Feeling “Done”

July 12, 2023

It is very easy for me to tell when I am DONE on a clinical day. The criteria:

  • All patients seen + checked out
  • All notes done
  • EPIC inbox empty
  • Work email inbox empty or mostly empty (usually not that hard, I get far fewer emails now that I am not in an administrative role)

I leave often feeling physically or emotionally spent, but I know that I am done.

On a work from home day, I am getting better at finding my rhythm but I am still not quite there when it comes to the end of the day and feeling satisfied/accomplished/complete. I think it’s because there are so many things I am excited about and there’s always another thing I could be doing, such as:

  • pre-drafting an episode
  • deciding on future guests + communicating with them*
  • pre-writing show notes (ideally, I should do these right after recording each episode! In practice . . . that doesn’t usually happen)
  • brainstorming BOBW topics or thinking about Patreon content*
  • thinking about BLP Live material*
  • thinking about / planning for future courses*
  • prewriting a blog post

None of things are urgent but many feel important and I think the biggest thing I need to figure out is when to carve out time for the more nebulous ‘deep work’ tasks listed above (the ones with *). Today I recorded two BLP episodes, taught Digital Detox Session #3 (this was great – people are really making changes and we’ve had some great group conversations), had a BOBW-related meeting, filed for an LLC (yay) and had my very last 2 BLPA 1:1 meetings. Plus I’m writing this post 🙂

It was a lot. It was definitely enough, looking at it from this vantage point! But I missed feeling that obvious “I’M DONE” endpoint for the day. I guess truthfully more things are like this than my clinical role! (And even that is never done . . . that is obvious from the barrage of in-basket messages that await me each clinical day).

There is no clear solution, but I’m thinking of trying to create firmer artificial endpoints, if that makes sense. A finite number of tasks and then just acknowledging my work day is over, and moving onto parenting/life/etc, preferably by 5 pm or earlier. I need to NOT expect to do the “*” type work on days that are filled with other things, and instead I just need to block time for the “*” tasks specifically. I AM getting into a better rhythm doing things ahead of time, which feels great!

Anyway, just learning as I go around here.

Unrelated pic of G living her best life:


  • Reply Caitlin July 12, 2023 at 6:03 am

    That is sort of how I feel about home + life tasks. I have just decided that I need to done by 8:00 (preferably 7:45 so I have time to wrap things up), so I try to stop around then whether I’ve completed everything or not. (Honestly it is closer to 8:30 most nights, but I’m also trying to get essential things done most of the time.)

  • Reply Cassie July 12, 2023 at 7:03 am

    This would be a great BOBW topic; for self employed folks and empty nesters alike (establishing a quitting time).

  • Reply Sara July 12, 2023 at 7:30 am

    Hi Sarah! Maybe it would help to try a “shutdown ritual” like Cal Newport talks about in his Deep Work book? Here is an old blog post if his where he talks about his ritual:

    • Reply Ruth July 12, 2023 at 9:04 am

      Hey Sarah – I was about to post exactly what Sara has written! Great minds! 😊

  • Reply Gwinne July 12, 2023 at 7:30 am

    I’d also love for you to explore this topic. It’s also a problem for academics and other folks with jobs that could be done literally all the time and not be”done” Housework also can take up as much time as you give it

    • Reply KGC July 12, 2023 at 10:24 am

      Yup, I second this. I’m an academic researcher and I have few boundaries about work and home. This mostly works for me but the days I work from home (2 days per week) have no separation between work and home tasks the way the commute home “ends” my workday otherwise. This is a great topic!

      • Reply Sophie July 12, 2023 at 3:18 pm

        Yep another academic researcher here who also struggles with this topic, though I do find Cal Newports approach helpful. I’d love a podcast deep dive!

    • Reply Ashley July 12, 2023 at 10:34 am

      Agree. I’m on the staff side of higher ed, and I never, ever feel done. It’s honestly getting to me and is a big contributor to feeling burned out.

  • Reply Rebekah July 12, 2023 at 7:46 am

    Came in to say it sounds like you need a shut down ritual a la Cal Newport, and that’s already been advised! I do love this community.

