Protecting your sweet spot

June 15, 2018

Reflect on what requests you want to accept before obediently saying yes, especially those that detract from your career goals.

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. The opinions are that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Physicians Practice or UBM.

Everyone has a sweet spot: that moment when you are doing exactly what you are meant to do. Daily distractions try to pull you away from your sweet spot and those interferences can derail our progress. Amid the everyday hustle and bustle, how can you keep yourself focused?

First, know the vision or mission that defines your sweet spot. Are you passionate about teaching or writing? Looking to be an advocate or mentor? Take some time to sit down, reflect on, and identify your long- and short-term goals. Those will be your guideposts. Once you can articulate those, you will be prepared when distraction knocks at your door.

Each time a request demands your attention, ask yourself: Is this in line with my sweet spot? Will this get me closer to achieving my goals? If so, the request is probably worth your time. Conversely, anything that doesn’t bring you closer to your sweet spot merits closer evaluation before you accept. Your time and resources are valuable, and often you are the only one who can protect them.

When my current employer began the process of upgrading the electronic health record (EHR), they sought out a physician champion to liaise between the clinicians and administration. They approached me for this position, presenting it as an opportunity to act on behalf of my colleagues to create a more functional system. (Certainly, I would also be a mouthpiece for the administration with a duty to smooth the way in the face of skeptical physicians who felt they had been given little say in the new EHR.)

Initially, the offer intrigued me, and I felt flattered to be considered. However, I realized the time commitment would be significant. I was told it would be the equivalent of 10 hours per week. My current full-time position lists 40 hours per week on paper. In reality, my work consumes much more of my time. As a full scope family physician and residency faculty, I easily work an additional 20 plus hours each week on administrative, educational, and call responsibilities. Adding more responsibility meant something would have to be sacrificed either at work or at home.

In a meeting with administration to discuss potential logistics, I asked what compensation they anticipated for the position. They looked at me with blank stares. After some stammering, they explained there was no additional funding. Rather, they anticipated I would cut back on my current clinical, teaching, and administrative activities.

So, there I was, being asked to contribute my time and resources for no additional compensation. I asked myself whether this new responsibility would put me in my sweet spot. Certainly, this could be a great opportunity to be more involved in higher administration, even leadership roles. But was that my goal?

My long-term goals include more leadership roles, but ultimately, I envision myself more in an academic leadership capacity. The physician champion role would have taken me away from my current teaching and supervisory duties. The position required more work but offered no pay. Although administration may have envisioned my time could be easily parsed out, I knew that my responsibilities to my patients, colleagues, and residents played out in a more fluid way. There was no way to cut out a discrete 25 percent of my duties. Medicine is not that kind of work.

In medicine, we are often fighting with our high-achieving selves. We want to say yes, and I did want to say yes. I feel compelled to answer the call in front of me. I think we all feel that way at times-a responsibility to honor one more request, to squeeze in one more task.

Sometimes that is OK. Sometimes, saying yes provides you the opportunity to work with someone or somewhere worthwhile or offers you a reward or compensation. Then, it may make sense to agree to do something outside your sweet spot. But at that moment, it was clear that while I could do the job, I was being asked to do more work for no additional compensation or benefit. I thanked them for the opportunity and politely declined. I knew the value of my time. This was not my sweet spot. It would not advance me in my goals nor did it align with my vision.

When opportunity knocks on the door, question its value and benefit before you add one more item on to your to-do list. Consider whether it moves you along in your journey. Consider whether it helps you achieve your grand vision for your career or life. Consider whether it puts you in your sweet spot.