COVID19 Weekend

Day 119: A New Day

July 12, 2020

Trying again.

(Also, I am curious. How many of you ever *turn off* your phone during the work day while trying to get a more complex project done — say for an hour or two? Josh suggested it and I balked at the idea, thinking “BUT WHAT IF SOMEONE NEEDS ME URGENTLY?”)

It’s Sunday, and the kids are still asleep. Yesterday was pretty much as terrible as the my post suggests, but I am determined to make today better. (I did read some of my book — Beach Read, ate some junky comfort food, and DID complete my workout after all, so it wasn’t a total loss.)


More outside time w/ the kids

Meal plan / shop

BB #50

July Newsletter (yes a little late!)

(Maybe) work on closet organization a little (also maybe not)


  • Reply Grateful Kae July 12, 2020 at 7:55 am

    Oh, the phone dilemma. I have gone back and forth on this so many times. I actually recently commented on a post about phones and distractions on Nir Eyal’s IG page (author of Indistractible) and he surprisingly wrote back multiple times and helped me work through some concerns about it.

    I would prefer to have my phone off whenever I’m working, if I could. My mom has this tendency to call “to say hi”, um, quite often. 😉 Plus just all the texts, messages, other random calls…I don’t get many WORK related calls- most people email or instant message me on the computer. But when the kids are at school (in normal times) or even like at a friend’s house, I have this fear of missing something urgent. Plus, my parents are getting older, so it scares me to be totally unreachable. I know there is the Do Not Disturb mode, but even that made me nervous since from school I figured they would be calling from a landline and wouldn’t get the notification to call again if urgent.

    Long story short, I have decided I AM going to use the Do Not Disturb feature (the driving one, so I will get zero notifications at all, but personalized with my own away message so it won’t say I’m driving) but exclude my husband, so he could always reach me the first time. I figured if for some reason school (not an issue currently, anyway) couldn’t reach me, they would call him, and then he could call me. He never calls or texts “just because” (not his style….) so I don’t have to worry about him interrupting me. Most other people (like a friend’s parent) would likely be using a cell phone and see the do not disturb urgent override message and could override it.

    For work, if you put a do not disturb message on your cell, could you just personalize it and make it clear that people could call back immediately if urgent to get through, or leave an office landline number? It works for texts too. I had DND on the other day and my son sent me an “urgent” message and it came through (from upstairs, in our own house, to let me know they were making cookies. Ha. Gonna have to re-discuss meaning of the word “urgent” 😉

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2020 at 8:49 am

      I need to play with that feature. It’s work calls & texts (not personal) that are interrupting me. Constantly.

  • Reply Omdg July 12, 2020 at 8:19 am

    Even now there are periods of time when I am at work when I am unreachable, even for an urgent issue for one of my patients. Say we are inducing a patient, which requires my full attention. It is incredibly distracting for my phone to ding or ring repeatedly during this process. So I take it out of my pocket, turn off sounds, and put it on one of my anesthesia tables so I can’t be distracted by it. While I am in the OR there is nothing so urgent that it requires I be interrupted during induction. If another patient outside the OR decompensated there are other staff who can help if I am not available. Once or twice I have had someone get all peevy with me because I didn’t respond immediately (usually someone who doesn’t understand how the OR works), and I simply tell them unemotionally that I was inducing or transporting (or whatever) and leave it at that.

    You can silence individual threads as well. I have this one friend who won’t stop texting even if he gets no response, so I will just silence that message and respond when I am able to.

    At home I have been trying to physically leave my phone in another room because it is such a distraction. At this point, we are all home, who is going to call me with something urgent? If my parents go to the hospital they are 10 hours away and there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. I also do this when driving because I get so distracted from the various alerts.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa’s Yarns July 12, 2020 at 8:50 am

    I never turn my phone off during the day but I will silence it which helps somewhat. I have a hard time fully disconnecting as I am always worried daycare will call or something like that. But I am pretty good at putting my head down and not getting distracted if I am working on something complex that needs a lot of distraction. I do block myself from social media from 4:30-6:30pm so I can focus on our son when he gets home from daycare each day. So that has been a good thing for me to do as it’s really tempting to look at IG.

  • Reply Maria July 12, 2020 at 8:54 am

    To get deep work done during the work day I pretty much have to put my phone on airplane mode, AND I set my work email to “work offline” (I could also close email but I often need to reference old emails so this works better for me). I don’t have notifications on work email anyway, but for me I just have to do this so my brain knows they are “not an option”… otherwise I just keep checking both out of habit every few minutes, ugh. I don’t go hours and hours like this…30-45 min max and then I check in, usually nothing urgent, then go offline again. I don’t do this for work IM as much but sometimes. I think this is totally fine… people are often in meetings or in your case patient care as long so there shouldn’t be an expectation ppl see emails immediately!

