By Nicole Dhanraj
Under “normal” circumstances, imaging leaders are productive junkies. We are busy with quality and safety initiatives, reviewing budgets, leading research, building high reliability organizations, supporting the team, providing patient-centric care, and doing all we can to ensure a productive and efficient operation. It appears that leaders are programmed to work more in our industry or it could be the mere tradition of Western culture to support work alcoholics. More and more, we are tied to our phones and emails 24/7, constantly “on.”
However, imaging leaders in the last three years have faced exponential challenges. Unfortunately, the current state of health care continues to be daunting. Though I try not to admit it, it is overwhelming to overcome and manage the current challenges to sustain basic operations. As a result, leaders have no choice but to put in significant hours to help ensure services are maintained, the team is taken care of, and support a safe environment for our patients.
Think back over the years, have your hours increased? I have increased my hours by almost 80% during the past couple of years to address these challenges and maintain operations. While these actions speak volumes about our work ethic and commitment to our profession, our rest ethic is no longer commendable or sustainable.
Rest is so important, but why do we prioritize it last? Breaks, lunch? What’s that these days? A balanced lifestyle has always been in question for some of us like myself, but I enjoy my work. However, there’s currently nothing close to balance! I used to think I could not not rest, but now, we cannot afford to not rest.
Resting not only is a luxury but seems like a guilty pleasure … why? There is just not enough time due to the demands of our operation and the need to be there for our team and our patients. We can reduce our rest time for a short period, but with the current state of operation, it seems more dismal that ample rest is not in our immediate future.
So, how do we get ourselves out of this swirling chaotic operation without breaking ourselves physically and mentally? That’s the million-dollar question! However, in the meantime, here are some suggestions
- Are you priority? Ask yourself, why is your rest/wellbeing not a priority. Going through this process may help you to address the root cause of your dwindling rest ethic. Maybe you think it is because your boss may be unhappy if you don’t put in the hours. Maybe you think others may think you can’t keep up with the operational demands. Maybe you feel like you have no choice, or you must say “yes” to every meeting or initiative. Perhaps feel that every idea brought to you must be executed soon. Sometimes these perceptions become our reality not realizing they are just our perceptions we may actually have options in managing the workload. So, go through that exercise to determine the root cause and address it.
- Comparing to others. Are you comparing yourself to others? Do you see others driving hard and feel the need to drive the same or harder? Avoid comparing. That gives a false sense of your own reality.
- Champions are time savers! Find champions within your department to help with the workload. It may take time to train staff, but you can work closely with these champions to help manage the workload once trained.
- Ask or get help. A personal assistant can help with items related to your homes, such as cooking, cleaning, and other tasks you would prefer to offload. If this is a financial constraint, consider the opportunity cost for you to continue doing those tasks. What is the opportunity cost? It is the value of what you lose out on (financially or intangible) when deciding on a particular course of action.
- Control YOUR schedule. Do you have control of your work schedule? If so, place blocks and commit to not removing those blocks. These blocks will give you time to catch up, or better yet, catch a breath. If you don’t have complete control of your schedule, discuss this with your one up and ensure that you have the time to work at a sustainable pace. If that may be a difficult conversation, reach out to a mentor to assist you in how to approach this situation. Learn to say “no” and establish your boundaries if it is affecting your rest/well being.
- Commit. You may not have the ability to have the ideal rest schedule you want. However, commit to working up to what you need. This may take time, but get started now. As I write this, I am forcing myself to have these unproductive moments of unproductivity, starting with 15 mins at a time.
- Accountability Partner. Use a rest accountability partner. At work, ask someone to go for a walk with you around campus — you know they need it too! Set time specific to rest on your calendar and dare not to compromise it!
- Listen to your body. Pushing may increase our stamina and endurance, but like anything else, constantly pushing too fast or hard may break us beyond repairable state. In mechanical terms, yield strength is the greatest stress an object can undergo without becoming permanently deformed. Even in the deformed state, that material can still undergo stress until it fractures. This is referred to as tensile strength. Do you know your yield strength? We may continue to push our limits, but there is the possibility we, too, can break.
- Focus on priorities. Yes, the operation can be such where everything is a priority but juggling 100 tasks is not effective. Buckle down and with the help of your supervisor, focus on key priorities. I am focusing on staffing, regulatory, safety, budget and quality. That list still is significant especially with a demanding operation, but at least it helps to remain focused and not succumb to trying to do everything at once.
- Make a decision. Decide whether this is where you want to be and what you want to do. Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Leaving your role is always an option but there are many considerations behind that. Prior to leaving, identify what items can make you happier, and work with your team and leaders to see how best you can get the most optimum environment. The grass is not always greener, but working on your current environment may be an option. Don’t get stuck in the should I stay or should I go mentality. That creates extra stress in an already demanding role.
Remember, as much as we all are superheroes and rockstars, moments of unproductivity are essential and crucial to our success and effectiveness. In everything around us, rest is emphasized, for example, recess at school or rest between your sets at the gym.
The whole world is moving at a lightning-fast pace, but do recognize our human limits and commit to balancing your work ethic with your rest ethic. Take control of it in your best interest. I encourage you to pause and ensure that you are taking care of yourself. The operation will remain volatile, but your team, your friends and your family cannot afford for you to be volatile.
Welcome unproductive moments. No need to feel guilty. It’s OK to close the laptop and turn off the phone, even for 5 minutes. Work on it until you can have more extended periods of rest. Until then, keep working on balancing that work and rest ethic. Time is the most invaluable asset. How will you commit to leveraging the most of it in favor of your wellbeing? Need an accountability partner? Reach out to me! •
– Nicole Dhanraj, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, PMP, GPHR, CPSS, CRA, R.T(R)(CT)(MR), is a radiology systems director for Northern Arizona Healthcare.