Veterinarians are a different lot. We are driven, yet empathetic. We feel things deeply and we tend to be motivated by things other than finances—but we all have to pay our bills.
With the significant investment we have made in our education, we feel obligated to be “productive”. This obligation drives us to do things like work long hours—or when not working, spend long hours worrying over patient outcomes or relationships with team members. It gives us feelings of guilt if we take our focus off of work, or we work and then feel guilty that we are not the perfect spouse or parent.
Productivity is a word that dehumanizes us. It is a word that applies to automation, not humans. According to etymonline.com, the word productive comes from an economic term for “rate of output per unit”.
Some of us receive pay based on productivity, and even if we don’t, we hold ourselves—even outside of work—to a high standard of productivity. We are not machines.
This is the veterinary trap.
So how do we get out?
1. You are only human after all. Recognize that you feel like you are in a productivity trap and that it is a very human trait. As human beings, we are programmed to want to create order out of chaos and to set goals for ourselves that lead us to a better life. Productivity alone is not a bad thing. It is only bad when one feels that they needs to be productive for the sake of being productive does she become dehumanized. No one is saying that you should stop trying to be the best you can be.
2. Set clear boundaries. This means when you are working you focus on work and on patients, but when you are off, you must be off. Schedule yourself some time outside of work when you get no emails, no texts and no social media. Or maybe just schedule a limited time for these things so that you can relax but are not completely unplugged. Many of you feel like social media and venting to friends (and strangers) is therapeutic, but studies have shown that it can be destructive to your wellbeing.
3. Set reminders. If you have anxiety about forgetting a task (or a patient), set a reminder in your phone to alert you about the task at an appropriate time, when you will be able to focus on it. We have technology, use it. Once your brain knows that you will not forget the item when the time comes, it is easier for you to focus on the things at hand, even if that thing is yoga with your dog or cooking a meal.
4. Pull up a seat at the bar. We don’t mean the actual bar (unless you enjoy it). Recognize that your life is like a three-legged stool, and if one leg is broken, the stool will not stand. The three legs represent your work, your home, and your health. Make sure that if you are leaning onto one of the three legs too much that it does not break, because then you will be on the floor. Finish your charting. (Doesn’t that feel great?) Organize your closet. (Now there is feng shui!) Rearrange your furniture. (So much better!) Make a smoothie with healthy ingredients. (See, you are taking care of you!)
5. Give up. No, we don’t mean give up as in quit! We mean give up your time to help others. Multiple studies have shown that generosity makes us feel good. Generosity restores the humanity that the concept of productivity takes from us, and you will not have to look very far to find someone that can use your gifts. Read to children or even shelter pets. Volunteer at a cat café. Make meals for senior citizens.
Think about ways you can shore up your three-legged stool. Don’t forget that your family, friends and pets can be a part of all three legs, so they need to be a part of any escape plan. +