Last year I was lucky enough to attend some local yoga classes. This year one of my colleagues arranged for a yoga teacher to provide sessions for us after work. So every Tuesday I down tools just before 5 o’clock and for an hour I learn to stretch and move my arms , legs, neck back in ways in which I didn’t even know I could. I have also learnt the value of stillness and focusing on the present moment. It’s been great, after each lesson I come out feeling completely and utterly normal, which kind of worries me a bit, because it means that most the time I’m walking around tense, in pain and completely distracted. It does make me think that I need to rethink how I’m living my life.
This week, I am on annual leave and I have not planned anything. Just rest, nothing more. I have baked a cake and made a curry, and those activities were fun and not at all taxing. The past two days I been sitting on my sofa, reading my newly acquired cooking books, watching cheesy films on Netflix and more recently, this evening rediscovering Stevie Wonder album ‘Songs in the Key of Life’. I have had time to eat some breakfast. I have not missed the Tuesday class this week because, since being away from work, I feel as normal and as centred as I do after the yoga class. Yes, I really do need to rethink how I am living my life…
Last weekend, I found an old paperback book in the family library, titled ‘23 steps to success and achievement‘. I clearly never read it when I was growing up and living at home! I started reading the book but only got as far the 2nd page because I was then rushing off to babysit for my sister. I did however note the following sentence “if you are over forty, take life more leisurely”
Not suggesting in anyway, that I’m falling apart in my 5th decade but I should consider putting brakes on certain things or ‘reigning it in Francesca’ as somebody once said to me. It’s easy enough, now that I am not in the maelstrom of work to have a very sanguine attitude to work and how it will be all different once I get back. I’m just shy of twenty years working in the same system and it is very difficult to extricate myself from deeply entrenched habits, especially when working conditions get increasingly challenging. However it behoves me, to work smarter and not harder to the point of extinction.
I’m not sure how I am going to achieve this. I know that while I am stretching out my arms while standing on my yoga mat, little ‘insights’ drop into my mind. Little things like “you really did not have to worry about what x/y/x, did/said/wrote, it does not matter now and it really will not matter in 5 hours/days/weeks/months time” or “you know, you really can erase the first 3 things on that every increasing to-do list, only the last two things need to be done by you and you alone, delegate the rest”. So, granted my mind should not be whirring like this during a yoga class, and eventually I do calm down to thinking “those rain drops look pretty on the window”. However just having space to think about what I’m not going to worry about is nice. I’ve left those Tuesday evening classes with clarity and focus that I rarely have at another time.
Now, in this period of time away from work, I suppose that I have that same clearness of thought. But, I don’t even have to check my diary to know that my work diary next week is jam packed, so feel that I ought to think about how I might mitagate against the probable but not necessarily inevitable exhaustion that I will feel by the end of next week.
It might help if I complete a short mental exercise – reviewing all the points of intervention, things that I can control, that are within my gift. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.
The drive to work
I changed jobs two years ago. There were many reasons for this leap but up there on the top was my commute which at the time was simply unbearable. I was only travelling 20 miles across London from East to West but it was taking three times a long as it should do, by car. Travelling by public transport was no better, as anybody who has had the misfortune to travel on London Underground at rush hour (which appeared to be getting earlier and later over the years) knows.
This new commute is longer and involves leaving London and hurtling up the M1 but it is shorter in time and I am hardly ever sitting in traffic in the mornings, if I leave at the right side of the rush hour. However, I will not lie and I will be honest with myself, it is starting to take its toll and more often than not, when I arrive at work I am aware that I have just sat for a hour in the same position, with intense focus and concentration before I have even begun my day. I can sometimes feel drained and ready to curl up into a ball under my desk. I have found however that what I listen to on the way to work does make a big difference.
When I started my new post I was initially listening to playlists which were to some extent cheerful. You might have seen me bopping along in my red car singing away.
However, over the past few years I have found myself listening to the breakfast radio more often than not. Flicking between, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio London and LBC, all of which cause me to end up shouting at the radio because, radio presenters never wait for answers they constantly interrupt the people they have asked to come onto their shows, the guests being interviewed can be just as ‘bad’ dodging questions left right and centre. I guess I could just not listen. For a while I listened to audiobooks and podcasts and in the months that I listened to these alternative narratives , I just loved driving to work. The journey seemed to pass pretty quickly and seemed less onerous.
I have a ‘digital heap’ of audiobooks that I have acquired over the years that I could probably re-visit , there is a never ending pool of tunes to create playlists and of course there are podcasts for everything. Perhaps the news and interviews can wait until I get home from work.
Many of us are guilty of either skipping lunch altogether or eating a hasty lunch in front of the computer while checking emails. This is so wrong. If somebody had told my twenty years old self – four years away from graduating as a doctor that this is what I would be doing once I reached the top – I might have just cried.
