Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Work Can Wait!

That's at least a weeks' worth of email!
Image credit: http://ios.wonderhowto.com/
Work-life balance has always been a topic about which I've been passionate. It's important to enjoy life outside work! Achieving - and maintaining - such balance is not only good for our interpersonal relationships and mental health, but I believe allows us to bring more energy and creativity to our work.

Now, the medical profession isn't known for being conducive to work-life balance. Medical residents work up to 80 hours per week (and it used to be more!) and many physicians end up working even more than that post-residency, when there are no duty hour restrictions.

As you all know, I'm passionate about the power of technology to transform our lives, and I have no doubt that we are beginning to see real change in healthcare because of it. Arguably the greatest technological advance in the last century has been the Internet, with the greatest benefit being the ease with which we now communicate. Messages that used to take weeks or months to arrive now take milliseconds. In place of quill and ink we now have Skype and FaceTime. Collaboration can now take place in real time with multiple users around the world editing the same document simultaneously.

But with the obliteration of our communication barriers has also come the obliteration of critical boundaries between work and our personal lives. Since it only takes seconds to send a text or email (or millions of them, for that matter ...), we do it without a second thought. And while we may not intend for the person on the receiving end to feel obligated to immediately respond, they often do, especially if the email is sent from someone higher in the chain of command.

I understand that in healthcare there are times when it's important to respond immediately to a request. People don't just get sick M-F, 8-5pm (that would be innovation!), but that's not what I'm talking about here. Most of my time is spent in healthcare IT, and while there are healthcare IT emergencies (we want our EHR running 24/7, after all), those are fortunately very rare. Most of what I do - and most of what typical office workers do - can wait. That's right. Work can wait.

And not only can it wait, but it should wait. The following dialog has been uttered many times in our household when my (10-year old) daughters have been overcome with emotion related to needing something immediately: "Are there meteors raining down upon us? Are there volcanoes erupting in central North Carolina threatening to submerge us in boiling lava? Are there earthquakes rending the earth and attempting to swallow us whole? No? Ok, then we can probably take a breath and deal with this a little later." In work terms, "a little later" is usually the next business day.

For many, this is easier said than done. One of the most common reasons I hear for after-hours email is: "That's the only time I have to do it! I have meetings all day!" Okay, well, that's a problem for another day. The most common malady I encounter at Duke is not bronchitis, but meetingitis. There are ways to improve that, too, like scheduling a personal, recurring meeting every day - with yourselfto do your email. I also understand that there are also times when it's just more convenient to respond to an email after hours, or perhaps you just want to get that email out of your inbox (I do like a clean inbox!).

But how can you handle that email without making the recipient feel obligated to immediately respond? One way is to set an expectation with your coworkers that they are not obligated to respond to after-hours correspondence (which I do), but another way is to compose the email, but schedule it to go out on the next business day. I actually use a Mac Mail plug in called SendLater (although now called MailButler) that does this exact thing. Microsoft Outlook has a similar feature built in. This way I can tend to the email when convenient for me, yet not burden others unnecessarily. Of course, my first priority is to get the email done during the work day, but this works for me as a backup when needed. So for those of you who may have noticed flurries of emails from me at 7:00am sharp on weekdays, now you know why!

This is something I've been thinking about for a long time, but I have to admit that my post was in response to reading David Hansson's (the creator of Ruby on Rails) comments found here. That's also where I borrowed #WorkCanWait. So kudos to David!

I also recently read John Halamka's post on business spam - BIDMC has instituted a "Zero Tolerance" policy and has set up a blacklist on their network using a commercially available appliance. That's another approach to simplifying our work lives, and one I'd love to try out!

So let's all roll up our sleeves and get to work ... enjoying our newfound free time! I've been meaning to teach myself how to play the guitar ...