You might think that as a career matures, things would slow a little and afford some opportunities for activities that are not directly connected to work. Sadly, I've found as I've grown older and gained experience as a healthcare chief information officer, this is not the case. When I reflect on my work history, I realize that I only thought I was busy in the past. I didn't think my life could get any busier; I was wrong.
Having raised four outstanding daughters (in partnership with my wife of almost 39 years), I am well-versed in the nuances of busy-ness. One of the rules that I've always followed, related to raising my girls, was to be present and available for whatever they were involved in and still take care of the duties of a very demanding job. I'm happy to say that my wife did an outstanding job of getting our girls to adulthood, even in spite of me getting in her way. I became skilled in systems strategy, implementations, cross country, track and marching band—all at the same time. Remember, this is when I thought I was busy. Now, with government regulation, healthcare reform, decreased reimbursement, meaningful use, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other crisis events, the demands on healthcare CIOs are rising exponentially.
You are probably wondering where I'm going with all this. Let me get to the point—it relates to the old saying "all work and no play makes (fill in your own name here) a dull boy." Most healthcare CIOs I know seem to be at work all the time; it's difficult to unplug and disconnect. However, that is something that really busy people need to do: They need to develop the ability to back off the accelerator so that they can re-energize, which will enable them to be optimally productive on the job.
Let me illustrate. When I graduated from high school, I asked my dad to help me get a job at the local Goodyear plant, where he had worked as a journeyman sheet-metal craftsman and welder. My dad graciously refused and went on to explain that he had raised his boys to use their brains, not their backs. I took his guidance and went to college rather than working as skilled labor.
Although I completed college and began a healthcare career, my dad was really the smarter person. You see, when my dad was at work, he was at work (there were weeks/months that he worked eight days a week, if you counted the overtime). However, when my dad was not at work, he was unplugged and disconnected from work.
Now if you take a look at my career, I'm never not at work. I have to make an effort to "not be at work." I have to plan it as if it were a meeting or another business trip. My wife and children kidnapped me a couple of years ago to a cabin in the mountains for a week; however, I could get cell service on the second floor of the cabin. As you can tell, I had some difficulty disconnecting from the day-to-day activities of my "job."
This year, my wife and I did something that we had not done in more than 30 years. She and I took a vacation by ourselves—no children, no grandchildren. This may not strike you as something to write about, but it was very out of character for me. I wouldn't call myself a workaholic; I'm just really busy doing what I do.
We drove for about 12 hours to the Gulf Coast and spent a week sitting on the beach, reading, taking long walks and just spending time together. You know, the things that our very busy lives had not allowed us to do—or, better said, some things that we had not allowed ourselves to do.
One of the rules that I made for myself during the trip was that I would check e-mail only once at the end of the day, before we went out to dinner. A cellphone would not accompany me to the beach. You can call it an experiment of will, if you like. Neither my wife nor my children thought that I would be successful. I am happy to brag that I did stay within the established guidelines.
I can't remember when I've enjoyed myself as much—just taking the time to allow myself to be unplugged and disconnected, not just from technology but from the very busy pace of work. As you can guess, the work was still there when I returned.
So here is the moral of the story and the message that I would like to give to all the other very busy people in healthcare and in other industries: The work is not who you are; it's just what you do. Don't let your work define who you are—rather, take time for yourself and your family. I promise that the time away from the rush of everyday will have benefits and dividends that you cannot imagine.
My wife gave me a little plaque for my office. It reads, "Don't be so busy earning a living that you miss the opportunity to make a life." Those are good words to live and work by.
Chief information officer
Good Samaritan Hospital