Too much to do is a feeling shared by all of us who are trying to be productive at work, good parents, good family members, and good people contributing to the world. The list goes on. The pressure to get everything done can be positive, negative, or sometimes both at once.
As a physician, researcher, husband, father, and athlete, I am often asked how I get so much done. I answer—a little flippantly—that I find a lot of time in each second. Here is how and why.
First, routine. All parents learn that babies love routine. It helps them know what to expect and when they will be comforted. It also saves the parents from innovating all day long. Personally, routine saves me a ton of time. And following routine, as a physician and surgeon, improves safety. Doing most of the things I do in a familiar order and in the same way gives my mind space to think about how to do those things better—and the desire to improve everything I do is a big part of why I became a scientist and doctor. It is by careful repetition of complex maneuvers, done thousands of times, that we develop superiority in technical skill and credible insight into what could be made better.
Second, discipline. Discipline is choosing what to do and what not to do. It affects whether or not I am efficient in my work and my sports. At work, being fully present with each patient permits me to capture their information and make the best decisions early in our interactions. What I avoid doing are the things not appropriate to my level of training— inputting data into the computerized records, for example, transcribing notes, making appointments, and all the tasks that drag physicians away from using their level of expertise. These roles are performed by my support staff. Setting up my work life to be nearly 100% productive permits me to think about how to improve the care I give, as well as how to improve my sports performance and family life. Each of those areas requires the same level of presence of mind to benefit fully.
Third, attitude. The point is to be productive and have fun. If my attitude is off—if I’m angry, frustrated, tired, disappointed, or hungry—anything I try to do suffers. Attitude checks need to be frequent and addressed rapidly for success to occur. As I have said many times before, work only when you are 100% happy. You make your best decisions when happy and often make poor decisions when not. My patients cannot afford for me to be 75% happy and make one in four poor decisions.
Fourth, stay fit and healthy. I have a little control over my level of fitness, some control over my level of health, and total control over how I respond to degradations in either one. There’s no question: The fitter I am, the healthier I am mentally and physically and the more resilience I have for dealing with random diseases.
Fifth, goals and philosophy. I have lived, and taught my children, the following home-baked “religion.” Each day do four things: be a good person, educate yourself, contribute to the world, and be happy. If you can do those things, you will achieve your own version of nirvana.
This brings us to how I find so much time in every second. If your mind is clear, each second gives you ample time to think about what to do and how to respond to the events around you. When your actions reflect the values above, every moment will be golden.