  • Reply Joy July 12, 2020 at 9:13 am

    I second the idea of a personalized DND setup. When I’m at work, my cellphone is put away completely so the only way someone can reach me is via the desk phone. It’s very helpful and most people don’t bother unless it’s urgent.

    At home, it’s harder because the cellphone is out. I have to put it and my computer on Focus/DND if I expect to get any real work done.

    I’m not a doctor so don’t have medical emergencies but there must be a way to customize a DND so that only the most urgent/important numbers can get through.

    As far as bad days, we all have them and there’s nothing to apologize for. I read and rarely comment, but one of the reasons I read your blog is because it’s real. I started for your planning posts mainly because I’m at very different place in my life than you, but I continued because I appreciate your authenticity.

    Also, comparing our suffering/hardships to someone else’s doesn’t really help in the long run. Each of us suffers in their own unique way and that pain is real. Even if it seems that someone else has a harder life, maybe they couldn’t cope with your difficulties either. Instead, we acknowledge that all of our suffering and hardship and pain helps us to see each other’s humanity and need and perhaps gives us a wee bit more compassion for the next person we meet.

    Hang in there!

  • Reply Janelle July 12, 2020 at 9:35 am

    How urgent is urgent though? If you could check your phone once and hour and reply then would that be too long of a wait? Then throw it on silent and put it across the room so you aren’t tempted.
    I put my phone on Do Not Disturb but It’s set to let phone calls through. I let a few specific people know if it’s urgent to call. This wouldn’t work for everyone though.

    • Reply Ashley G. July 12, 2020 at 10:53 am

      I also get near-constant work texts and calls throughout the day. I think this is just the nature of work when you’re the one managing other humans. However, I have no problem ignoring people for an hour while I get something done. Honestly, I’ve never had anyone seem all that irritated that it took me some time to get back to them since they know I will. I’m not a doctor so maybe my definition of emergency is quite different, though.

      I also have a separate work and personal phone which I think helps. I flip my work phone over and just silence it when I need to.

      • Reply Natasha July 12, 2020 at 3:22 pm

        This! I have a separate work and personal cell phone.

      • Reply Omdg July 12, 2020 at 6:34 pm

        In residency you are treated like a epic ordering pez dispenser. Nurses, social workers, patients, and other physicians (I.e. anyone higher than you in the hierarchy) are free to approach you and interrupt you while you are in the middle of another (often more urgent) task. They expect your immediate full attention as they fire at you additional items for your to do list which must be complete immediately, or else they will call you again in five minutes to “remind” you. They definitely get huffy, and may even retaliate in some way, if you ask them to slow down or repeat something so you don’t miss anything. Getting over this sense that I must respond to everyone else’s sense of urgency, and being able to somewhat prioritize things for myself, for me has been a work in progress post training.

        I can’t speak for Sarah’s experience specifically, but I suspect it’s similar.

        • Reply Alyce July 12, 2020 at 9:09 pm

          God, that sounds just awful. I really don’t understand why medical training has to be so inhumane.

  • Reply Katy Rotman (@katy246) July 12, 2020 at 10:57 am

    I’ve started putting my phone on mute for couple of hours at a time & putting it out of sight. Not sure which helps more, but the combo is great.

  • Reply Lou July 12, 2020 at 11:09 am

    I’m seriously thinking about moving to a ‘dumb phone’ and taking the sim out of my iPhone so it becomes like a small tablet… (I use various apps and references on it for work, which is useful when I’m on the shop floor (ER / UK ED), but when I’m needing to concentrate i can hide it from myself. can’t quite tell if this’ll work though… but worth £40 as an experiment, surely!

    I think a phone, and text messages, and little other potential, are less likely to distract me. Maybe. Trouble is a ‘phone tablet’ is just as bad on the distraction/multi tracking/social media evils thing… but it’s a more ‘deliberate’ tool maybe.

    Reading ‘how to break up with your phone’, by Catherine Price. It’s scary reading, well written and well researched. Recommended so far. I’m not at the ‘how to break up’ bit yet… just the fact that phones are rotting our brains! maybe she’ll have all the answers.

  • Reply Kersti July 12, 2020 at 11:12 am

    I remember a while back you were thinking of getting an Apple Watch. Paradoxically I find them less disturbing than a cell phone. It’s a quiet tap on the wrist when someone is trying to reach you and you don’t get sucked into the rest of your phone.

