How Personal Productivity Leads to Financial Independence and Decreased Burnout

The Physician Philosopher is one of the biggest advocates for using Financial Independence to help combat physician burnout. I want to thank him for allowing me to have a guest post on his site. As a fellow academic physician, I can relate to his experiences. He has absolutely been an inspiration to me and the physician community. 

My name is Vi Dinh, MD and I work as an Emergency Medicine and Critical Care physician at an academic tertiary hospital on the West Coast. I have an interest in promoting physician personal productivity, finances and well-being. 

How does Financial Independence Decrease Burnout?

In my mind, Financial Independence helps decrease burnout by allowing a physician to do one or more of the following:

  1. Work less
  2. Work on your own terms
  3. Not work at all (Financial Independence Retire Early, aka FIRE) 

Simply put, Financial Independence allows you to play the “Game of Work” on your own terms by making it more enjoyable OR by just taking yourself out of the game entirely because you don’t want to play the game anymore. 

Sounds good? Yes, absolutely it does! Helping physicians achieve financial independence is the mission of many physician finance blogs . In fact, reading The Physician Philosopher’s Guide to Personal Finance Book will give all the fundamental information someone needs to know in order to achieve financial independence!

Financial Independence Burnout Danger Zone

The problem I have encountered is that the actual journey of achieving financial independence can have the adverse effect of increasing burnout. This is because, until you actually reach financial independence you are stuck playing the “Game of Work” on someone else’s terms. [TPP: I couldn’t agree more on this one, actually]

The challenge is that in order to reach financial independence, you must put in sweat equity (physical working hours) in order to place money into avenues that will eventually produce passive income (retirement funds, real estate, side hustles, etc). If you want to reach financial independence sooner, even more time must be put in sweat equity. 

Examples of sweat equity include clinical hours, moonlighting, creating a side hustle, etc. For many physicians, the time spent performing sweat equity may generate burnout because it can come at a sacrifice to their personal lives or health. I label this the Financial Independence Burnout Danger Zone (see below) and personally have found that by optimizing my Productivity System I can help prevent this financial independence burnout in my own life. 

Burnout Danger Zone

Work is Not the Only Reason Physicians Are Burned Out

The problem with sweat equity is that it takes up personal time. Time that could potentially be spent with our family, health, hobbies, etc. Therefore, we feel that by putting more time into work, that is less time we can spend on ourselves and our loved ones. We then start resenting work and accuse it as being the culprit that is causing us to become burned out. 

But what if our clinical work was not the only culprit leading to burnout? What if another culprit was lurking around the corner, stealthily contributing to burnout by gnawing at our everyday lives?

This culprit is actually our own daily habits and how we manage our lives and time outside of work. It’s so hard to accept this because it’s easier to blame a specific situation or environment that is causing our burnout. Whether it is our workload, lack of finances, lack of time for exercise, etc. 

But almost all of us can think back to a time when we were happy despite being busy with a smaller income than we have now. So, I believe that work can’t solely be the component that is burning us out. Maybe, we as physicians are burning ourselves out by the choices we make in our daily lives, outside of work. Choices such as living beyond our means, spending time on shallow tasks, and not prioritizing things that truly mean the most to us. [TPP: I’ll be interested to see what others think of this idea!]

On average people spend over 3 hours a day on social media and checking emails outside of work. Imagine spending only 1 hour or less a day doing those tasks and having an extra 2+ hours to do something meaningful in your life such as spend quality time with a loved one, get some exercise, or even start a side hustle!

Personal Productivity as a Solution to Burnout

Yes, it might be hard to admit that we may be a potential cause of our own burnout. But the great news is that we own our bodies, mind, and spirit! No one else has control over that. Not our bosses, spouse, colleagues, patients, or financial situation. Therefore, we are not only a cause of our burnout but also a solution to it. 

I have a lot of sweat equity! I work a full clinical load in the emergency department and the medical ICU at a teaching hospital. In addition, I spend time doing research (over 25 published articles and a text book). I am in charge of the ultrasound curriculum for hundreds of medical students at my institution. 

Even more, I have side hustles by moonlighting at community hospitals, investing in real estate, and creating a website in order to achieve financial independence. Despite a full-time job and side hustles, I am also able to prioritize my family and my health (exercise 4-5 days a week). 

After 10 years of being in academics and working full-time. I still love my job and look forward to going each day with a stress-free attitude. They key for me to achieving success in a stress-free way with work, personal life, and finances was by creating an effective Productivity System.

