Adopting habits of successful people

March 19, 2019

How this primary care physician is attempting to bring more balance into her life.

Editor’s Note: Physicians Practice’s blog features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for professionals to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform.

Many weeks pass by in a hectic blur of meetings and clinic and activities. I’ve read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, and know what I’m supposed to be doing-preserving and enhancing myself both personally and professionally and such. How I would carve out that magical preparation time is beyond me. That seems most appropriate for people who have some control over their schedule and thus predictable days. Despite my repeated failed attempts at incorporating weekly planning into my routine, I continue to start each weekend with every intent of reviewing my week and planning it out.

This Sunday was another snowy day in Wisconsin, and I was bored by mid-afternoon. I decided to plan for my week. Grabbing my work calendar and my home calendar along with my to-do list, I spent time searching Pinterest for the perfect daily planner template that would draw the disparate parts of my life together in one seamless plan. Finding something reasonably simple and flexible, I sat down to map out my days. I included the important and often neglected details of my week-which days I need to bring lunch, when I am going to exercise, when I will be home from work, and what chores need to be done each night around the house.

I’m at the end of Day One. Don’t laugh-it’s further than I usually get. I didn’t quite leave for work on time, but I did eat breakfast and exercise, which made the rest of the day flow more smoothly. I also didn’t make it home when I planned because I was on call. This meant I had to wrap up many things from the day. However, looking at my to-do list made me remember all those things I meant to do but would’ve completely forgot this evening. Part of my to-do list has me getting things ready for tomorrow morning. If my days go more smoothly and predictably, I may have to admit that Stephen Covey may have a point.

It would help me if I approached my personal schedule like I approach my clinic schedule. Earlier on in my career, I expected that the schedule of my clinic appointments would accurately predict my day’s activities. As I’ve become more experienced, I realize that, at best, my clinic schedule is a hypothesis of something that could occur but probably won’t. Patients are late or don’t show up. The “simple” sinus infection ends up needing a head CT, and so on. I’ve learned over time to not get frustrated (or too frustrated at least) with the unpredictability of primary care. 

Likewise, my family’s calendar is only one of many possibilities of what could happen. Yet, I get thrown off course often when plans change. Contentment is probably (like many things) in the middle. My Covey-inspired plans can add a scaffold for my week’s schedule to be built, but just like in clinic, I need to remember that getting overly attached to a schedule is likely to cause frustration.

Jennifer Frank, MD, is a family physician and physician leader in Northeastern Wisconsin and finds medicine still to be the best gig out there. Married with four kids, she is engaged in intensive study and pursuit of work-life balance.