    • Reply Gillian July 13, 2020 at 7:38 am

      I think this is less distracting too! I can quickly look when I want to and see who called etc and get right back into what I was doing.

  • Reply Alyce July 12, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    My job often requires deep thinking – I advise on big and sticky legal issues that often don’t have clear answers but can have significant impacts nationwide. One of the best things I’ve done is let go of the idea that I have to be immediately responsive.

    I don’t get a ton of phone calls, but I wouldn’t hesitate to turn it off. I think the most professional way to handle it is to let the people know in advance what you’re doing and why, but also to let them know how to reach out to you in an emergency. If it’s the same group of people who are calling/emailing, I would send them an email to let them know that on your non-clinical days, you’re dedicating x number of hours or x specific hours of the day to do your deep work, and that you won’t be immediately available by phone or email. It sounds very cheesy, but I think it’s very powerful to let people know that you are explicitly asking them for their help to meet these goals/demands that you have. And cheesy or not, I’ve found that people are very responsive to these kinds of requests.

    So it’s partially about setting clear and explicit boundaries, but also know that you’ll have to enforce them too. If you get calls that aren’t emergencies, you should be prepared to stop the caller and telling them their issue isn’t an emergency and that you’ll get back to them when you’re available again. Basically, don’t stop and address their issue because you’ve already been interrupted. Otherwise you are telling them that they don’t need to respect the boundary you laid out because you’ll still answer their question, still prioritize their priority over your priority.

    Plus, I also find it incredibly helpful to remind myself that I’m not that important. I’m not the only person who can help everyone who has asked me a question. I am amazed by the number of issues that get resolved while I’m unavailable. And on the occasions where I truly am the person who is needed, I find that people will simply wait until I’m available, because, well, what other option do they have?

  • Reply Deanna July 12, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    I LOVED Beach Read! Not sure why I found it so entertaining but I couldn’t put it down and it made me cry in the happy and sad moments. A good distraction for a few hours. Watching the numbers rise in Florida from Toronto and I feel so bad!

  • Reply Heather F. July 12, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    I use Do Not Disturb for hour-long blocks or so at work – the group messaging and email is incessant otherwise (most of my phone-interruptions are work-related). When I started doing it, it took me about two weeks to stop feeling kind of edgy about it, and I relapsed a couple of times. Now I find it incredibly helpful, and the edginess has passed. Totally recommend!

  • Reply Eva July 12, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    I switch off the sound of my phone and I have disabled virtually all notifications. Most of the day, my phone remains in my purse. If somebody from work needs me, they will call and the call goes through to my watch. If it’s not that urgent, they text/whatsapp me and I respond to it when I take a break from deep work.

  • Reply LaurenCinNC July 12, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    Sarah, what do you do when you’re with patients? Do you answer your phone or text back to people who have texted you if you’re sitting with a patient and their parent? My guess is no…
    Like other folks here, I’ve disabled all my notifications and I have DND automatically set to start at a certain time every day so I don’t even have to remember to do it. As I’ve realized that folks are okay for an hour or two without a response it’s gotten easier to do deep work.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2020 at 7:26 am

      That’s a great question – when i’m physically with patients I do NOT bring my phone in the room! So that helps a lot (I still get knocks on the door sometimes but not frequently). When I’m doing telehealth my phone is obviously right there (it’s what I use to connect w/ the patients w/ our EPIC phone app) and the interruptions are really REALLY annoying.

      • Reply Gillian July 13, 2020 at 7:43 am

        Can you use a laptop to connect with patients for telehealth visits? I use a HIPPA compliant video chat called that is computer based. Doximity also has a computer based video application that is HIPPA compliant. Being on the computer is much less distracting than being on the phone.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2020 at 7:57 am

          I use my laptop to type notes and the phone to see the pt — we are supposed to use the EPIC HAIKU app rather than Doximity if we can.

  • Reply Katie July 12, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    Do you get really emergent patient care calls on your cell all that often? I am an MD, so I understand the instinct to always be available for patient care, but I wonder how often it really happens when you are not on call? (Is this just your brain coming up with reasons not to silence your phone? In my outpatient world, we communicate almost exclusively in the EMR, or via our in-clinic landlines. Even the ‘urgent’ stuff can usually wait at least until I check my EMR alerts (which is every 1-2 hours), or one of the staff will physically find me and pull me from a room on the rare occasion when something cannot wait at all.

