Doctors can buy happiness by buying time


While enjoying good incomes, physicians and other health care providers chronically suffer from a lack of time. Between scheduled clinical work and being on call, it is not uncommon to have only one full day off in seven. Not surprisingly, it is far too easy to spend that entire day just trying to keep your life afloat, catching up on mundane tasks for yourself and your family that fell by the wayside while you were at work.

The good news, however, is that new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that many professionals can increase their well being and happiness by using their income to buy back some of that lost time through the use of time-saving services such as housecleaners or online personal assistants.

Study authors Ashley Whillans and Elizabeth Dunn found that when people spend money on such services, happiness improves. Their findings suggest that “using money to buy time may reduce feelings of time pressure on a given day and [over time] provide a cumulative benefit by serving as a buffer against the deleterious effects of time pressure on overall life satisfaction.” This held true across multiple professions and income brackets.

This approach is good news for physicians, who as a group traditionally use their disposable income to purchase material goods. Splurging on a big purchase, such as a luxury car, can feel good and serve as a reward for having worked so hard. Similarly, providing and buying things for loved ones can temporarily assuage some of the guilt associated with not being present.

Research has consistently shown, however, that the perceived gains from such material purchases are short lived. Instead, buying back time and then using it to pursue meaningful and enriching activities is more likely to result in long-term gains in well-being. It is a better, and often far cheaper, use of that money.

The key to this strategy is to think both traditionally as well as outside the box. There are the obvious tasks that have been outsourced for decades, such as house cleaning, lawn care, or meal preparation. In my own physician coaching practice, it amazes me how many of my physician clients do not take full advantage of these classic opportunities to save time, particularly meal services. When your time is worth well over $100 to 200 an hour, how could you NOT pay another person far less than that to do the job better than you would do it yourself?

In the modern gig economy, however, the opportunities for time-saving go far beyond the traditional. Virtual assistants, errand running services, and increasing delivery options for all kinds of goods mean that you can outsource almost anything you can think of. Any mundane task that you have been putting off doing, or anything you dread doing every week, is ripe for paying someone else to do.

For 5 to 10 dollars an hour, virtual assistant companies such as Fancy Hands or Efficise allow you to delegate tasks such as appointment making, travel planning, basic internet research, and data entry. For example, one of my clients recently needed to research companies and make appointments for a roof repair. This would require her to use her precious time at night on the internet to make a list of companies to call, and then she would have to skip lunch for a few days, as the only time slow enough in her clinic for her to make a call during business hours was the 20 minutes she allotted herself for lunch.

Instead, she used a virtual assistant, who researched local roofers, chose three with the most consistently high reviews, used her calendar to schedule the appointments around her work schedule, populated the appointments on the calendar and sent her a summary. For about 15 dollars, my client saved herself hours of work, and got to eat lunch.

Tasks need not only be those that can be done virtually. You can hire local assistants to run those errands that can only be done in person. Need someone to queue in a line, such as the DMV? Want someone to do the Christmas shopping for nieces and nephews? Services such as TaskRabbit connect you with vetted locals to do these time consuming, in-person one-off tasks.

The biggest challenge that physicians can face when implementing this strategy is giving up some control. As doctors, we are hard-wired through medical training to do everything ourselves, to make sure it is done right. The idea of delegating can be daunting. I recommend my clients start with small tasks, to become comfortable with outsourcing while learning the strengths and limits of these services.

My clients who do take the plunge never look back. Even just regaining a couple of hours on your only day off can dramatically change your well-being. How different would you feel if you had a few more hours to spend quality time with other people, improve your health, or try a new hobby?

Ryan Bayley is a physician coach and can be reached at his self-titled site, Ryan Bayley, M.D.

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