Saturday, November 25, 2017

Residency Life Hacks

Earlier this month I got to help out with a life hacks workshop at a wellness conference for residents at my university. I wasn't quite sure what I was getting did I even have any life hacks? Turns out (thanks, Google) we all have life hacks -- things we do to make our days easier and more efficient. There's probably something to be gained by sharing them with one another, so I figured I'd compile a few here. And of course these don't just apply to the medical field. Resident or not, definitely feel free to pitch in with your own!

planning -- Planners are trendy these days, but there are lots of ways you can stay organized -- find one that works for you. For me, putting something on a to-do list, be it paper or electronic, means it's one less thing I need to keep on my mind.
a list makes the yet-to-be-done more tangible -> less daunting

just do it -- I'd written about this before, but as someone who procrastinates, I need to remind myself to get little things out of the way as they arise.

emails -- The same goes for emails. Touch them once: deal with them when you first open them if it takes 2 minutes or less, otherwise write in your planner/to-do list to address them later. Delete or file old emails asap and unsubscribe from all the junk ones!

hairdryer ironing -- I'm perpetually scrambling to get dressed around the time I should really be making my way out the door. If my shirt is just a little wrinkled, I'll splash a bit of water onto it, then blow-dry it for 30 or so seconds, until it's dry. That usually does the trick. Failing that, I do keep a travel steamer at work.
everyone thinks it's a kettle :)

meal prep -- Kind of an obvious one, but I make food in bulk whenever I can -- salads for work lunches, dinners or baking to freeze. If I have a tray of ground beef or an unused half of a butternut squash, I'll portion it up and pop it into the freezer.
saving time and $

snacks -- I have a snack stash at work for times when I stay late or don't bring enough lunch. Sometimes I'll bring fruit or celery sticks for a few days and keep them in our resident room fridge.
those wasabi peas are my weakness

cereal -- I also have a box of cereal at work. When I don't have time to pack a lunch I'll bring a bottle of milk along and have cereal.
got this frappuccino just for the bottle!

big breakfasts -- Lunch timing can be unpredictable in the hospital. If there's one thing I've learned in medicine, it's to eat a stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast. Oatmeal is my go-to.

car second breakfast -- Back in med school during surgical rotations I'd go one further and bring more food to eat in the car right before I walked into the hospital (anything to keep me on my feet in the OR).
chocolate milk is perfect for protein/calories/deliciousness and a microwaved egg is convenient protein
overnight oats made in a jar are also nice and transportable

appliances -- Slow cooker, pressure cooker, George Foreman grill... It's worth investing in anything you think will make cooking more efficient.

toothbrushes everywhere -- Keeping an extra toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and hairdryer at work means five fewer things I need to remember on my way out the door for call. The car is also a good place to stash extra toiletries, if you're commuting to call shifts at other hospitals.
at this point, I could probably fairly comfortably live at work :S

raisin bread -- I love this stuff and usually keep a loaf in the freezer. I pull out a couple slices whenever I'm on call (i.e. need to pack my backpack 90% full of food that depending on where I am may not see a fridge). If you find a microwave -- or better yet a toaster -- in the hospital you've got yourself a delicious post-call breakfast.
go for the discounted bread -- you're freezing it anyways

hair-washing short cuts -- I do like to wash my hair every morning, but don't like taking twenty minutes to dry and straighten it. For the past few months I've been putting my hair up in a bun and only washing the front/top part of my hair every day. The bottom part doesn't really get oily so can stay dry in the bun and just be washed every two or three days. Weird, I know, but a time saver and I think in the long run probably healthier for my hair. Dry shampoo is an alternative, but I'm not really a fan.

gentle alarms -- Ideally I'd wake up to my phone vibrating and not have to contend with an annoying alarm. But that's a little risky, so I still have a backup alarm a little bit later with sound. (And then another alarm much later for when I miss the first ones...)

caffeine pills -- I only take these a couple of times a month, when I work the day after an overnight call shift. Not my preferred caffeine vehicle, but are they ever handy when coffee is out of reach.
one pill = a good-sized cup of coffee

avoid social media/blogs at the hospital -- I'd like to think that this makes me slightly more productive during the work day? Evening-time is another story.

call scheduling -- I've found that the easiest way to make a resident call schedule is to have everyone put "X"s next to dates that they are unable to do call on a shared Google spreadsheet. It's then easy to go through and visually pick out who is free on each date, and saves you having to wade through a bunch of call request emails.
call schedule template
basically a big logic puzzle

work-day exercise -- Another obvious one, but taking the stairs instead of the elevator or using a standing workstation helps sneak some physical activity into the work day.
where I did med school -- lots more stairs than where I work now!

multitask -- "Read" audiobooks while doing mindless work, watch TV while working out, and catch up with family on the phone while commuting home.
slowly but surely making my way through this one
this little guy was a game changer for hearing my laptop over the elliptical

productive mornings -- If I'm struggling to stay awake in the evening, I know I won't get any good work in. May as well just sleep early and wake up early to be productive.

environmental cues -- Try keeping work and relaxation areas separate in your home or on campus so that when you're say sitting at your desk, your brain knows it's time to get to work. (Pro tip from Alexander Graham Bell.)
library time = study time

That's all I've got for now. I'm sure there are lots more (better ones) out there. I think most important though, we need to consider our personal values in deciding how to allocate our time and money. We often hear encouragement from our seniors/staff to outsource (e.g. hire a housekeeper, order your groceries online) which, while fine ideas, aren't realistic for everyone. Overall, just make time for the things you enjoy (which may include grocery shopping) and, as much as possible, don't put off living life for the sake of residency!


  1. this is perfect - thank you - just what I needed. I am in my last year of medical school and I'm really dragging my feet -- microwaved eggs sounds perfect. thanks again!

  2. These are all really awesome tips! I don't drink coffee, but I tend to break out ginseng/tea when I need to stay up for 24-hr calls!

    I've implemented a number of them in my life already outta necessity, but I really miss reading--audiobooks would be a nice cure for that!


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