    My job is a small business I run by myself, and by far the hardest part of it is knowing that I could ALWAYS be doing something for the business. In the first year, it caused me to neglect my home and myself and my family. It will likely always be difficult for me to decide when I have done *enough*, but I listened to you to help me plan better! I plan the week in advance with the big picture landscape, try to time block my deep work, and let the smaller tasks fill in the margins. These are all things you know and do. It’s the mental switch of “done for today” that you have to cultivate, and I find I have to continuously work at reassuring myself that I did all the things. The shutdown ritual helps!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2023 at 12:33 pm

      I almost titled this post something like shutdown ritual needed but didn’t want to copy him directly 🙂 YES need to cultivate that ‘done for the day, that was enough!’ feeling. I will think about what my own personal rituals could look like!

  • Reply Seppie July 12, 2023 at 7:57 am

    I have so far been pretty unsuccessful at establishing a shutdown ritual, though I haven’t given up on the idea!

    Instead, I usually set a daily Top 2 (like Michael Hyatt’s Big 3, but I find that two works better for me) and a finite list of admin tasks (once today’s list is created, no new tasks get added) and when those things are done I’m done. The hardest part of this strategy is making sure that I don’t overestimate what I can do in a day.

    When I am head-down in a big project, I sometimes abandon that strategy, decide not to do any admin tasks, and schedule back-to-back focusmates for 4 hours. That’s about as long as I am able to sustain really hard creative or thinking work – by the last one I usually feel pretty fried – and when those are over, my work day is over, too.

    • Reply Marthe July 13, 2023 at 12:43 am

      Yes, Focusmate or equivalent sessions! It appears to me my kind of accountability even though I’m a Rubin-rebel and it works great to actually to the deep work I committed to!

  • Reply Seppie July 12, 2023 at 8:03 am

    Oh, and one more thing! I have two different kinds of weeks – we call them “meeting” and “content” weeks. I have internal team meetings every Friday, but external meetings, appointments, and shorter admin tasks get pushed to meeting weeks whenever possible, leaving content weeks open for deeper work that is important but not urgent. This has been a game-changer for me.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2023 at 12:32 pm

      ooh i love that!!!!

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns July 12, 2023 at 9:38 am

    I can see how you have this feeling for non-clinical work. There is always more that you can do and you are your own boss… My parents ran a business so I saw how the work would creep into other time, like evenings and weekends. The nature of their business was completely different, though (they ran a HVAC/electrical company). Since you are passionate about what you do, you probably feel more engaged/have a harder time reaching a breaking point than you do in the clinic where you have defined tasks to complete. Hopefully you figure out a shut down ritual. The nature of my work is more fluid and there isn’t really an end point and there is always more work to do it seems, but having to leave for daycare pick-up forces me to choose an end point. During the pandemic when I was WFH and my husband handled pick-up/drop-off, I worked more hours because I did not need to leave to get a child from daycare! And it seemed like work creep was an issue for everyone since no one was going anywhere!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2023 at 12:31 pm

      Yes true that the physical separation of my clinical job probably helps too!!!

  • Reply Amanda July 12, 2023 at 9:38 am

    I agree with the other commenters that this would make a great BOBW podcast topic. With a more connected world, many corporate roles are receiving to-dos outside of business hours, entrepreneurs face an endless list, and teachers are bringing home papers to grade and lesson plans, to name only a few examples. How do we all confine the work and still feel successful when it is never truly finished?

    I’m in a corporate position and aim to go into my day knowing what needs to be accomplished (usually 3-5 tasks + meetings) and let go of guilt around requests received the same day, with an expectation they will be responded to or completed in less than 24 hours. After my second child, I also really minimized working in the evenings and haven’t looked back.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2023 at 12:31 pm

      Will discuss with Laura, I think she’ll be up for it (and I’m sure she has many of the same challenges!).

      Also not up for working in the evenings. I just . . don’t want to!

