I'd love your guys feedback on this. I've been thinking about starting a new blog/website with advice for women in medicine. I wrote a post - is this useful?
My Morning 90
My procrastination techniques are the stuff of legend. When faced with the USMLE Step 1, I switched my laptop to a Dvorak keyboard and re-learned to type instead of studying. I once flew round-trip to Las Vegas on back-to-back flights to avoid finishing a project. I’m pretty sure I started this blog so that I won’t have to get around to finishing a Master’s degree.
So why do I get asked all the time, “How are you so productive?”
Despite my creatively bad habits, I still out-perform 90% of my colleagues.
I’ve got a magic bullet. I call it My Morning 90.
All the productivity advice online written for 9-to-5 types just doesn’t apply when you’re taking calls or working night float. I developed a tactic that works with a physician’s schedule and I’ve been knocking it out of the park since.
My Morning 90 started during residency. Just repeating the sleep, eat, work cycle each day, I felt so out of balance. I wasn’t spending any time taking care of myself. I couldn’t even remember having hobbies or non-medical friends. Honestly, I couldn’t even remember the day of the week most of the time. I was stressed out and I knew I had to find a way to decompress.
We each have a vision of our best selves. Close your eyes. What does your best self look like?
Maybe your best self helps your kids with their homework every night, or hosts dinner parties with friends, or writes in her journal. My best self spends time every day in her yoga studio. No way did I have time for a regular yoga practice during residency but, when I was honest with myself, I realized I did have time to meditate for a few minutes a day. I started getting up 15 minutes early and meditating before work. Some days, I was too exhausted to even wake up 15 minutes early and, on those days, I spent 5 or 10 minutes meditating in a call room during my shifts. There’s nothing like trying to meditate with your pager going off!
I realized that I was more focused and calmer if I meditated for even a few minutes a day. Feeling just a little more like myself, I started having extra brain space during the day. And that extra brain space helped me think beyond the daily grind to develop larger goals. I realized that residency is a temporary hell but that I wasn’t ever going to progress towards my bigger goals if I couldn’t find a way to chip away at achieving them.
As a fellow now, I work all sorts of wacky hours. Days, nights, swing shifts. It’s never the same schedule from day-to-day. But I’ve built on the lessons that I learned as a strung out resident to keep moving forward towards my goals, one baby step at a time. That 15 minutes meditating in the morning has become a cherished habit that I call My Morning 90.
My Morning 90 (MM90) is a 90 minute block of time immediately after waking that I dedicate to a particular goal.
Let’s break down MM90 and how it relates to being your best self.
First of all, I dedicate time in the morning. We’re all different, some of us morning people and some of us night owls. It doesn’t matter when your maximum productivity period is. There’s nothing morally superior about being a morning person. What matters is knowing when you are most productive. News flash – it might not be when you think it is!
I mostly work evenings so I certainly don’t feel like a morning person. During fellowship, I fell into the habit most days of going to bed at 2am and waking at 9am. I didn’t feel like this was a natural schedule for me, but it was natural for the hours that I work. I noticed that I really couldn’t get anything productive done between coming home from a shift and 2am. I spent that time watching TV or surfing the internet while enjoying a glass of wine. My brain needed time to wind down before going to bed, but it wasn’t very sharp late at night.
I usually woke up just in time to get ready for whatever meeting or educational activity I had in the morning, so there was no productive time prior to going back to the hospital. On evenings when I didn’t have a shift, I tended to work out or do yoga after returning home.
When was I working towards my goals?
As a researcher, I had a lot of urgent-but-not-emergent tasks on my plate. Writing manuscripts, analyzing data, developing new project ideas. None of these tasks had a firm deadline, so it was easy to let them drift from week to week.
I started experimenting to determine my optimally productive time. I tried working at night before bed, in my office in the afternoon, late morning after working out. One of the last things that I tried (honestly, because it seemed horrible) was waking up early to work on a project. I was shocked to find that, even though I didn’t feel completely awake, I was super-focused and super-productive if I started working just after waking up.
The 15 minute blocks I used during residency grew into a 45 minute block. Surprisingly, I often wanted to keep working once my 45 minute timer went off. Now, I do two 45-minute blocks with a break for breakfast in between. My Morning 90.
There are still a lot of mornings when I’m too exhausted to get up early or when my shift schedule is especially draining. I don’t do MM90 those days. Generally, I aim for 3 MM90s per week. The point isn’t to be superhuman, it’s to use the same hours in the day that we all have to be your best self.
You may be thinking, “That’s great for her but I don’t care about research or meditation. I want to spend more time with my kids,” or “Who cares about publishing papers? I’d like to lose the 10 pounds that I gained during intern year!”. No matter what your goals are, regularly dedicating a set amount of time to achieving them will put you light-years ahead of most of your peers. The feeling of satisfaction from achieving something personally important before you even walk out the door is enough to carry you past the rest of your daily challenges.
There’s an added benefit to MM90 that is less obvious – becoming burnout proof. We’ve all gone through periods of burnout and one of the key factors that contributes to burnout is being mired in the day-to-day misery. Having longer range goals that align with your vision of your best self and making demonstrable progress towards them is a way of keeping your head out of the quicksand.
Set a goal for the next month using the format “I will do _____ for ___ minutes __ days per week.”
Leave your challenge in the comments below so we can cheer each other on! Or e-mail me your challenge and I’ll check in with you as the month goes along your personal cheerleader.