How to recharge when you can't get a break: Take one

Have you ever caught yourself lamenting to a friend, "It's been a long week," and realized it's only Tuesday? This winter vortex, which is actually more like a black hole, is having that effect on me. The snow days. The sick days. (Both theoretical terms for both writers and mothers, by the way.) The endlessness of it all. They're taking a toll--not just on me, but on almost everyone around.

If you're a practice afflicted by this polar nonsense, you can relate directly. More patients may call to reschedule appointments than your physicians have slots to accommodate. Employees' cars won't start. Folks who do find a way to show up are moody.

Even if this isn't the particular case for you, I suspect you'll identify with a post from Farnam Street about cognitive exhaustion. Symptoms: mental fatigue, drop in effectiveness, distractedness and irritability, according to a book referenced in the post, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Sounds a lot like a short-term case of burnout, doesn't it?

Many of the solutions offered, such as spending time in nature and "unplugging" regularly, overlap with previous FiercePracticeManagment advice for "faking a vacation." But the author also calls out some misguided strategies for mental rest, including surfing the Internet and answering email.

The problem is that we're so wired to multitask that the idea of unproductive time can cause more stress than it saves. When I say "we," I'm referring to society at large, and conscientious professionals in particular. To get even more granular, the "we" I'm really talking to includes fellow female conscientious professionals in society. That's not to say men don't fall into the same traps, but practice management is a field that's rather disproportionately female. And almost every female I know (myself included) has a stubborn habit of taking care of everyone else before ourselves, even though we rationally know better.

We've spent a lot of time over the past few years discussing physician burnout, and some acknowledging employee burnout. But as I indicated recently, administrative leaders are at risk, too. In independent practices, especially, the managers wear so many hats that the number is difficult to conceive. As a practice manager commented on my post last week, "Maintaining compliance and order with all the government regulations is truly overwhelming. Thank goodness we have a practice that allows us to have enough employees to manage OSHA, safety, blood-borne pathogens, fraud and abuse, HIPAA, PCMH, Meaningful Use, IT, etc. Practice managers have to spend most of their days learning about how to comply with these and putting the right people in charge of them. In addition to that, we have to be HR experts, coach and train, manage property--sometimes several locations, and take care of customer complaints and misbehavior."

Whew. It takes high-functioning, driven people to carry out all of this--and surely more--on a daily basis. But no matter how capable a person of any practice title, a person is still a person. Human. So how can you recharge your batteries when the demands on your energy are nonstop?

It sounds paradoxical to quote the Nike slogan in this context, but just do it. Take a real lunch break (facing away from the computer or off premises if possible). For defined, sacred periods, shut your door. (Perhaps the portrait of open-door management can have an even greater impact by adding a little negative space.) Get outside. Meditate. Read a novel. Schedule a mission-critical meeting with yourself for 20 minutes a day. Or maybe it's just 5 minutes most days and an hour once per week.

Can you do it? Will you? As always, I'm eager to learn your thoughts. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)