Burnout. A word we never want to associate ourselves with, but the reality is we all suffer from burnout at some point in our academic career. As medical professionals, we are motivated, determined, and work countless hours, often forgoing exercise, sleep, and a social life, at the expense of our mental and physical health. This grit and work-ethic is what makes us great, but when we push too hard, we often hit a wall and productivity inevitably declines.
How can we achieve balance? How can we avoid burnout and stay productive? How can we consistently perform at a high-level day in and day out? These were the questions that the authors of Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, asked before writing this book. Brad Stulberg was previously a top executive coach at McKinsey & Company, who now focuses on writing and studying health and the science of human performance. Steve Magness is a performance scientist and coach of many world class athletes. As medical professionals, we always want to see the data, the science behind the results, and in my opinion, the best part about this book was that the authors were able to combine their expertise to reveal and explain tangible practices that are scientifically proven to enhance performance.
Peak Performance is packed with great information, and it would be a good read for anyone who has recently felt like they are in a rut, burned out, or are simply looking for some motivation to help keep them going. Below are a few of my favorite things we can do to elevate our performance.
“Stress + rest = growth. Regardless of what you are trying to grow”
After evaluating some of the highest achievers, one common theme among almost all of them is strategically built in rest periods between sessions of intense mental or physical activity. This applies to both short term and long-term intervals. For daily routines, the data reveals that we should divide work into chunks of 50-90 minutes followed by breaks of 7-20 minutes. This method “enables people to sustain the physical, cognitive, and emotional energy required for peak performance.” I encourage you to find the interval that works for you and to stick with it! A scheduled routine can make both physical and mental activity less strenuous. In regard to longer time periods, the book recommends that we schedule vacations and time off well in advance in order to have something to look forward to. Think of this as a reward system for staying motivated and working hard. It’s easier to stay motivated when you know there is something exciting and fun on the horizon.
Make big decisions earlier in the day (or the night before)
If you are like me, you know the feeling of being exhausted after a full day of rotations or studying. Unsurprisingly, it has been proven that our self-discipline and brainpower decline throughout the day. For me, diet and exercise often go out the window after an exhausting day, and instead of working out and eating healthy like I had planned to earlier that morning, I often found myself reverting to fast food and watching Netflix. To combat this, I now exercise in the morning and try to have my meals ready the night before, so all I have to do is throw them in the microwave the next day. If you’re a night studier, prepare and know exactly what you want to accomplish that night earlier in the day so you don’t have to waste energy deciding what to do that night. Overall, the more you can set up yourself for success in the morning, the easier it is to follow through with tasks later in the day.
“No matter how strong willed we are, we are all products of our environment, so it is imperative that we surround ourselves with people who are hard-working, encouraging, and who will create a positive environment for us to thrive in.”Dr. Patrick Young, Contributor, Med Student Edge
I’ve read my fair share of personal development books and this is one of the common recommendations I have found in almost all of them. We think that multitasking makes us more efficient, but in actuality it is detrimental to productivity. Only attempt one task at a time. Once it is completed, you can turn your focus to another task. In summary, the book states, “Researchers at the University of Michigan found that seemingly innocuous multitasking can cannibalize as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time. Although it may feel like we are getting twice as much done when multitasking, we’re actually getting close to half as much done.”
Limit distractions to achieve deep focus
In today’s digital media age, distractions are everywhere. The internet is a very powerful tool, but it can also be the world’s biggest distraction. Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and email notifications constantly come across our phone and computer screens. Researchers have found that even the sight of a smartphone can distract us from deep focus. While it may seem uncomfortable at first, try turning off email notifications and placing your smartphone out of sight and out of reach while studying. You will find that this will create a more distraction free environment and will boost productivity. Give yourself specific allotted time to check emails, texts, calls, etc. instead of checking them when they come in. While it may take some getting used to, creating a distraction free workplace undoubtedly makes you a more efficient and effective student.
Sleep 7-9 hours per night
Remember that stress + rest = growth? We can’t perform our best and expand our capabilities physically or mentally without growth. As overachievers, we want to take on the world often at the expense of our sleep schedule. Research has proven that some of the greatest health benefits come while we are asleep, so don’t sacrifice this to get ahead! What about naps? While naps cannot completely make up for a poor night’s sleep, they can improve energy and focus. The research reveals that 10-30 minute naps are the most effective.
Surround yourself with people who will push you to be your best
We’ve all heard the old saying that, “You are who you surround yourself with.” While it seems cliché, there is now science to back it up. It turns out that both positive and negative traits are contagious within groups. Positive traits such as motivation, health consciousness, and work ethic are things to look for in people to lift us up. While negative traits such as complaining, indulgence, and lethargy are traits we can pick up from others which can bring us down. No matter how strong willed we are, we are all products of our environment, so it is imperative that we surround ourselves with people who are hard-working, encouraging, and who will create a positive environment for us to thrive in.
I hope you enjoyed learning about some of the simple ways to enhance performance and reduce burnout. Just remember, we all go through periods where motivation and morale are low. I will leave you with this final quote from Peak Performance that really resonated with me. “The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent.”
What tactics have you implemented in your own life to stay productive and avoid burnout? Comment below or contact us directly.