Back to medicine.

Getting back to medicine is a nice feeling. I say this because when juggling a few others balls study time isn’t at a leisurely pace, nor is it ever as long as I’d like. When I do sit down, with my email switched off and some music going, I feel more at ease. I can focus on the patient’s complaint from earlier today, I can choose the learning objective to focus on. It’s like switching gears, and gosh it feels good.

I’m not one to stop readily. Nor are you I suspect. Modern times appear to demand a high pace, there is the expectation of a state of urgency, of always being available and ready to act. Some people thrive on this (ED doctors??), others prefer meticulous work with all of the same importance but stripped of the urgency (anatomical pathologists??). Within the medical world we see a stark contrast when comparing the demeanour of the pressure seeking retrieval medicine specialist to the anatomical pathologist. There also appears to be this same contrast between different roles held by the same person. Or between different tasks within the same role. Let’s explore.

I recently read a few articles describing tasks on two intersecting spectrums. Heading in one direction we have the urgency of a task. At one end, those that must be done yesterday, at the other end the ‘when I get to it’ jobs. The intersecting spectrum consists of task importance. This is equally diverse, at one end the really important things. And I mean really important, like planning your life goals or marrying your long-term partner (urgency often at play here I suspect…). At the other end is to buy that spare box of paper clips because you’re halfway through the current one.

The above idea then defines four categories for tasks:

  1. Both urgent and important
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important
  4. Neither urgent nor important

So to today’s reflection. Today I write about changing gears to suits the tasks in different categories. Specifically, how to get into the right gear, the slower and more thoughtful gear, for category two. I find this hard given it is surrounded by urgent tasks.

Take now as an example. I sat down for some category one and three time. These require the same high gear so I figure it’s best to aim to knock some over in the same sitting. The intention was to spend an hour in that gear, in the midst of the urgency, before knocking back a few gears and getting some category two tasks done (yep that’s right, category two is all about learning medicine). How wonderful a plan that was. Oh how my intentions were pure….. Oh how I missed the mark. Three hours have gone by and I am still in urgent territory.

This is what happens when you don’t change gears properly. I got caught up in urgency, forgot all about importance and now it’s after midnight. I’ve got buckleys of getting decent study done now (so I might as well blog?). I’m sure many people experience this, grand plans of knocking over those few urgent jobs before getting down to important things. I’m sure many medical students do this, quick trip to the shops for supplies before swinging by Joe’s to pick up the… and while I’m out I’ll just… and then I swear I’m gonna study this afternoon. Urgent gears are hard to get out of sometimes.

So what do I need to do to prevent this happening again? I plan to use stop signs. I accept that it’s fair to knock over category one first. These are true priorities that do have time pressure so go ahead. But if you plan, like I did, to make use of the high gear by doing some category three jobs you must put a stop sign in place BEFORE you start. This stop sign might be a time limit, “i’ll do 30 minutes of…”, or a specific number of jobs, “ten emails and I’m done”. I didn’t set a stop sign tonight and guess what, I never stopped. Urgency grabbed hold of me, and yes I do love this feeling at times, but tonight I got dragged along for a ride. I missed my chance at getting important work done, I missed my chance to visit category two – getting back to medicine.

Whether you’re the ED doc, the pathologist or the medical student you have tasks that need different gears. Don’t let urgency ruin your chance to have a crack at importance. Spend more time getting back to medicine.

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