February 28, 2019
Like many of you, I’m finding this winter to be tough. The days are short and particularly cold, and there is no shortage of work. Looking back, I realize I got a bit overwhelmed in mid-January with my workload. While I was able to prioritize the work with firm deadlines and complete what needed to be done, I also got pretty tired along the way, and colleagues and friends started to notice. The question I often get asked at this time of year about whether I have upcoming vacation plans turned into a statement of, “I really think you need a vacation.”
Many people in health care have Type A personalities, so it’s relatively easy to find ourselves in a cycle of overwork. Over the years, I’ve found that providing care to others creates a positive feedback loop that can unintentionally reinforce the need to do more. It’s this drive to always give the best to our patients and colleagues that can become our Achilles’ heel.
There’s a reason that much has been written about the importance of taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Learning to set and maintain boundaries is important, not only for us individually but also for our colleagues and families. I’m no good to my fellow care providers if I’m cranky or frustrated, and I’m certainly no good to my family if I go home with no energy.
Research into workplace culture is finding that better boundaries can lead to better solutions. We’re discovering that creative breakthroughs and innovative solutions tend to come in between periods of sustained work. Taking breaks or letting your mind wander frees up mental space.
I’m working on setting and maintaining better boundaries. I’ve been reading and writing a lot less email in the evenings, and I have NOT opened my laptop for three weekends in a row, which is very unusual for me. So far, the results have been mostly positive: all the high-stakes, time sensitive work has been completed, though I’ve been slower than usual in responding to other things on my plate. Even so, the sky has not fallen and a side benefit is that my family has noticed I’m more present.
Like many of you, my family and I had last week off, giving us some time to rest and recover together. Although I wrote this message while on break (so I clearly have more work do on setting boundaries!), I did it while sitting in a particularly sunny spot in my house, enjoying the bright light streaming in through the windows while my daughter baked cookies – a great motivator to get things done!
How do you set and maintain boundaries between work and home? I’d love to hear your thoughts at
Dr. Susan Shaw
Chief Medical Officer