I was recently intrigued by the title to a Liberty Mutual insurance website that promised “five easy tips for work-life balance.” Pay dirt. We all know there are no easy tips or quick ways to craft work-life balance. However, I have to admit that they had one item that is neither quick nor easy but which is wise.
Like you, I travel around with to-do lists. I have them scratched on various pieces of paper (usually the minutes of a boring meeting) plus a few well-intentioned smartphone apps that promised to organize me, most of all, in my head. I don’t trust my head, so I endlessly check the to-do lists that reside there, fearful that my internal alarm never sounded on something that must be done.
The organizer on the Liberty Mutual website tells the reader in search of balance to get rid of to-do lists. Gasp. Horror. How in the world to organize? Well, she recommends an action plan instead of a to-do list. We use action plans at my company to manage quality improvement initiatives or implementation of a program. They are helpful because they assign a specific what, who, and due date. It’s easy to see what your “to-do” is.
My family needs this. One item on my to-do list at home is to organize fall activities. We need to plan how to fit swim lessons, dance lessons, a pottery class, and tennis lessons into our weekly schedule. My approach to this “to-do” is to develop a color-coded master schedule that demonstrated for my husband all the potential options and then to worry and plan how it would all fit. Instead, we need an action plan. It might go something like this:
1. Decide whether child #1 will be taking tennis or karate lessons — Dad — one week from today
2. Have the girls commit to baton or dance class — Mom — one week from today
3. Mom and dad meet to finalize plans — M&D — one week + one day from today
That actually alleviates some of my anxiety. We not only have the to-do addressed but we have a plan and a timeline to help it succeed.
I’m not sure how to apply this to clinical care. I could see the action plan taken to extremes — after all, not everything involves an action plan. However, I think there are times when it may be valuable. I recently met a new patient who has a very complex psychological, emotional, and physical constellation of symptoms. There are no easy answers, clear diagnoses, or magic pills. We are going to have to slog through this together. But I inadvertently developed my own action plan after our first visit. I was going to call a couple of specialists and mail her some additional information. She was going to complete a lifestyle questionnaire and check with her insurance about tertiary care options. We set a due date of two weeks — our next visit. It worked much better for both of us because the expectations were clearly delineated and we knew by the next visit whether our “to-dos” were done.