Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Making Time

Beginning in last month, I started sharing the monthly message from MedStar Research Focus here on my blog, in addition to the newsletter. MedStar Research Focus is released the first Sunday of each month and can be viewed on StarPort.


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

“So, how was your summer?”

“Go anyplace interesting for vacation?”

“Can you believe the kids are going back to school already?”

It seems that every conversation in recent days has started with a reflection of how quickly the summer passed and changes that are approaching as we go into the fall. We all seem to relish the time off we had to take a break, breathe, enjoy our family and friends and even, perhaps, to experience something entirely new and exciting.

So I ask you: Does summertime enjoyment in any way diminish our passion and commitment to our professional lives?

I remember when I was a very ambitious medical student, working on a project with a cardiologist over the summer. He always made of point (barring emergencies) of getting out of the hospital by 6pm. I remember not fully understanding it. There was more work to be done, we weren’t tired, and what could possibly be more important than our research project? What truly confused me was that this cardiologist was remarkably successful and productive. At the end of the summer, I decided to ask him about it. He shared that having dinner with his family was very important to him, that his daily evening activities gave him energy for the next day and motivated him to start a little earlier and get things done in a timely manner. In short, it provided him additional motivation and the ability to be focused and productive while at work. I ended up working with this cardiologist throughout medical school and residency (7 years) and to this day, I consider him a mentor.

Recently in the Washington Post, there was a story1 about the crazy hours Americans work. One of the most notable quotes was from Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, who, when asked about whether she really could work 130 hours in a week, answered “The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom." It brought back (really bad) memories of how my roommates in medical school taped flip cards to the bathroom walls so every minute awake could be used for studying – craziness!

Since we live in an evidence-based world, let’s look at the data. A Stanford study in 20142 showed that productivity (work completed per unit of time) starts to decrease after 50 hours/week and really plummets after 55-60 hours/week. It’s not just cognitive impairment but physical effects too. After 55-60 hours/week, stress-induced impairments like sleep deprivation, depression, drinking, diabetes and impaired memory start to increase. Of course, those are detrimental on their own, but they are also bad for quality of work. These things lead to increased absenteeism, increased turnover, and impaired judgment. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a 2015 Lancet study3 showed the most alarming warning for workaholics yet: a 13% higher risk of heart disease and a 33% higher risk of stroke than those working 40 hours/week. All of these detrimental things come with the added expense of decreased productivity leading to a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Research is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies.”
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In Bob Rosen’s book Grounded, I learned that to be successful at work, you need all aspects of your life to be healthy. Your energy needs to be managed: “ …. energy to mentally juggle priorities and tasks, energy to concentrate and think clearly, energy to manage people’s personal issues, and energy to be active...”

Personal time is vital to recharging your energy and obtaining balance, which helps us be our best at work. We have an exciting academic year ahead of us and we need the very best in everyone, so I truly hope you had a wonderful, relaxing (and re-charging) summer!


Neil




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