Spring is a time for cleaning. Many of us will find the time in the Spring season to declutter our closets, deep clean our homes, or freshen up our gardens. We toss out, re-cycle or donate items that are worn out, not useful, not serving a purpose, or not bringing us joy. But sometimes it is not our possessions that are in need of decluttering, but our time and calendar. When we mostly say “yes” to projects and commitments, over time our schedules can become cluttered making it harder to focus on or enjoy the commitments that are most meaningful. So, how can you Spring Clean and declutter your time and schedule? Are there things that you do that are low value and can be tossed out? Are there things that you’ve outgrown and can be “donated” to others?
Below are some ideas to help you think through Spring Cleaning the various roles of your Academic Surgeon life.
The research field of implementation science is rapidly growing and the theories of how to best implement evidence-based medicine are relatively well developed. The theories behind how to get physicians to stop doing things that are low value —de-implementation—are less clear. But, the tiny decisions we make throughout the day in caring for patients add up, both in time and cost.
- Are there low value or redundant practices that slow you down in the OR, in clinic, or the inpatient setting without leading to better outcomes?
- Are there certain types of patients you should stop seeing? When most surgeons build a practice they think broadly and take all comers in an attempt to gain experience, build a reputation and consolidate their skills. But, at some point the practice becomes busy and often needs to be narrowed in scope. Are there some types of patients you could stop seeing to allow you to focus and become an expert in a particular area?
- Are there parts of your practice you could delegate to a physician extender or other staff?
- Can you declutter or streamline your documentation practices? Are there forms that can be abandoned because the work is being duplicated elsewhere?
Academic or Research Work
What in your academic or research life is low value? Answering this question requires that you have a clear vision of who you are trying to become—what’s your niche or story? Anything that isn’t in line with that story should be considered as potentially low value.
- Can you stop or limit the number of non-primary research articles you are writing (reviews, commentaries, book chapters, etc.)? While these can be fun and educational to write, they have less impact on advancing your science or leading to academic promotion or grant funding.
- Can you stop doing lower value study design research (opportunistic underpowered retrospective reviews) to leave time and resources for other high-value projects?
- Are there papers or projects you should abandon because they were bad ideas to begin with?
- Do you have mentoring relationships that feel stalled? While mentorship is crucial for success in academic surgery, the needs of mentees and the availability of their mentors is constantly changing. Re-evaluate your mentoring relationships. Do each of them add value and excitement to your work, or does it feel like an obligation? Time is scarce, especially as mentors and mentees acquire new responsibilities or pro Have several meetings passed without any meaningful feedback or progress? This may be a sign that one (or both) of you are no longer able to commit enough time to make the mentoring relationship work. If you are mentee, it may be time to find a different project with the same mentor, or seek out a different mentor more aligned with your personality and interests. If you are a mentor, you may need to change your approach with your mentee, or encourage them to work with another mentor more aligned with their interests.
Administrative or Service Work
Administrative or service work can add up quickly if there aren’t defined stopping points or term limits to the assignments. A once a year evaluation of your society and committee memberships can help make sure your work remains high value. This is also a great opportunity to “donate” things you have outgrown—in other words, pass the opportunity along to a junior colleague who has a fresh enthusiasm for the work and could benefit from the experience.
- Are there local, regional or national committees you are not passionate about and could step down from? Term limits or turnover not only helps keep you from being overwhelmed, but allows for broader inclusion and a diversity of ideas.
- Can you emphasize quality over quantity in your professional memberships? Rather than belonging to 10 organizations and being marginally involved in each, can you focus on 2-3 where you emphasize quality engagement?
- Were you asked (“volun-told”) to perform administrative or service work by a more senior person, but don’t feel passionate about the work? Maybe you were asked to participate on an institutional committee or task force. It is often difficult to say, “No” to these tasks. While some of these projects may add value to your career, others add very little. Although we often feel obligated to complete these projects ourselves, it is important to limit these commitments, or at least minimize their impact on other higher priorities. This work may be a much better-suited and higher-yield for a more junior person or trainee. Just make sure you don’t “volun-tell” the next person to do it.