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Balance

Finding time as a doctor mom

April 17, 2020

As a doctor and mom, I started a blog to share my experience in balancing work with life outside of the hospital. I use this platform as a means to talk about the breadth of options available to someone in a career like mine, in which you get to save lives and enjoy your own. This has included writing about other pursuits alongside motherhood and breadwinning, like money management and investing. In sharing my journey, I’ve gotten some questions about how I handle it all, from “How do you possibly have time for all this?” to the more direct: “Do you sleep?” Given the repeated comments, I thought I’d address them in a blog post. Here are my secrets to finding time as a doctor mom with competing responsibilities. 

Misconceptions about the lives of doctor moms

First, to dispel the common misconception that working moms “do it all-” I don’t (maybe I’ll write an outsourcing post in the future). But there are some things I do and don’t do that save me time. I’ll go into that below. And the time I save allows more space for blogging (or insert whatever you’d love to do but currently can’t find the time for).

Here are some examples of things I’ve done in the last few years with the extra time I’ve found: 

  • Write this blog
  • Learn about website development, search engine optimization & social media marketing
  • Expand my network to propagate my message
  • Learn about personal finance principles
  • Learn about new ways to invest
  • Become a real-estate investor myself
  • Learn about becoming a motivational speaker

And to dispel another misconception above: yes, I sleep. When I skimp on sleep, it’s for a simple lack of sleep hygiene, and choosing other activities over sleep- not for a lack of time. I aim for at least 7 hours per night myself, and recommend you honor the amount of rest your body needs.

So how do you find this elusive free time? Here are some ideas.

Step 1: Care about what you’re doing enough that you find the time

If you found extra time, what would you do with it? What would you prioritize? 

There are some things that I used to do just to kill time. If I had 5 or 10 minutes free, I’d just “take a mental break.” It didn’t seem like enough time to accomplish anything, so I’d look at ElleDecor, an online interior design magazine. I’d read lifestyle articles on MSNBC.com, or gawk at real-estate slideshows on The New York Times website. While you might use this time differently, to browse shoes on Zappos or check sports scores, the effect is the same. You’re momentarily entertained. But if you wish you could do more, examine how you’re using these small pockets of time throughout the day.

Now that I’m consumed by this project: my blog, spreading ideas and building influence, I find the time. I care about what I’m doing enough that it crowds out the other things I used to do. Now, I use these small pockets of time when I find them. Instead of cruising online, I will edit a blog post, find a featured image, or tweak my website. As a blogger, there are infinite things I could learn, even in a spare minute.

So when I find myself scrolling on social media (without a specific objective), I stop myself. I recognize that I’m tossing time into the abyss. Then I remember my priorities and pick a task that fits the amount of time I’ve found.

What do you care about?

How do you know if you care about something enough? For me, building this platform is a stepping stone to a huge goal: writing a book. In blogging, I’m accomplishing many small things in service of my larger goal, from finding my audience, to honing my message, and learning how to write better. That’s why this pursuit matters to me.

Do you have something you care about enough to fill all the spaces in your day? Is there a life goal you’d like to get to work on? Sit somewhere quiet to ponder and/ or write down what you really want out of life, even if you’ve been afraid to acknowledge it to anyone or speak it aloud. 

Step 2: Identify stepping stones

Do you have a big goal like mine that you can “chunk down” or take smaller steps to accomplish? Once you know what you want to do, figure out the smaller steps that’ll get you inching closer to your goal. When you can break it down, it’s easier to fit the steps into these gaps in your day. 

Right now I’m reading a book called Ideas, Influence and Income– about building a brand and a following out of a mission or message. One chapter talks about the importance of writing several hundred words a day, and in it, the author employs some heavy persuasion. It made me realize that I didn’t need convincing, since I’ve built the habit of writing regularly for over a year. Although I don’t write a specific amount each day, I’m already committed to and used to producing a blog post every week. Since I’ve already built and solidified my writing habit, I’m that much closer to publishing a book.

What to do if you don’t know what you’re doing

There will be countless additional things to learn on my path to writing a book, but I know I’ve made progress toward my goal. Likewise, if you care about something enough to spend your free time on it, you’ll need to figure out some of the steps which will help get you there. If you’re not sure of all the steps, it’s OK; sometimes just taking the next step can help you figure it out. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t know what the entire process entails.

Just take the next step. That’s what I’m doing. 

3. Take advantage of down time 

Another trick I use to harness extra time is to enter tasks on my calendar (instead of a to-do list). I got this idea from Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School. When I have a list of tasks, I prioritize them and enter them in my electronic calendar. But my approach is a little different from hers.

I don’t spend a lot of time on this, and put tasks in an hour time-slot regardless of the time they’ll take. Since an hour is the default for a calendar entry, it’s the quickest way to enter them. In addition, the task isn’t always tied to a specific time. If I’d like to get a task done during the course of a morning, I’ll enter it for 10 or 11 a.m., but if it needs to happen earlier, I’ll enter it at 7 or 8.

I assign activities requiring focus (like writing) to the morning, while I assign mindless tasks to the afternoon (think paying bills, calling customer service). When I need to call a friend, I enter it at 5 p.m. so I remember to call on the drive home. I’m not strict about any of this, and it’s not about achieving calendar perfection. Perfection is a waste of time. It is about reminders, suggestions, and nudges.

Some examples of tasks I enter in my calendar include:

  • Honing a rough draft
  • Publishing a post
  • Sending an email to my list
  • Following up with a potential advertising client
  • Brainstorming blog ideas
  • Preparing for a podcast interview
  • Writing out steps to a large goal

When I map tasks out ahead of time, I can look at my calendar to find a task that’s ready to go when I encounter a break in the action, say, between belly scans. Although I also add calendar entries throughout the day as needed, batch scheduling a list of tasks improves efficiency. The benefit of a pre-selected task is that it allows me to focus on that task, rather than ruminating about the other things I could or should be doing. When other tasks are swirling in my head, it saps my mental bandwidth. That’s how putting tasks on a calendar can help you find more time: as a doctor, mom, student, professional, or whoever you are!

Reclaim time… like finding coins under the couch cushions

If I don’t have time to complete a task I entered on a given day- say I’m working non-stop- then I move the task to the next morning (or other time that makes sense). If I don’t complete these extra tasks, I don’t beat myself up over it. This method is a way to recapture lost time. That means that anything accomplished in that time is a bonus.

The whole purpose of putting tasks into calendar slots is to avoid wasting time:

  • Shifting gears from work to unrelated tasks
  • Getting confused or sidetracked
  • Doing a non-priority task

Don’t get me wrong- I still waste plenty of time- but this strategy helps me waste less of it. So if I accomplish just a few extra tasks during the course of a week, I feel like I’m slaying it. 

Finding time can become part of your routine

The process of blogging has become so routine for me now that I don’t have to enter every task in my calendar. I have a general idea of when routine things should get done. But in particularly busy seasons, making these appointments with myself has helped keep me on track and prevent overwhelm.

Using these strategies, I’ve become better at filling empty time in the day. As I wait for a call case, I can spit out a rough draft for a blog post. My fingers rumble across the keys, and a few hundred words come out. While inspiration doesn’t always come, if it does, I’m prepared to seize it.

Finding time as a doctor mom is about using small morsels of time to get what you want out of life. What could you do with the time you find? Make a plan for it, and you might be onto something big! 

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