Welcome to Mindfulness in Medicine, a monthly column by bestselling author Anne Bruce designed to cultivate leadership and collaborative relationships among hospital leaders, nurses, providers and ancillary staff. Mindfulness is a powerful leadership tool that enhances emotional intelligence in medicine. It is a tool that, when practiced, can help us develop and implement relational coaching skills and illuminate various ways to improve hospital operations and cross-departmental performance. Mindfulness also improves our capacity for decision-making and participatory medicine, all while enhancing our own health and well-being. Your comments and insights on these postings are greatly valued.
It’s no secret that many of us in healthcare are overscheduled and constantly striving to cram more into each workday. We'd be so happy if only we could get more done!
Or would we?

The Joy of Slowing Down

Contrary to popular belief, achieving monster productivity won't make you happy (at least not by itself).
The key to fulfillment is to use your time in meaningful ways.
In his bestselling book In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré encourages readers to question our culture's "cult of speed:"
“The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections — with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds."
Sounds like a lovely way to spend the holidays, doesn't it?

Back to Basics

To get in the holiday spirit, let's talk about a mindfulness technique called underscheduling.
It involves clearing your calendar regularly to make room for pleasurable life experiences (including the self-care and down time that sustain you).
Underscheduling is a great way to declutter your personal and professional lives. It will also help you to more fully enjoy the present. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Determine what’s most important to you

Make a list of those things. Then, do your best to give them your full time and attention.
Meanwhile, slowly start to let other things go. If you don't feel comfortable dropping them altogether, consider outsourcing them. (This is easier now than ever with services like AmazonFresh and TaskRabbit at your fingertips.)
Note that underscheduling doesn't require overhauling your entire life in one fell swoop. Instead, take baby steps and say good-bye to one new task each week. Notice how this feels.

2. Build in buffer time

Take a breather between patients, staff meetings, and admin tasks. Success in medicine (and life) doesn't require racing from one frantic situation to another. Taking just a minute or two to breathe and center can do wonders for your emotional health and effectiveness.

3. Allow and appreciate idle thoughts

Are your thoughts constantly racing ahead to the next event or task? If so, give yourself permission to tune out.
Many of us experience intrusive thoughts most acutely at night, when they can interfere with sleep and family time. Instead of pulling out your phone every time you remember a to-do, write yourself a reminder on a notepad or white board. You'll be surprised by how much less urgent these tasks seem in the morning.
Mental down time can be surprisingly productive. Powering down the "work" part of your brain encourages you to think along new pathways. This can help you to feel more creative, reflective, and present in the moment. Solutions to your thorniest problems may pop effortlessly into your head.

4. Accept fewer invitations to parties and events during the holidays

If you're like most people, you probably have only a handful of true friends who bring joy and meaning to your life. So don't spread yourself thin by giving your time to everyone who asks for it.
Instead, think about whom you really want to see during the holidays. Write their names on your list from step one. Make a real effort to get together with them.
When you receive invites from others, feel free to graciously decline. Saying no can feel uncomfortable. But trust me, no one will remember next year that you missed the seventeenth ugly sweater party of the season. I promise.

5. Say no even when your brain says yes

People in the helping professions tend to say yes reflexively. After all, it's our life's mission to help, nurture, and heal. Even when we know better, protecting our time feels a little selfish.
However, saying yes when you really mean no doesn't help anyone.
Betraying your needs in this way is the opposite of self-care. We can do no good for others if we let ourselves get run down physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Saying yes when we mean no also breeds resentment. How often have you grudgingly agreed to a task and then grumbled about it?

6. Embrace the beauty of brevity

Have you ever wasted half an hour editing an office email for the perfect tone and messaging?
If so, bear in mind that Apple founder Steve Jobs was a famously brief emailer, as is Amazon's Jeff Bezos. (Click here for some entertaining examples.)
In addition to putting you in the company of giants, brief emails are much appreciated by colleagues. They're also more likely to receive responses. (The sweet spot for length seems to be between 50 and 125 words.)
And if you make a presentation, take a lesson from the world-famous TedTalks. Even Madeleine Albright and Bono get limited to 18 minutes max. (That's also the length of a typical coffee break, which may be one reason it resonates with listeners.)

7. Meditate on it

If you meditate daily, you're way ahead in the mindfulness game. But if you don't yet, the holidays may be the perfect time to wade in. (We could all use a little dose of peace and compassion this time of year, right?)
Consistency is key, so strive to practice every day. Most experts recommend starting slowly — even just two minutes each morning can have significant benefits.
Not sure where to begin? Check out the mindfulness app Headspace for a free guide to the basics.

Above All, Enjoy the Journey

Many people worry that underscheduling will make them less effective and productive. But chances are, you'll actually feel more mindful, inspired, and energized.
You'll also save the best of you for your loved ones, rather than giving them whatever scraps of time and energy remain at the end of the day.
On a personal note, thanks so much for taking the time to read. If you have tips on slowing down and enjoying the holidays more fully, please comment below to share them.
Wishing you a happy, mindful holiday!