Going for the Goal

By Dr. Daniel Friedman

My current to-do list looks something like this:

  • Prepare presentation for case rounds
  • Submit manuscript for review
  • Email elective coordinators
  • Review 3 guidelines per week
  • Finish questions for next Royal College study group
  • Call mom
  • Buy gift for Luke’s birthday
  • Order black sweater
  • Get milk and eggs
  • Fix block 8 call schedule

The list can easily, and often does, go on with a disorganized collection of personal, clinical and research tasks. It is always changing, never looking the same from day to day, even hour to hour. Great, I just finished this PowerPoint, but I was just asked to submit an abstract for a conference that is due in 2 days. I don’t think I can get to those 3 emails today—I will have to add it to tomorrow’s to-do list. Ok, so how do I manage to get anything done?!

Last year, in an attempt to find more wellbeing in residency, I took up a new hobby—calligraphy. I used to be quite artistic in my premedical life, but 1-in-4 call and reading Harrison’s made it harder for me to engage the right side of my brain. When life started to get more stressful with electives and subspecialty match, I came back to calligraphy. Finding all the newest markers and pens, I taught myself new techniques and regained muscle memory to write the most beautiful greeting cards (and sometimes progress notes). As I got more into calligraphy, I discovered the growing community of Bullet Journaling (BuJo for short). The general concept of bullet journaling is to start with a blank notebook and to create a personalized journal that is “on-the-fly”. Although you prepare monthly and weekly logs, room is set aside for daily tasks, thoughts and goals. It was meant to encompass all aspects of one’s personal and professional lives. This seemed like a perfect task for me, getting to attempt an organizational reboot while utilizing arts and crafts as a means for self-care. BuJo allowed me to not only keep focus on my changing to-do list, but also to track my habits (both good and bad) and to have a creative place to doodle and work on calligraphy that wasn’t too far from my tasks (for whenever I needed to remind myself to get back on focus).

I no longer BuJo in the strictest sense, but I have taken away a few helpful tips that I use with my daily and weekly organization.

  • I try to take a half hour every Sunday to help plan my week ahead. I write in my agenda all the meetings, activities and call shifts. I make note of those that are mandatory and those that are optional.
  • I didn’t like always flipping back and forth between my monthly/yearly plans to help make a weekly and daily to-do list. I have since bought a small white board I keep beside my desk where I scribble on every academic or professional task with some due dates.
  • When I do my Sunday planning, I can now make a weekly list of tasks to do with my commitments in mind, but only once I finish a task to completion can I erase it from the white board.
  • I don’t write personal tasks on the white board. These I put straight into my agenda, since I am now trying to prioritize these and put academic tasks around these.
  • I do all my doodling and calligraphy in a separate notebook. I didn’t like making this a chore, but rather keep it as a hobby.

Staying on track is always a work in progress. Sundays are my day to refocus my priorities and reflect on what I have accomplished the week before. My system isn’t perfect but it’s personalized and mindful. Hopefully some of these ideas resonate with you as you proceed through the beginning of your career!

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 Dr. Daniel Friedman is in Adult Infectious Diseases at University of Alberta.