A backlog is a terrible thing, isn’t it? It’s certainly something that we often choose to hide as physicians. We use it as a source of shame, guilt, frustration, and overwhelm. Many physicians have had their jobs threatened, or even lost their jobs, due to mountains of unfinished charts or inboxes.
When you understand this, you can see why you would keep that sort of thing to yourself. Every day the list grows bigger, and physicians get discouraged.
Where do you even start? It follows you everywhere, casting a shadow on every activity. Life gets put on hold. Physicians schedule weekends, evenings, mornings to try to get a handle on it, to try to beat this backlog into submission. But despite every effort, it’s still too much.
Anytime you slow down, plan time with the kids, or desire a weekend off, your brain reminds you of the backlog. “Shouldn’t you be working on that backlog?” haunts your days and nights.
I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, and it is possible to beat the backlog. Additionally, it is possible to beat the backlog and at the same time create time for yourself and your life. Life does not have to go on pause until you have that backlog under control.
In fact, to achieve backlog zero is going to take a significant amount of love toward yourself and actions to care for yourself.
Think about it. When did you last say kind things to yourself? You have been beating yourself up so much about your inability to empty the inbox, that your inner voice has become a nagging nasty critic. Your inner voice won’t let you relax, find joy, or rest well. It tells you the only way to get this backlog done is to make you sit in a chair for the whole weekend “until you get that backlog done missy!”
Have you ever seen a 6 year old who was asked to sit still until that homework is done? What does she do? As soon as your back is turned, she is under the table playing with toys or scribbling or hiding in the cupboard with the iPad.
Guess what? Your inner critic is not helping you. It is turning you into that 6 year old who hates her homework! Think back to your last weekend of backlog. How much actually got done? Am I right? It’s just that your toys look like Netflix, Sudoku, emails, Facebook, a cleaner closet, sparkling bathrooms. And yes, that backlog still exists.
The good news is that an empty inbox is not what determines your value, worth, or joy. The number of unfinished tasks in your inbox is a number. It’s simply a math problem.
You are not unworthy, unlovable, or a disappointment because of your unfinished backlog. You are still capable of fun, time off, and self-love even when you still have a backlog. The ability to finish your backlog is actually easier when you are well-rested and prepared to handle the nagging nasty critic.
Additionally, beating your backlog is more fun with friends, peers, and coaching support. It’s a way of finding your most simple solution to your backlog problem.
I encourage you to stop shaming yourself and stop hiding. Come out into the light and get the help you need to take care of your backlog and yourself. Find a physician coach to find your backlog strategy.
In the meantime, find ways to rest and speak nicely to yourself. Plan time off and be specific with your backlog time. Give yourself protected time to do your backlog and choose specific achievable goals for that time. Plan a start and end time and a reward at the end. Think of yourself like that 6 year old. You have to coax her out from the shadows and encourage her every step of the way.
Sarah J. Smith is a family physician and can be reached at the Charting Coach. She can also be reached on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.
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