An excerpt from Physician—Time to Invest in Yourself: Work-Life Balance, the Needs of the Patient, and Medical-Legal Risk Management.
What is an essentialist? What is an essentialist lifestyle? Essentialism focuses on identifying the important signals in life and eliminating the noise. The noises are the distractions that add no value to your life and frequently monopolize time and meaning. When you assume the role of an essentialist you will discover that you achieve more with less. You will live by design, not by default. This means living proactively rather than reactively. You will systematically and deliberately distinguish the vital signals from the trivial, meaningless noise, and remove obstacles so you can pursue the important signals in a clear, enlightened, and effortless pathway.
However, ask yourself these two questions:
Can you do it all?
Is everything important?
The answer to both questions is no. An undisciplined and reactive lifestyle leads you to react impulsively to whatever issue is most pressing at the moment. You say yes to all queries without critical thought and execute tasks at the last minute, unprepared. You take on too much, and your work product is suboptimal. You feel out of control and become overwhelmed and exhausted. If you do not prioritize your life, those around you will — at the expense of your own energy, time, and personal growth. As an HCP, you are challenged to explore, absorb, and learn a vast array of detailed material across a diverse landscape of topics. This vast amount of material will be set against a background of maintaining your friendships, your family ties, and your health. Your work schedule is dictated by the program or specialty in which you work. With the current system of healthcare, you will be expected to see more patients, spend time with each patient to accurately diagnose and manage his or her ailments, and complete copious amounts of electronic paperwork to fulfill the requirements of patient and system demands. A haphazard approach will not suffice when you attempt to meet all these varied demands.
Eliminating the noise
You must recognize there is an abundance of noise and few things that are exceptionally valuable. You must take the time to explore what is valuable to meeting the demands of school, work, family, and friends. This means recognizing you can’t have it all and that you must prioritize. Eliminating noise can be challenging, especially when it has been present throughout your life. You have been meeting everyone’s demands for years. Given your time constraints, that is no longer possible. Saying no is difficult. It takes courage. It goes against the grain of all our present-day social norms. Most of us instinctively want to please family, friends, and even colleagues. So it takes mental fortitude and emotional discipline to say no to what is socially expected. We must choose what direction to go when confronting noise, or we will be pulled in directions we do not want to go, losing time, and physical and emotional energy on our aimless journeys.
A key component of essentialism is boundaries. These boundaries are constraints that allow you to seek a rich and productive life. Remember, you cannot possibly cope with doing everything for everybody. Despite the mantra spread by the marketing experts, you cannot have it all — and that’s OK. The boundaries you establish will protect your personal, emotional, and mental space and time from being monopolized by others. They will prevent you from having to say no to people who want to enhance their objectives at the expense of your time and energy. They will allow you to eliminate the demands and encumbrances of others that will not only frustrate you but detract you from achieving your own defined essential objectives and goals. They will allow you the time to explore ways to maximize the use of your time and energy toward what you deem to be important. The boundaries you define are actually liberating and empowering.
To underscore the necessity of essentialism, let’s explore the reality of trade-offs. In the perfect world, we can have all the options in life we desire. Realistically, we often are faced with two choices we really want, but choosing one results in cognitive conflict with the other. Although having to make a choice between two covetable options may be unpleasant, it may also represent a huge opportunity. How? By forcing us to explore and weigh the options systematically and strategically to select the one that will give us the best chance of achieving the desired outcome. The process of trade-offs allows you to experience addition through subtraction. In summary, it is important to establish boundaries and utilize trade-offs as opportunities to clarify these boundaries if you haven’t already done so. This cognitive process leads to clarity and control of your journey — your journey. This essentialist lifestyle will allow you to enjoy your medical practice, your education and training, as well as your family and friends.
Timothy E. Paterick and Elizabeth Ngo are cardiologists and authors of Physician—Time to Invest in Yourself: Work-Life Balance, the Needs of the Patient, and Medical-Legal Risk Management.
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