When I started medical school, I believed it was the busiest time of my life and dreamed of beginning residency, hoping that things would improve as I settled into my chosen specialty. Little did I know that the busy phase of my life had only just begun. As I progressed in my career, my to-do list grew into a lengthy book of endless tasks, and I realized that developing multi-tasking skills is easier said than done. The role of a well-rounded academic surgeon requires mastering the art of multitasking and effective time management to balance the ongoing demands of our clinical duties, teaching responsibilities, and research participation while embracing the boundless opportunities of the academic surgical world. Throughout my career, I have used the following tips that have helped me manage my time and maintain a balance among various tasks, and I would like to share them with you.
Prioritizing Your Priorities
Similar to conducting a research study where we define our primary and secondary outcomes, it is important to differentiate between our primary and secondary priorities. It is not surprising that all surgeons are high achievers, but setting realistic goals and timeframes is essential. I find defining my priorities, dividing time in proportion to them, and planning for a reasonable timeline helps me stay on track and also serves as a reminder of what are the most important things to me.
Write it Down
If it is not written down somewhere, it does not exist. Whether you prefer adding your upcoming tasks to a calendar, a to-do list, or an organizer application, find what works best for you. Not only does writing tasks down help to declutter your mind, but it also provides you with a clear overview of your responsibilities and commitments.
Use a Calendar
For urgent and time-sensitive tasks, I find it helpful to add them to my calendar. I like to utilize different calendar applications for various tasks, each with its own level of urgency. Additionally, I maintain separate calendars for work and personal-related tasks.
Take advantage of the new technology by setting recurring reminder alerts for your upcoming deadlines. These reminders will serve as gentle nudges to keep you on track and ensure important tasks don’t slip through the cracks.
Delegation can be challenging, especially when we have our own trusted system in place. However, it’s important to remember that we can’t do everything ourselves and still remain productive. Delegating tasks and seeking assistance while accepting that tasks may not be completed exactly as we would do them ourselves, is a valuable mindset to adopt
Whether we like it or not, there will be times when we are overwhelmed and fall behind. When this happens, first, take a deep breath. Then remember your priorities, and switch gears and adapt. One positive outcome of the COVID pandemic is that it taught us the importance of flexibility and how to cope when things do not go as planned.
Relax and Have Fun
I came across this funny yet true post on social media: “Academia is looking forward to the vacation break so you can do work”. Many of us can relate to this sentiment, but my advice is to avoid making it a habit. Burnout is real, and nobody is immune to it. Taking care of yourself and having personal time is crucial.
Lastly, If you ever find yourself waiting for the weekend to catch up on tasks but end up spending it on the couch watching TV, only to regret it on Sunday night, remember that you are not alone. It is perfectly okay to have those days to recharge your battery.