In the past few years, not working in a busy hospital setting I have had the luxury of eating lunch in a designated eating area, if I was lucky sometimes I might even leave the building. There are no ‘emergencies’ that a community paediatrician needs to deal with that mean they cannot stop to eat. In fact I often do and make it interesting for myself, leave my office and eat and sometimes socialise with whoever is in the lunchroom. However since September I have found myself, more often than not, heating up my food in the microwave and skulking back to my desk to eat, make phone calls, check emails or correct reports.
What should do I do? l’ll have to ban myself from eating in my office. I am more productive and refreshed when I have taken myself away from my computer for a while. No one is making me sit at my desk, it’s totally within my control. I could consider asking my colleagues to join me. I could make a plan to eat out once a week (it used to be Friday in my previous job and life). I’ll let you know how it goes – with, as is almost compulsory these days, photographic evidence.
Leaving work on time
Like I stated in the previously, there are no ‘emergencies ’ that I need to to deal with after 5pm. Anything urgent should really be dealt with, within working hours. I should not really be seen at my desk past the hour of 6 in the evening. This is/has been one of my hardest bad habits to break. After 5pm once everyone else has gone home and the emails and ‘tasks’ stop pinging through, I have found it much easier to concentrate. I have always done. So between 5 and 7, I have been able to get through work and think with a speed and clarity that eludes me, before 5 when I am being bombarded with queries. As of course this is my job, I am here to be ‘consulted’. I have also found that in the morning working between 8 and 9 am when the office is empty is also productive.
But of course I’m not being paid to work those hours and I rarely ever claim that time back. So it is foolishness really. Again, an entrenched habit from being a student- early in the morning and later in the evenings were the best times to study without distractions. But while I am always learning , I am no longer a student in that sense.
What do I do? Just leave work on time. It’s not hard , it’s certainly no rocket science. I should have enough respect for my own free time to down tools and take my well earned break. For me leaving at 5 on a Tuesday, is a no brainer. I have to go, I have to be ready, everything I do on that day is lined up so that by 5:05 at the latest I am sitting on that yoga mat. I should be able to do this on the other four days of the week. I should be in the carpark and loading up an audiobook or Spotify playlist. I can be that disciplined if I want to. I have completed 6 years of training at medical school and a number of postgraduate degrees and examinations, so I know what it is to be disciplined. I should be able to do this, or what was the point of all that hard work, if I can’t enjoy my life now? I have of course been working on this battle for almost two decades, now but something has to change. If I burn out, I’ll be replaced and forgotten about within 5 minutes.
Move more, sit less
We are not designed to sit for 8 hours a day in a chair staring at computer screen. I am guilty of sitting for hours and hours – writing reports, checking reports, writing and responding to emails, calling patients and professionals. Great, all good, it’s what I’m paid to do but I don’t have to be sitting the whole time, I really don’t. When I am at my best I am able to get up, take a walk around the building, stretch my legs and get some fresh air. Sometimes when I am dictating clinic reports, I take off my shoes and walk around the room dictating. When I am stressed I tend to keep still, and it is the time I need to get up and move and start afresh. What I should probably do is build in walks throughout my day. I used to, once be the proud owner of a Fitbit watch, I would make sure I completed my 250 steps per hour. But all my good intentions, they melted away with the increasing stress and pressure. However, that is no excuse, it’s not healthy and it is within my control to remove myself from this situation.
Checking and sending emails
I don’t actually get as many emails as one might think but I get my fair share. What I do know is that I spend perhaps too much time checking and sending emails outside of work hours, including my annual leave. It should be possible for me to just not login. It’s not rocket science. Since I changed jobs, I have done this less, mostly because my colleagues just did not seem to be into this practice, so I followed suit. However as the years have gone by I have slipped into bad practices, I check in the morning and evening. This has to stop. It achieves nothing it sends the message that I am not valuing my time or effectively implementing my boundaries. I really do not expect anyone to reply me after hours so I really should not sent. My rather lame excuse is that like with work, my space to think without distraction are at the extreme ends of the day. Then I am able to send sensible and thoughtful replies to people. I have started, if I felt that I just had to write, drafting up the email and then pressing ‘send’ at 0900 the next day. Anyhow, if something is that important people either pick up the phone and call me or come and meet me face to face in my office. And vice versa.
So, trying to improve my lot is not a new thing for me. What I need to be is consistent, motivated and focused. I have to have a new story to tell. I cannot be writing about the same thing again and again for the next few years. I need to learn and grow. There are other things that I need to change within my actual job and if those do not change all of this is meaningless, but it’s a two way street and I’ll keep my part of the bargain.
I’ll keep you posted…