Four Ways Doctors Can Take Advantage of Long Weekends

August 19, 2016

Physicians have minimal downtime - something that can protect against burnout. However, when given a long weekend, they often dabble in work activities.

They are scattered throughout the year, and we look forward to them. They are the long weekends where a holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, and when added to Saturday and Sunday give us a three-day stretch. How frequently, however, do we take full advantage of such mini-vacations? Too often, perhaps unintentionally, we dabble a bit in work activities over the three-day stretch, thinking, "Hey, there's no real harm."

What are we telling our subconscious, however, when we continually remain in a work-like mode? That we can't compete, that we have to dip into leisure time to stay competitive, that we're not good enough, that we can't stay focused during work hours, and have to borrow from our leisure hours?

Approached correctly, long weekends can be a time for enjoyable leisure, rest, and relaxation. Approached like a typical weekend, they might offer no significant benefit. How can we optimize these calendar gifts and still maintain our equanimity? Here are several ways to do so:

1) Visit your calendar or scheduling software and peruse the three-day weekends for one year in advance. On the evening before such weekends, mark down that you will be taking nothing home from the office. By making this notation, you increase the probability that you will actually follow through.

2) Avoid the temptation at home to "look up" things online, to mull over patient cases, or to otherwise be engaged in office activities even if you haven't physically taken home a briefcase or patient files.

3) Be totally invested in your activities and in your relationships during those long weekends. If you're with family and friends, be with them. If you're traveling, or simply working around the yard, be where you are.

4) On the last day of your long weekend, be it a Sunday evening, or in some cases a Monday evening, don't overdo it. Don't stay up late, overeat, overdrink, or borrow against the next day. Retire at a reasonable hour, and be prepared to head back into work a little earlier than usual - to encounter less traffic - and provide yourself a few extra minutes back in the work-a-day world.

Martin Luther King's birthday, the Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July weekend when it falls on a Friday or Monday, Labor Day, and so on, can be times when we engage in enjoyable activities and actually celebrate the occasion at hand. You owe it to yourself to take advantage of these gifts sprinkled throughout the yearly calendar.