Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Weblog | 1 comment

The Harvard Business Review magazine often features articles detailing techniques for personal improvement based on more rigorous scientific research and analyses of successful organizations and leaders. One of the articles featured in its recently-published compilation On Managing Yourself, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” focuses on improving yourself by managing energy instead of prioritizing and stressing about time management. The four dimensions of personal energy include physicalemotionalmental, and spiritual, which I’ll tie in this post and subsequent posts. I’ll cover the article’s highlights, and tie it in to make it more relevant to healthcare professionals:

Physical Energy

Authors Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy summarize their techniques along these points:

  • Enhance your sleep by setting an earlier bedtime and reducing alcohol use.
  • Reduce stress by engaging in cardiovascular activity at least three times a week and strength training at least once.
  • Eat small meals and light snacks every three hours.
  • Learn to notice signs of imminent energy flagging, including restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Take brief but regular breaks away from your desk, at 90- to 120- minute intervals throughout the day.

These ideas are pretty tall orders for physicians and medical students on the wards to follow. For medical students in lecture, they’re fairly manageable: at UC Irvine, every hour (during the four-hour long lecture block), students rush out of the auditorium for a quick game of pool, volleyball, or a coffee run. In the hospital, I regularly keep food around to munch on (since some attendings’ rounds run for 4+ hours!), eat a huge breakfast to get my energy going, and avoid heavy foods for lunch to avoid food coma. I use comfortable shoes with orthotics (Ecco leather shoes, as Danskos trip me) to get the most out of walking around the hospital, and always take the stairs.

Another technique: I sleep early and wake up early to take care of things like e-mails and reading papers. I can’t concentrate after getting out of the hospital, so I sleep almost as soon as I get home. If insomnia hits and I can’t sleep after 10 minutes, I use hypnosis videos on YouTube, play a looping sound clip of ocean waves on my computer, or, as a last resort, take sedating antihistamine pills.

Because I don’t have time to hit the gym, I use resistance bands and weights at home and follow workout videos on one monitor while catching up with episodes of The Colbert Report on another. Some of my friends (who are residents) multitask, combining social activity (meeting friends) with running, to, uh, bake two breads in one oven, so to speak.

Naturally, this advice is easier to follow if you’re in a schedule-controlled outpatient setting. If you’re in between patients, for instance, taking breaks wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially if you’re performing long intensive office visits such as psychotherapy.

I cover the other dimensions, mental, emotional, and spiritual in future posts.