    And when you are out of clinic, how does your group handle out of office coverage? I work in a clinic where no one is a 1.0 fte, so for routine out of office (eg, I don’t work on Tuesdays) we have assigned coverage to one another for anything urgent/same day, and the rest of it waits for our return. Maybe 1x/month one of my partners will text me about a patient-care issue when I am not in clinic, but this is rare and its usually done either as a courtesy or to brainstorm something sticky–there is not an expectation that we’re available if we are not physically in clinic. Maybe you need to discuss some kind of business hours cross coverage with your group–other people might be happy to take your calls when you do admin, if you take theirs in return.

    For family alerts on my cell phone, I have a child with a pretty significant medical issue, so I do sometimes worry about missing calls related to that, but for the most part when I’m at work my cell phone is on mute or very quiet, face down at the very back of my work station. Most of my app notifications are already turned off completely (IG, mail etc). I’ll deliberately flip it and glance at the screen every few patients to reassure myself there are no urgent texts/calls, and then dive back into clinic. I answer non-urgent stuff at lunch or if I have a lull. My husband is also a little more available than I am, typically. I can understand with Josh’s surgical job that you need to be the primary contact. Maybe you can set a special ring tone or override or something just for your nanny/preschool, and have everyone else be silenced for periods of time.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2020 at 7:25 am

      Nope – it’s not usually patient care. It’s usually residency program related. It’s worse now with COVID since new issues come up out of nowhere all the time.

      • Reply Katie July 13, 2020 at 11:01 am

        ah! sorry, that comment was way off the mark then.
        I saw above that you are trying to do video visits on your phone? That would be a tiny impossible screen/distracting for me!
        Can I suggest getting a cheap cheap monitor and cable and connecting it to your laptop? Then you should be able to use that monitor for EPIC and the video function on your laptop for the telemed. That gets your phone out of the equation.
        (As an aside, its ridiculous that many medical employers basically require their employees to use their personal devices routinely for large amounts of work stuff. In other industries we would be given work phones. This is obviously not a fight worth having right now.)
        (As another aside, two monitors is a huge productivity boost for stuff like spreadsheets, document review etc. I think you will like it overall!)

  • Reply Christen July 13, 2020 at 3:13 am

    I really struggle with how best to resolve the phone/email notifications dilemma, too. I’m a freelance medical translator (not interpreter; I don’t need to be there in person at any point during a job), so I can obviously work better and more efficiently if I don’t let myself become distracted by emails and phone notifications. But! New translation projects all come in by email and they can do so at any point during the business day (and for added complication, I work with companies ranging from central European time to EST), so if I’m trying to get myself into a deep work situation, I might produce better and more efficient work, but I might miss an interesting new job in the meantime!

    I should also recognize that I’m exceedingly lucky that the past few months have actually been pretty good for work, in that there’s been enough of it to go around in my particular language pair/area of specialization niche, but still… sometimes I’ll sign on after an hour or two of deep work to discover that a fascinating research article has already been snapped up and I’m left with twenty pages of someone’s blood work or something instead and I’m momentarily grumpy that I missed the good article. Then in summer there’s generally much less work, so it becomes much more of a vital issue to snap up everything I can. (Very, very first world problems, I know, but… in the spirit of sharing different experiences with this topic, here I am!)

    Anyway, I haven’t found a magic solution yet (I can often manage a brief “deep work” state for half an hour or so until I need to research a term… then I’ll switch over to my internet browser, notice new emails, and dive into those… and hopefully remember what I was researching by the time I finish). When I’m doing something that isn’t likely to require research, I’ve tried to do this in a more structured manner, with about 45 minutes of translating or editing or whatever, and then a break for email, standing up, hanging up the laundry, or whatever I can do in 10 minutes or so. Ideally, anyway. It’s very much a work in progress and I’ll be really interested to continue reading any solutions you or other readers come up with!

  • Reply Marcia (OrganisingQueen) July 14, 2020 at 3:52 am

    I’m coming back later to read all the comments (because I’m curious and I love talking about this stuff) but I was truly excellent at leaving my phone off for hours during the workday til…. we all started working from home.

    This is a great reminder that I only need it with me if I’m away from my laptop during standard work core hours, which is very rare, so I’m going to start working on that. Thanks for the prompt and agree with Josh. Also, you could tell your “office manager” (I’m not sure of the correct title) that you’re unavailable from ____ to _____. I did that on Monday – told my work team I’m not available from 9 – 12.30. I will be reachable on email so to only use that. You know what? the world continued. So I’m going to do that regularly from no onwards.

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