  • Reply Rose July 12, 2023 at 9:40 am

    I used to think about this all the time in my previous job, which was one where there was just so much to do that being ‘done’ was not ever really possible. In particular in relation to email – how could I create my own boundaries to feel comfortable with being ‘done’ for the day? I likened it to exercising, eating healthily, washing my hair – tasks that will never be completed, I will continue doing them for the rest of my life. However, for those things I have figured out my own internal ‘benchmarks’ for what good enough looks like (min 4x workout per week, hair wash 2x week) and then I don’t spend mental energy worrying about it if I’ve met those benchmarks. Sadly I never managed to find that benchmark for email…(and then blew up my life with quitting my job and emigrating so it’s not currently a problem).

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2023 at 12:30 pm

      I guess you did solve the problem then 🙂 🙂

  • Reply amillstein July 12, 2023 at 10:35 am

    Sarah I relate to this SO much — I’m a pediatrician who primarily runs a non-profit now and struggle with the concept of being “DONE” in my non-clinical work — the end-of-day landmarks in clinical medicine are so much clearer — finished notes, answered patient messages, signed out, etc. I really do think that having such clear landmarks in clinic makes the non-clinical end-of-day harder! Thanks for sharing this and agree would love to hear more. I have been trying some end-of-day rituals for my non-clinical days as well — a short meditation, a walk around the block before I re-enter parenting (chaos!), etc., but still struggle with this.

  • Reply Elisabeth July 12, 2023 at 12:15 pm

    Yes to all of this (and the points mentioned in the comment section). I’ve co-founded two businesses over the last decade and it is such a struggle to ever feel “off.” Now, I only work part-time (and am also essentially a SAHM, though my kids are school-age); while I get paid for a set amount of time, I can’t predict a working schedule or even “work ahead” on much. So I feel like I’m always on call in a sense. When a task comes my way, I often don’t have much warning, but also need to complete it quickly.

    I try to find good solutions, but it’s like trying to hit a moving target. I really struggle to not feel guilty during leisure time because there are always things I could be doing around the house/with the kids/for work. This is especially hard because I crave structure and routine and also thrive off feeling productive.

    Like others, I would LOVE to hear you do a deep-dive into this topic.

  • Reply Suzanne July 12, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    I have nothing helpful to add, just commiseration. As someone who has worked from home the majority of my career, I really have a hard time feeling “done.” At one point, I managed a daily e-newsletter and there was ALWAYS something else to do. There was never an end to needing content, or needing to write, or needing to edit. I used to get so annoyed at a family member who would ask me, unfailingly, “Did you get everything done today?” It wasn’t her fault that she didn’t understand the job, but it made me so mad, because NO, I never did. LOL.

    Now, with more discrete freelance projects, it’s easier to feel like I have a clear stopping point. But when it comes to my own writing, there’s always more I could be doing! I love your plan for creating artificial endpoints. That makes a lot of sense to me. Even if you aren’t DONE done, you’ll know when you’ve completed a specific task or aspect of a task.

  • Reply Gillian July 12, 2023 at 6:23 pm

    How do you decide when you are at 0 inbox for Epic and work email. I feel like I get responses back from patient’s as fast as I send them. So if I had to get to actually 0 messages and I would do nothing all day but respond to patient messages which we don’t currently bill for so it essentially working for free. I have set times and days when I respond to non-emergent patient message and I have a cutoff time. So I am done when I have responded to all non-emergent messages sent before X time. I know a physician in my field who responds to all patient message with either “yes” “No” or “Appointment”. That seems a little extreme but I feel like patient messages are eating me alive!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 12, 2023 at 6:51 pm

      I probably have lower volume but I get to 0. It may only stay at 0 for that moment (usually aiming for ~5 pm) but I’m not opening it again until my next clinical workday so in my mind.. . it’s still 0.

  • Reply Kate July 16, 2023 at 6:05 am

    I enjoyed this podcast on transitions
    I’ve been using some of the techniques for the switch between finishing work and then picking up the kids, as often I struggle to stop thinking about work/checking emails etc.
    (Also, I know this podcast is aimed at men but I still find the content useful)

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 16, 2023 at 9:59 am

      that looks interesting! I will check it out!

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