Busyness-A Universal Feeling

Pharmacists can benefit from taking time out to assess the hectic pace of their professional lives.

My church had a reading assignment this summer: Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. Written by Kevin DeYoung, this book describes the universal problem of busyness. While I wasn’t sure about why it was suggested for all members to read, I did enjoy it and was able to apply much of what I read to my professional as well as my personal life.

When I talk to practicing pharmacists and ask them how things are, I usually hear the same response. It is always about working harder than ever, being understaffed or under-resourced, having a manager who keeps asking for more, and having a feeling not being able to do everything that is asked of them. In fact, I have given this response a few times myself.

The concern at the heart of this busyness and why we put up with it is, “If I don’t do it, will I be replaced by another who will?” Much of this feeling is a result of the recent economic crisis and workplace attempts to do more with less. This leads to pharmacist concerns with patient safety, and having to work unpaid hours.

While I don’t have all of the answers to fix everyone’s professional situation (and I realize they are all different), I can share a few thoughts I have gained by leading many people and that I apply to my life.

  • Don’t just add things to your plate—I have a colleague who refers to pharmacists as “hoarders.” By this, he means that we willingly accept new activities and responsibilities, but are resistant to give any up. I have come to share his perspective. When I view the daily activities of clinical pharmacists, I see many things that might bring personal satisfaction but create an overall sense of busyness. These historical activities can take significant time and keep an individual from completing all activities required of them. I would encourage you to self-reflect on all routine activities. Highlight those that no other colleague seems to do in the organization and those for which it is difficult to determine the value-add from the perspective of departmental or institutional goals. While these tasks usually tend to provide much personal enjoyment, or are tied to a sense of duty, they could probably be forgone. This would free up time or to allow the addition of new responsibilities that are being requested by others.
  • Act like a professional—I have always believed that pharmacists are professionals and should never get paid by the hour, no matter the setting. I realize I am in a minority in this thinking, but let me briefly explain my perspective. When one views oneself as a professional, one’s outlook and approach will change. We approach continuing professional education differently and we approach each patient with a commitment to meet all of their pharmacy needs. Even if we are not paid for this extra time, we recognize it is part of our covenant with our patients. While taking this approach will not let you feel less busy, it will give you more time to accomplish your activities.
  • Ask your supervisor to walk in your shoes—As opposed to having an antagonistic relationship with your boss, a collaborative one will reduce tension for all. Ask your boss to spend some time watching you work, with the aim of finding out how to be more efficient and determining any non-value added activities. While this could provide you with answers you don’t want to hear, as you will have to act on their recommendations, it at least makes your boss an ally.
  • Make time to disconnect—While the focus of this commentary has been on being more efficient in the workplace, I do believe that being able to get away at times can give you energy to keep going when you are tired. In addition, recharging allows you to reflect in a holistic way and make changes to your work flow. Finally, you get to spend quality time with those people and activities that are important to you.

I believe we will have this feeling of busyness for the rest of our careers. While some will choose to put up with it, others will be in a situation whereby it is not safe for the patient or healthy for the pharmacist. A few that are not able to keep up might lose their employment. While these suggestions will not resolve all feelings of busyness, I hope it provides you with the right mindset in order to approach reducing your feelings of busyness and be able to survive in an era of change.

I would appreciate any insights you might have on this perspective. You can let me know what you think by email at seckel@unc.edu.