I am someone who consistently makes New Year’s resolutions. I find New Year’s to be a great time to reassess how all the aspects of my life are going and whether they continue to align with the direction I want to take.
In previous years my resolutions have ranged from the cliche “going to the gym and losing weight” to listening to a podcast every day, exploring my city, or learning to cook a different cuisine every week (my experience creating sushi still lives as a nightmare in my friends’ minds).
But the same thing would happen every year. By the time March rolled around, I’d fall back into my routine, and nothing really changed.
So this year, I tried something different. My ultimate goal is to change my life in such a way that this year is better than the ones before. And when I take stock every New Year’s, the progress I make is not always where I would have expected in all the aspects of my life that matter to me.
This year I decided to do none of those. No committing to anything specific. No planning out my time in the gym. No focusing on what I need to add or do.
This year I focused exclusively on saying no.
I said no to adding more things to my plate when I already feel overwhelmed. I said no to making my hectic schedule even more hectic or adding more call or shifts to look good or because I thought I should. I said no to constantly thinking that to improve my life meant I needed to add something, that something was missing, and that if I only spent more time in the gym, on my relationships, on myself and my mindset and my education, I would finally get to where I wanted to be.
Instead, I took stock of my time (our only non replenishable resource) and decided to figure out what to take away.
It has been the best decision. I realized how much time my work as a radiologist has been taking and how much that affects other areas of my non-clinical life. I understood how little time I have during the day to do things I want to do if I spend too much time and energy focusing on everyone else’s priorities. As I have removed more things from my list of responsibilities throughout my career and personal life, this has created a burst of energy and creativity that has expanded other areas of life I find meaningful.
I finally had time to focus on and learn about (and most importantly, act upon) my interests in real estate, mindset development, high-performance training for men, and music. I have finally started to progress toward the life and impact I want to have meaningfully.
Saying no is not about shirking your responsibilities as a doctor, cutting back hours, or even taking time off. It is realizing what you can and should do, what you have control over, and the important relationship between your time and energy throughout the day. In this era of physicians focusing on mindset and side-gigs, many of us will not make meaningful progress toward the lives we want because we continue to add to our lives. More courses, conferences, masterminds, podcasts, and seminars. And if you’re like me (as many physicians are!), your life and schedule are jam-packed. Adding more things will not only not serve you but can also actively prevent you from those things you want to change in your life. It will take away your focus and energy to execute the steps that would actually move the needle.
I plan to continue this trend of being intentional with what I decide to commit to as I understand my energy, mind, goals, and values a little better. The first step is taking stock of what I am currently doing and figuring out what things are not serving me to the degree that I need. What are my biggest time drains? And more importantly, what are my biggest energy drains? Most people will automatically think it is their job, but when you delve deeper, there are always parts of our clinical jobs that are drains and parts that are not. Are there ways to maximize those more energy-giving areas and say no to the drains? As doctors, we know there are certain areas we can’t always change, but are there ways to offload work, change the way things are done, or do them at different times of the day?
When I realized the biggest drain on my energy at work was documentation and protocoling, I started to spread this work throughout the day into smaller chunks so there wasn’t a huge amount of draining work at the end of the day that would affect my energy when I got home. This has drastically improved my love of my job and also improved my time with family and friends.
Next, I found success in creating a schedule that takes advantage of this energy. I create creative space when I know I will have the headspace to do good work. If I have a responsibility that will take away that time, I intentionally move that creative time rather than jamming it in when I know it will be a waste of time. I combine this with a nightly journal where I review what I did and how I felt and have a sense of how my day went.
As doctors, we are trained from medical school to say yes to everything – do more work to get more experience, be willing to go the distance so you get that recommendation letter or competitive fellowship, and do extra research because everyone else is doing it. We keep that mentality as attendings, which ends up not serving us in the same way. If we want to achieve anything meaningful, enjoy our lives and careers, and become the doctors we want to be, learning to let this habit go will be the best thing that serves us.
Shiraz Rahim is a radiologist.