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.)