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The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP 80: How Busy Physicians Can Rest (Reframing Productivity)

Productivity for many busy physicians defines our value and worth.   Many doctors feel they need to produce in order to tell themselves that they are being successful.  That they are worthy and enough. And even when many doctors are offered the chance to rest, they find themselves shoulding themselves into shame about how they could use that time to be productive.  

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Briefly, shoulding ourselves into shame happens when we feel like we “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing something based on our internal narrative. And when we tell ourselves that we are doing the opposite of what we should or shouldn’t be doing… this produces a shame suck-fest that will ruin a good day.

And that’s what many doctors do when they are given the opportunity to have some time off. They feel like they “should” be finishing up their charting, answering their emails, or working on that one work project.

So, let’s talk about how we can reframe this narrative into one that allows us to actually rest when we have time off!

Rest versus Laziness

For many busy physicians, we have a hard time resting.  One of the biggest reasons why is that we tell ourselves that there is an ever-growing To Do List.  

When we try to “rest” we have a hard time doing so because we are focused on all of the other tasks that we need to get done.  You know, the charting, emails, projects, and things on the home repair list.

More importantly, we tell ourselves that when we aren’t working on this list, it means we are being lazy.  So, the “rest” we get doesn’t feel like rest at all.  It feels like stress or anxiety caused by the never-ending To Do List.

The reason that this often happens is because we have created this narrative that rest itself is not productive.  With this kind of view, when we aren’t working on the list of things to do, we are therefore being lazy.

In fact, this has been my narrative for a really long time.  Yet, I want to push back on this a bit.  Is that really true? When we aren’t working on the list, are we really being lazy?  Is rest really counterproductive? 

Redefining Rest

No, its not.  Think about it.  We all know that when we truly rest, we actually come back rejuvenated and energized to do even better work.  

Taken to a full extreme, we know this is true. When we get a full eight hours of sleep, we are better able to attack the next day.  If we get no sleep, eventually we cannot work at all.  We know we need rest.  It is good for us.

In addition to this, if we are being honest, our moments of inspiration also often come from rest.

Whether it is listening to a good Ben Rector song (I love Rector’s new album The Joy of Music). Reading a good book (I’m currently reading The Gap and The Gain and also Winning The War In Your Mind).  Or having a good conversation with a friend.

These are the moments that life is made of.  This is the good stuff.  The moments that inspires us to see that we were meant for so much more than just being productive.  

It is about living our best life. Living an abundant life, which means enjoying the relationships in our life.  Enjoying the good things we have already accomplished. And choosing to focus on what we have instead of what we want.  

Being Present in the Moment (Refocusing your attention)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, that Iam still working to redefine rest … but I am getting better with each day!  And I want to share a couple of ways that I have really learned how to redefine rest and productivity so that I can truly rest.

The first is learning the process of refocusing my attention.  For example, when I am in a conversation with one of my kids or coloring with them on the ground in their bedroom, my mind might wander to work left unfinished.  “Shoot, I forgot to download that episode I just recorded for The Physician Philosopher podcast!”

Traditionally, when this has happened, I used to drop what I was doing with them (or completely checkout mentaly) and go hammer out what I’d left undone.  Now, I refocus my attention back on the conversation with my kid.  

Naturally, I’ll keep getting distracted. And then I’ll have to refocus my attention again.  

Yet, with repetition this is actually a skill we can build.  Like the proces of noting during meditation, we can learn how to be more and more present in the moment with practice.  

Redefining Productivity

Refocusing my attention isn’t the only thing I’ve found to help me to truly rest and be in the moment with my family.  I’ve also been doing a lot of work to redefine productivity itself, too.

In part, this came from reading The Gap and The Gain (linked above).  Shifting my focus onto what I consider a “win” or a “gain” helped me realize that I get to choose what it means to have a productive or a successful day. I get define my wins.   

In turn, this led me to create 5 Rules for a Successful Day.  These 5 rules help me intentionally decide what I want to look back on each day.  In turn, this allows me to tell myself that the day was – in fact – a productive and successful day.

Now, knowing me, you might expect this list to look like (1) creating a podcast, (2) writing a book chapter, (3) holding meetings for my business, (4) coaching my face off, etc.  Yet, that’s not what it looks like at all!

Why?  Because my Hell Yes Policy is clear at this point.  The things in my life that I want to say Hell Yes to the most include Kristen (my wife), my three kids, myself, and The Physician Philosopher.

So, if you are curious what my 5 Rules for a Successful/Productive Day look like… here it is:

5 Rules for a Successful Day

  1. Do something to make Kristen happy.
  2. Spend quality time with each of my kiddos.
  3. Create at least one thing.
  4. Move for at least 30 minutes per day.
  5. Do at least one thing I enjoy for no other reason than that I want to enjoy it.

Looking at this list, it is a completely different framework than focusing solely on productivity in a traditional sense, isn’t it?  Yet, it is a complete and full day for me.

Yet, when I think about my life’s priorities. When I am intentional about the kind of person I have been working to become.  This list pretty much perfectly encapsulates what a productive day looks like to me.  

And when I have a successful and productive day, then at the end of it, I can tell myself that I’ve earned my rest!  It isn’t laziness.  I’ve lived a full and meaningful day. When I do that, I DESERVE rest. 

Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

Kristen’s love language is acts of service.  So, when I do the dishes, laundry, wash a vehicle, make the bed, or help with the kids in a meaningful way… that makes Kristen feel loved.  It makes her happy. 

Having quality time with my kids can take a variety of shapes. This week it has included coloring on the floor with Anna Ruth (my 5-year-old), having a good conversation with my daughter about the 5 Rules to a Successful Day we are discussing now, and going to my son’s football practice and watching every snap without looking at my phone.

Creating at least one thing per day could be a podcast.  Or a meaningful email.  It could be writing a blog post, lecture, or book chapter.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  My two favorite activities in the world are content creation and teaching… which is why we are launching Medical Degree Financial University in June.  I get to create courses and lectures while I teach doctors in training how to create financial freedom.  

Finally, working on myself is important, too.  If I can commit to moving at least 30 minutes per day, then I can create a healthy lifestyle with fitness naturally built in.  This may mean pickleball. It could be a walk with Kristen.  It could be going for a run or lifting weights.

Enjoying the Rest You’ve Earned!

When I do the above, I get to enjoy my rest.   I get to do something I want to do for the sake of pure enjoyment. I get to rest.  Why?  Because I’ve earned it.

So, when you think about what it means to be successful or productive to you, how are you defining that currently? What do you have to get done in order to enjoy your rest?  To get to those moments of inspiration and rejuvenation?

If you don’t like your current list, why not create a new one based on the intentional priorities you want your life to reflect?  And then – with practice – make it perfect.

Editor’s Note: If you are a burned out doctor looking to work on your money and mindset so that you can create the freedom to live life on your terms, make sure to book a consult with one of our certified physician caoches in ACE.  Click here to book a consult.

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