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Balance

The problem with not being busy

July 11, 2020

What do you do when COVID-19 fatigue sets in? My community is beginning to surge, months after other hard-hit areas like New York. It’s been a long mental game of keeping it together, and we are just getting started. Here’s the problem with not being busy: it can be crazy-making.

COVID has thrown us off from our usual busy-ness

If you’re a resident who is used to constant doing– checking another lab, reading another study, or writing another progress note– what do you do on your day off when all you are allowed to do is the laundry? I recall this feeling as a resident, catching up on chores during time off, and always feeling I should be studying. It felt like an endless cycle, but even then, there was the occasional meal or night out.

Now that I’m an attending, the need for study time has fallen away. Our community is shut down, and there is nothing to do but be home with my toddler. 

A doctor’s mind can run too fast in times like these. We are used to a certain pace, and many of our pleasures like traveling have been taken away. I try to be creative, and keep a list of things to do for those moments. 

What was that task or project I meant to do when I was too busy…

I’ve found it helpful to keep a running list of things to do, for the moments my mind goes numb and I forget. There are always small gratifying tasks I could complete, just to have the feeling of having accomplished something. Like: 

…feed my kid.

…write a thank you note. 

…send a baby gift. 

A list of things to do is like an anchor when I’m adrift and aimless in my time off. 

My list has reminded me of small pleasures, like reading aloud to my kid. Not his board books, which I have read thousands of times, but books I actually want to read, like Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott). It makes me chuckle out loud every few pages, as it teaches my toddler new words and phrases. At the same time, I’m learning and relating to the lessons in creativity & writing, as I prepare to become a published author myself. 

We are isolated… but I’m glad we’re together

I’ve even read a parenting book aloud to my little one: “How to Talk So Little Kids Listen.” It’s pure gold. My boy pauses to look at me quizzically as I describe the mental jujitsu of parenting. I think he understands much more than we give him credit for at the age of two and a half. 

Meanwhile, we are trying to potty train. It involves a small bribe here, a small bribe there. I’m realizing all over again how it feels to accomplish something slowly, even when it doesn’t feel like it (just like medical training!). Potty training doesn’t happen overnight, and I started early, so it feels like it’s taking forever. 

He pees on the potty, or even takes a small poo, and it’s great, but then he pees on the floor, just for attention or because he was too busy playing to stop. Yet he’s made tremendous progress. It’s a rite of passage, really. And staying home in times of COVID has given me the opportunity to focus on it with him for now.

the problem with not being busy

As I encouraged you to do in my post, “Things not to worry about in a pandemic,” I’ve eased up on myself. As a parent, I’ve relaxed my limits on screen time, realizing our options for entertainment are limited, especially as temperatures hit the upper one-teens this week. How strange it is to have a pandemic surge in summer. 

As I let go of the worry we are watching too much claymation, I accept the phase of life and the circumstances we are in. My little one is probably learning something, as he watches Wallace and Gromit make a homemade rocket to fly to the moon, in search of cheese (again).

I am privileged to have the problem of not being busy. I roll out my yoga mat and get into a plank position as the clay spectacle fades to the background. We are healthy and intact for now, so we might as well enjoy the moment. 

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  1. Christine Chavez says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog today Dr. Hamilton. I also write a to do lists to keep myself organized, but also to remind myself of things I can get done when I have some to myself. I like the satisfaction of checking another item off my list and the sense of accomplishment, even in the little things. I used my 6 week surgery recovery time to get alot of little things done around my home, from painting the front door to going through all my paper files and thinning them out.

    • Tired Superheroine says:

      Yes! There are must-do lists, and the sometimes ignored tasks that languish on a list. I wanted to encourage people to have the list of projects or activities just for fun or when you need to check a box to feel some gratification-They each serve different purposes. I’m glad you liked the post!

  2. Christine Chavez says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog today Dr. Hamilton. I also write a to do lists to keep myself organized, but also to remind myself of things I can get done when I have some to myself. I like the satisfaction of checking another item off my list and the sense of accomplishment, even in the little things. I used my 6 week surgery recovery time to get a lot of little things done around my home, from painting the front door to going through all my paper files and thinning them out.

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