5 Tips for Flipping the Switch
ON vs. OFF
I learned the hard way that in addition to an “off” and “on” switch, light switches have an “off” and “on” orientation. (My electrician friends, who had to fix several of my DIY installs, are still laughing at my lack of electrician expertise.) The power supply status of the light doesn’t just change when you flip the switch the opposite direction. When installing a light switch, you must make sure it’s not upside down with the subtle imprint on the switch toggle saying FŌ and NO or as you read them “FFO” and “NO” (get it?). Been there, done that.
It seems I also learned the hard way that my work has an “off” and “on” switch, and that knowing about the switch was not enough. I had to learn how to find the switch, then how and when to turn it off.
For decades, my switch was always on- day and night. I was walking through life like a porch light, and sadly, I know I am not the only one who has experienced that perpetual glow. Society influences us, especially in medicine, to OVER self-identify with performance. SATs, MCATs, grades, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, the “Match,” fellowship interviews, patients/hour per exam room, OR turnover time and the wRVU. Sound familiar? It’s drilled into us from early on, we are what we “do.” I heard in some places, it’s even competitive to get into preschool!
I was caught up in this way of life, this miss-the-maple existence.
Then came the pandemic.
You remember as well as I do how the world changed in just a few days. The adrenaline kicked in, the thinking caps tightened and the best of each of us had to show up. Our light had to be brighter and more intense than ever before. Along with the superhero in us, came new fear and the daily, sometimes hourly, helpless exposure to death and the frailty of human life.
But, while we watched the world spin into temporary chaos and we worked with an intensity we never knew was possible, something else happened. Something new. Something no one saw coming.
We stopped running from here to there, swiftly pecking our wives on the cheek to run out the door and beat the traffic. We stopped the crazy hustle and over-filled social schedule and traded them for quiet, slow moments inside the doors of our own homes. So much of our lives had to be forcibly and abruptly turned OFF. Though we were maxed out at work with the constant barrage and need for MacGyver-like creativity, we were almost completely shuddered outside of work. We had enough pause to become better attuned to our personal and family’s own needs.
YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR WORK
Those sit-at-the-dinner-table nights gave us a beautiful gift. Now that the pandemic firestorm has calmed, something’s different, right? You learned that you have a switch. Good job! That’s the first step.
Now let’s learn to turn the switch off. A side-effect of living through a pandemic is realizing you have to be and are more than just your success at work. When you value your successes outside of work, you make it easier for yourself to celebrate all aspects of your life and to become comfortable with turning off your work switch when it’s possible.
Here are 5 tips that helped me turn off the switch (and make OFF mean OFF):
- I schedule myself into my calendar. Prioritize you and yours like you do your work. This can be done daily, but it’s especially important in evenings and on weekends. This will not only help you make a more realistic work productivity expectation for yourself, but science shows “ME” breaks can boost productivity through reducing fatigue and potential performance improvement. The rising tide raises all boats.
- I multitask me so I don’t feel like I am slacking, as my own guilt can ruin my best intentions to keep the switch off. I call this process of multitasking “stacking.” It’s simply putting several complementary tasks on top of a single accommodating task. A classic personal example is my exercise + shopping routine. I fast walk shopping through Costco with bags instead of a cart. Stacking! (More on this in a later post.)
- I raise the temptation barriers. We are all now conditioned to respond to the text tone, email ping or pager beep. Your dopamine receptors have been up-regulated. This temptation to always be “on” calls for drastic measures: have a phone drawer for phones at the dinner table, don’t recharge your devices at your bedstand (Guilty!), put the phone in the glovebox or give it to a backseat passenger when driving
- I don’t staycation. Our family vacations tend to be epic and all-encompassing physically and mentally. We do our best to leave no room for work thoughts, just like work doesn’t leave much room for anything else. There will be plenty of time to rest on the plane home! When you’re busy having fun and learning something new, all in an unfamiliar setting, guess what? Work doesn’t creep in (as much). It helps even more if you vacation somewhere with no internet or cellular access.I also do this in smaller doses on a daily basis. I do something that takes all my attention in its own right, something either so exertional or so enjoyable that it’s impossible to do one more thing (e.g., vigorous HIIT exercise, watching a sing along musical movie – ok TMI I know).
- I stay consistent. If you can resist the temptation for these times, there is a halo impact that spreads out. I promise it gets easier and your neurotransmitter receptors change.
Remember you are more than how often your light switch is ON. Savor the OFFs.
*Terance Tsue MD FACS, as Manager of TTTsue LLC
 For those too young to remember, MacGyver was a favorite TV show from 1985-1992. He was a secret agent with infinite scientific creativity and resourcefulness with ordinary objects to get out of sticky situations. Worth the Paramount Plus subscription.
 Albulescu, P., Macsinga, I., Rusu, A. et al.: “’Give me a break!’ A systematic review and meta-analysis on the efficacy of micro-breaks for increasing well-being and performance” PLoS One 2022 Aug 31;17(8)