Jeri's post is the fourth
in a 5-part series on
Twenty-four hours in a day, thirty days in a month, twelve months in a year, thirty-five or forty years in a career – how do we want to spend those hours? What do we want to accomplish, what do we care about? These concerns of time management consultants are also salient for those of us fortunate enough to be collaborative consultants whether in clinical practice, administration, policy or academia. The better we work with others, the more frequently we will be invited to take on new roles.
Yet the success of new invitations and opportunities can easily slide into stress and distress. We all know colleagues who, when asked about their life, say, "Way too busy”. And though it can be tempting to consider them important in their many roles, I also find myself wanting to distance. I prefer to socialize, work, and learn from others who do not always appear overwhelmed. We want colleagues and leaders who manage their anxiety and their time, not those who act frenetically like Kramer from the Seinfeld episodes. So how can we do it? How can we take advantage of the multiple opportunities around us without letting them take advantage of us?
I do not pretend to always do it well myself, but I enjoy helping individuals and systems consider their passions and priorities. This has included clinical work with families, team and organizational development, and mentoring of other professionals. As Director of Faculty Development programs for our medical school, it is a privilege to support leaders, or faculty who are considering promotion, and help them think about what they do well and how they can be more successful.
Just like clinical work, it is easier to do it than write about it. My response is to simplify, and to organize my thinking as "Pearls”. It is also fun to use alliteration, so I suggest a list of pearls that includes: Passion, Plan, Prioritization, Pro-action, Prioritization, Promotion of Others, and Play.
What’s yourpassion? A powerful group exercise is to have people share why they decided to enter their career. Generally, it reflects deep meaning about wanting to make a change or an impact. Reminding ourselves of our ongoing larger commitments is core to professional success. We may not know how we are going to make the difference or what exactly we will do, but stating our core values and purpose helps us form a personal mission statement – a statement that can be used to measure the relevance of new opportunities.
What’s your plan?Create your plan to reflect your personal mission statement as well as a realistic appraisal of your interests and energy for new opportunities. Assessing interests seems relatively intuitive. Does this new opportunity excite me? Does it add to my evolving personal mission, or will it distract me and move me further away from the things I most care about? Opportunities for administrative roles are prime examples that require careful consideration. If I take on this Director position, for example, will I really be able to help set the direction of the clinic, or will I spend most of my time involved with budgets?
Assessment of energy is a second factor. Do I care about this opportunity enough to work more? Or if I take on this role, what will I give up? This is the place to consider the developmental trajectory of a career. Early in my career, I made a choice to work three-quarter time, but not when my children were infants and enrolled in excellent child care near their father. Instead, I created more flexibility after I had gained my first academic promotion (part of my personal mission). At that time, my children were in public school, and I was able to participate more with them in sports and after school programs (also part of my personal mission).
A caveat holds for executions of plans. Interviews of later stage satisfied professionals rarely identify a rigid plan about how they achieved success. Instead, most report that they generally knew what they were interested in, but they were also open to new opportunities. The challenge is to take the time to measure those new opportunities against the most important ruler – that of personal passion and commitment.
How can you prioritize according to your plan? There are at least two factors that can help us make choices that move us toward our personal definitions of success. One is to select those opportunities that reflect alignment between our personal mission and the goals of our larger systems. The second is to prioritize activities and opportunities that we can and will actually do.
A clinician in a consulting practice may agree to give a series of parenting talks to a community group because the presenter cares about affirming families in the community (part of their personal mission). Giving those talks also helps market the collaborative practice (alignment with larger system mission). Colleagues skilled in collaboration know how to create win-wins.
The second factor about prioritization is to promise carefully, something I have not always done well. Sometimes opportunities seem so exciting that we jump for them without determining whether we have the skills or whether we can prioritize the time to complete them. Opportunities do not help us meet our goals if we have to apologize for not getting a promised task completed. Just as in personal interactions in which negative comments count far more heavily than positive comments, work that is late, incomplete, or poorly done is remembered far more than work which was appropriately done.
How can you be pro-active without being pushy? Sharing a plan with others helps provide personal commitment. It also makes it clear what help one can use from others. Pro-active professionals ask for formal and informal mentoring, and let others know what they are interested in achieving. "Graceful self-promotion” includes volunteering for an activity, letting a colleague know of an achievement, or informing another why you will not consider an offered opportunity. "Thank you so much for asking me to write the book review. I want to do a good job, and I feel this is not in my area of expertise. But I’d be very interested in reviewing a book about health system redesign. Could you keep me in mind for something like that?”
How can we best promote others? Great leaders celebrate others. Collaborative care professionals know why recognition is important and how to do it well. Appreciation – whether done privately through conversation, emails or notes, or publicly through other forums, builds relationships. Recognition of others creates a culture that facilitates success for many. In the example above, in which the opportunity to write a book review was turned down, a further statement can be helpful. "My colleague would do a great job with this book review. Can I give you her name?” Or, "Would it be helpful for me to think about who might be do a good job with this review and get back to you?” (And then, since it is a promise, make sure you do get back.)
What is the relevance of play? Successful people find ways to create play in their personal life as "balance”, but also find joy and play in their work. A sense of play leads to renewal, re-vision, and frequently gratitude. We are fortunate people to be able to engage in work that we have chosen, that is meaningful, and that we enjoy. We are doubly fortunate to be able to continue to determine how we change and grow in our work.
Play is not an add-on, but a responsibility. Play allows us to remember our passion, refine our plans, and prioritize our efforts. Our work is too important to be left to those who just put in their time.
Jeri Hepworth, PhD LMFT is professor and vice chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Connecticut. She is the immediate past president of STFM. Her professional work has focused on families and health, psychosocial issues in medicine, and managing personal and professional stress. Among her publications, she is co-author of 3 books: Medical Family Therapy, The Shared Experience of Illness, and Family Oriented Primary Care.