I was going to run this morning but it is pouring.
Instead I will contemplate 2 things I have been thinking about, as inspired by Cal Newport.
The First: This post, on the idea that “many knowledge workers end up toiling roughly 20% more than they have time to comfortably handle.”
I was somewhat struck by that for two reasons:
a) Personally, I do have the tendency to take on more than I can comfortably handle. I always have — even thinking back to my teens. I typically make things work, but I would not always call it “comfortable”. I’d love more margin, but not enough to actually . . . do fewer things.
b) Cal’s own endeavors seem far beyond what most people can comfortably handle, though perhaps there is something I am missing here. They are certainly well beyond what I could comfortably handle.
Not saying this to disparage; it’s just kind of funny to me because the idea of “less” and “margin” seems great in theory but is incredibly hard to put into practice when you have a number of things you want to do (as both Cal and I both seem to) and a limited time in which to do them (presumably). I know there is a recent time management book by Oliver Burkeman — Four Thousand Weeks — on this subject. I am definitely planning to read it!
The Second: In ep #131 of his podcast, a UK physician wrote in about having trouble getting much deep work done on her non-clinical days after working very long and focused hours on her non-clinical days. He pointed out that perhaps her body / mind telling her to rest on those non-clinical days is absolutely right, since she is already putting in ~30 hours of focused time.
He suggested that she make her other 2 days more relaxed, build in self-care rituals, start later, aim to do a few hours of quality work each day. I thought this was a great answer and absolutely felt seen by both Cal and the physician as sometimes I find that I just cannot sustain the same pace/level of concentration for hours in a row on non-clinical days.
But, I also thought about how not everyone has non-clinical days. Josh rarely gets a chance to have a slower paced day and is essentially entirely clinical. (I do think for him, his time in the OR is such a different kind of ‘work’ that it breaks up the types of demands a bit. But it’s still definitely not recovery time and would likely meet the criteria for Deep Work, as it takes concentration and a fresh-out-of-college grad could not be quickly trained to operate).
This past weekend, Josh and I were talking about wellness interventions that might actually work, and came up with the idea that perhaps every physician should have a 4 day work week. Doing this thought experiment, would it be likely to objectively improve wellness? As this intervention likely would cost $$$, would most physicians be willing to take a 20% pay cut to do it (assuming that clinical duties were truly reduced by 20% — which would be tough to do in reality, by the way)? I’m guessing “no”, but logically does that make sense when most doctors earn far above the ‘diminishing returns’ threshold for happiness? How about a mandatory “rest day” after a stretch of call? What if building in more rest and recovery actually made medicine safer/more efficient and didn’t actually cost money in the end? What if efficiency could be built into the system so that a provider could get help with things like charting and work fewer hours overall (ie, the way scribes assist some doctors in certain fields already)? All interesting questions to ponder.