Making Peace with Work Undone

Physicians have prescribed proper diet, hydration, recreation, rest, and sleep for millennia. We all know how critical these homeostatics are for good health.

But we don't have enough hands to help with all the work. The sheer volume of it demands every moment of every day and every night.

We devolve into “heads on a stick.” Our bodies become mere vehicles to carry our brains around in service of the work. Our stressed bodies try to communicate with us. They send us distress signals of dis-ease, but we push on valiantly for the sake of the work. We strain to get every task done by day’s end to fulfill our duty to our patients, literally sacrificing our health for theirs.

But when our physiology can no longer compensate, when our bodies and emotions finally break, we must confront the truth: we just can't dispatch 100% of the work every single day with our health intact. Some things must be left undone for another day.

And here's the problem: some of us are card-carrying members of the “Clean Your (Work) Plate Daily” Club.

We worry about missing something critical. We worry about forgetting details of our visits. We worry about ending up on a list of shame for all to see.

How can we possibly make peace with being behind? How can we possibly relax when we know work is steadily piling up? And how can we silence the demeaning, brutal voice of our inner critic?

By remembering the Sage advice we give our patients to take care of themselves.

By remembering that when we break, no quality work gets done, and continuing to work in that state is a liability for ourselves and our patients.

By remembering that we're perennially worthy of healthy food, water, exercise, rest, play, and sleep.

Many of us are pet owners. We ensure our pets are well-fed, exercised, and get proper sleep. Most normal people would meet a puppy’s needs. Don't we deserve the same basic care and compassion as animals? We’re systemically treated worse, and most of us give ourselves far less.

So what makes sense to do next?

Might you create and respect hard boundaries for your self-care? Even if that means falling behind in your work?

Might you draw a firm line where your work ends and your health begins, and create a system for prioritizing what gets done first every day? Your system will look different than someone else’s. That's perfectly okay.

But the work prioritization system you design for yourself and tweak over time is secondary to the primary decision you must make: is your work more important than you are?

If your health is breaking, making peace with having work undone starts with the quality decision to put your health first. You deserve it. You’re worth it.


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