Solution to Burnout

How a Productivity System Can Help You Achieve Financial Independence

Okay, I know personal productivity is not a sexy subject like how to do a backdoor Roth or how to analyze real estate syndication deals. However, even the top physician financial bloggers are always trying to find ways to optimize their personal productivity. Dr. Peter Kim, from Passive income MD wrote about morning rituals to help him kickstart his blog. The Physician Philosopher writes about how to prioritize his work life balance

From my own experience, creating a productivity system has allowed me to efficiently manage my life by allowing me to make the most efficient use of my time at every part of my day. I started to recognize that I have much more time in my day than I realized. A productivity system allowed me to focus on my most important tasks and decreased the amount of time I was spending on shallow tasks (emails, texts, social media, etc).

By efficiently processing and batching shallow tasks only once or twice a day I found that I had so much more time to spend towards projects and tasks that would significantly benefit my life such as achieving financial independence. To me, financial independence is an endpoint and personal productivity is the system that will allow you to reach that endpoint in the most efficient and stress-free way. 

Ways a Productivity System Helps You Achieve Financial Independence:

  • Creates Dedicated time for Finances
  • Gives Insight to All Your Current Projects and Commitments 
  • Prioritizes your financial learning and knowledge
  • Helps Implement a Financial Plan
  • Creates a System to Perform Regular Financial Check ups
  • Helps Carve Time to Start a Side Hustle for Passive Income

What is a Productivity System and How does it Create Time?

Unfortunately, for most of us, we were never taught any personal productivity during our medical training. I want to emphasize that a productivity system is not a simply a checklist. 

A productivity system does the following:

  • Gives an overview of all projects that are going on in your life
  • Clears your mind be creating a process of capturing any incoming ideas
  • Allows you to say “No” to incoming projects that do not fit your life’s goals or mission. 
  • It allows you to live in the present moment
  • Allows you to live your purpose by prioritizing most important tasks

Implementing a productivity system is not hard, it just takes a deep desire to take charge of one’s life. After doing so you will be able to not be a busy physician but a truly productive one. 


As you can see from the graph above, a busy person just completes shallow tasks all day long versus a productive person who prioritizes and complete most important tasks and batches shallow tasks to only a couple of times during the day.

Ironically, by batching shallow tasks, you will be able to complete just as much shallow tasks in the shorter amount of dedicated time compared to someone who is constantly doing shallow tasks all day long. However, by batching shallow tasks and not doing them outside of the it’s dedicated time, you create “Extra Time.” With that time, you can choose to prioritize the most important tasks in your life such as your family, your finances, and your health. 

By investing time in these most important tasks and not allowing shallow tasks to consume my life, I have found that when I go to work stress-free and can enjoy being a physician. I am on a journey to achieving financial independence and am enjoying the ride there!

Resources on Personal Productivity.

I started learning about personal productivity over 10 years ago when I was a fourth year medical student and started with the book Getting Things Done, by David Allen. That is the first book I read, and it changed my life. There are more many more productivity resources since then that I have implemented that can be found here

Once again, I am so grateful for The Physician Philosopher for allowing me to have a guest post on his site. 

If you would like to learn more on personal productivity for physicians, please visit my website called www.PhysicianZen.com. I also write about a step by step process of how professionals can create their own productivity system and maximize time in their daily lives.

Comments from the Editor

Thanks for the great guest post, Vi!  In reading this post, I realized that I have naturally gravitated to some of these practices.  For example, I no longer push emails to my phone. Instead, they are “fetched” every 12 hours.  I also put my phone on silent when getting home.  This allows me to focus on what matters most – my family.  I’m sold on the productivity system.  I wonder if others are as well!

What did you think of the Physician Zen philosophy?  Do you have productivity systems in place?  How do you make your life more efficient? Leave a comment below.

Guest Post


  1. Vi

    Thanks Jimmy for posting this guest post!! Hopefully readers will find this information useful.

  2. Psy-FI MD

    This seems like a novel approach to burnout. I’m currently trying to incorporate the productivity model in my life. The screens are a huge barrier!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Completely agree about the screens. That has been a major struggle for me. I’ve taken several steps back from social media. Trying to do the same from my phone

  3. Vi

    Hi Psy-Fi! Absolutely screentime is the worst. I’ll have some upcoming posts about how to deal with this and still be productive! Thanks for the Twitter Follow!


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