Whenever I have gotten the opportunity to eat a gourmet meal and the $35 dish is brought to me with only 50% of it covered in food, I start to feel ripped off. “Where is my $12, overloaded all-you-can-eat, Chuck-a-Rama filled-up plate?”
And then I taste what is artfully prepared and presented and remember the meaning of “less is more.”
I was sharing with a friend recently about the similar temptation to fill my life up to the brim, where I leave no margins for rest and replenishment. I cut out the white space of my schedule, always thinking that more is better and I want to have options, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Invariably I get to the overfull, post-buffet feeling of, “I regret that I ate everything I put on my plate.”
Moreover, even though my job is entirely about serving our members, sometimes I feel like I am wasting time when I spend effort being relational rather than punching off tasks. I flashback to what my college pastor and mentor told me, “Steve, you are already efficient with tasks, but you need to become more effective with people.”
Ouch. It still hurts.
I know this is not just a personal problem. All too often, our very national culture of productivity and high-output becomes a gluttony for activity and turns towards an addiction to stimulation. Never is this truer than in medicine, where the trend is to try and squeeze every ounce of value out of increasing healthcare costs. But Princess Leia’s defiance certainly applies here: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will sleep through your fingers.” We are becoming less effective with patients and struggle to remain efficient with tasks because there are just too many to hold on to.
Somehow, we must learn to build margins and rest both into our personal and corporate lives, even if it makes us feel guilty for being unproductive and inefficient. As they attempt to move towards “zero-harm,” healthcare employers and leaders must stop thinking about their organizations as 99.9999% uptime machines and start thinking of them as living systems built of human beings which cannot operate effectively OR efficiently 99% of the time.
I believe as we recover this flavor of our humanity, the quality of what and how we serve patients will leave them more satisfied and healthier than trying to offer everything imaginable.