Thursday, May 25, 2017

Parkinson's Law

Subtitle:  Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Just over a year ago, I wrote smugly about how I had gotten caught up on all of my tasks at work and about how wonderful it felt.  At the time, I fully intended to keep up with everything, always and forever, so as to keep the wonderful feeling going.

I think I may have lasted a month.

Inevitably, I got behind during a busy time at work, and then I never seemed to have enough time or motivation to get caught up again.  So for most of the past year, I've left work every day knowing that there were piles of charts and long to-do lists waiting for me the next morning.

For me, the worst part about never being caught up isn't the overwhelming feeling of always having too much to do:  it's the terrible lethargy that comes from doing the same thing over and over again without seeing any progress.  There is nothing quite as demotivating as signing off on a letter, only to be greeted by 50 other letters that need signing off.  For the past year, work has felt like a neverending slog through the same neverending tasks.  Day after day after day.

A few weeks ago, I had a brief but welcome break from the teaching and presenting and administrative duties that fill my non-clinical time.  And I thought to myself "Now!  Now is the time to get caught up again."  So I took the extra time I had and phoned every last patient and dictated every letter and signed off on every chart.  For the first time in way too long, I was caught up.

And I've stayed that way for the past three weeks.  And once again, it has felt amazing.  I feel a little burst of joy every time I open my letter queue and see the words "You have no new letters to sign off".  Or when I look at my empty inbox.  Or when I look at the folders in my desk, and there's absolutely nothing in them.

The second best part of being caught up is that I've regained the efficiency that I had lost.  When I have just a few tasks to do, I can plow through them quickly, knowing that I'm going to get the satisfaction of being done, once again.  And it's much easier to let go of my relentless perfectionism when I know that it's standing between me and being caught up on everything.

The absolute best part?  I get a bonus day off today because I'm done everything!  I was finishing up my tasks yesterday, and I realized that there wasn't anything that needed to be done today, so I didn't have to come in for my usual catch up day in the office.  No dreaded Thursday paperwork day.  I've taken my car in to get the winter tires removed (just a wee bit late), gotten a haircut for the first time in eight months, and now written a blog post.  Next is lunch and then reading for fun.

Life, for this moment at least, is good.

(If you are hating me and my smugness right now, please note two things:  1)  I start two weeks of call on Monday, which is going to destroy everything I just wrote about; and 2) When I say I'm "done everything", I am ignoring the paper I need to write and the CV I need to update and a number of other longer-term tasks that will forever be on my to-do list.  No matter how efficiently I work or how late I stay, there will always be something left to do.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The End of the Thirties

When I was a few months into dating my girlfriend, we celebrated her birthday together for the first time.  For me, birthdays have always a pretty understated affair, marked by a single special dinner and maybe a cake.  Not so for my girlfriend.  For her, birthdays are an event...or more accurately multiple events involving as many different activities and as many people as possible.  I was somewhat stunned that first year by the number of celebrations that a single person could have in honour of her birthday.

It took me a few years to realize that this was something that I could use to my advantage, but now that I'm three years into the relationship and a few days away from my fortieth birthday, I know to milk it for all it's worth.  I'm not having a single birthday this year; I'm having a birthday month.  Dinner with friends, dinner with both sides of the family, an Escape Room with other friends*, and birthday tapas with the girlfriend.  I will be celebrated!

And, inevitably, I will be a bit melancholy.  Because there is something about turning forty that feels...old.  Forty marks the end of the decade in which I went through medical school, residency, and fellowship.  It marks the end of the decade in which my father died.  It appears to mark the end of my single life and of dating new people**.  Realistically, it probably marks the end of any chance that I will have a biological child.  While I am hopeful for good things in the upcoming decade, I can't help but feel a bit wistful for the things being left in my thirties.

How does one let go of so many things that made them who they are?

*Have you ever done an Escape Room?  Puzzles and friendly competition all in one?  Yes!  Love them.

**If my girlfriend reads this, which she only seems to do when I write something she would find remotely bothersome, I can just hear her saying "Appears to?  What does 'appears to' mean???"