20 things to do for your life and career in 2020 – ideas for doctors and healthcare professionals to reach their goals in the new year

We all want to make the most of a brand new, fresh year. In a way, it’s a clean slate for setting goals and then working to reach them. Here are 20 things you can do in 2020 to help you develop and reach your goals as a physician or clinician – both professionally and personally.

Alone, each of these is a fairly simple undertaking. Selecting a handful will set you on a path for a truly rewarding year. They’ll support you in being deliberate in how you spend your time and ensure that you don’t lose sight of what you decided was important for the year ahead.

1. Take a day off for yourself

Take a day off from work.

Not to go on a trip. But also not to do work around the house. Use your free day for yourself. This can be a great opportunity to develop your goals for the year or create a plan for how you’ll achieve them. It’s also a way to clear your mind after a busy holiday season and reset your outlook as you get back into the swing of work.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes about the high rate of unused vacation days among people quitting their jobs due to feeling burned out. You may have some symptoms of burnout, and chances are you have some PTO banked. Stop saving that PTO for your next kid emergency, unplanned vacation, or to “cash out.” Use just a single day for yourself to do something that addresses or prevents burnout.

2. Take a look at where your income is coming from

Don’t wait until tax time to review your income from the past year. Review where your income came from over the past year, including:

  • Your main job
  • Moonlighting
  • Side gigs
  • Investments

Are there income streams that you’d like to see representing a higher percentage of your total income in the upcoming year? Or, perhaps all your income is coming from a single employer. You can begin to future-proof yourself by adding income through a side hustle, realizing that you need to ask for a raise, or balancing your investments.

3. Look at where your costs are

I admit I don’t follow a budget. But I do periodically review my expenses and the trends in what my family is spending money on. Lifestyle inflation is difficult to avoid if you’re not aware you’re doing it.

Additionally, reviewing your spending from the past year can help you catch expenses that:

  • Would have been reimbursable by your employer
  • Can be tax write-offs as business expenses or other deductions
  • Are subscriptions or automatically recurring that you don’t actually need

By addressing these at the beginning of the year, you have time to put measures into place to minimize expenses and spending in the upcoming year.

4. Invest $12,000 and learn about what you’re investing in

…or maybe just $1,200 if you’re still a HENRY in your debt-repaying years. Or significantly more if your situation allows.

Whether it’s $100 per month or 1,000, commit to proactively educating yourself about an investment type and following through with it.

Those of us who are less than enthusiastic about financial planning tend to do the same thing repeatedly with our investments. We max out traditional investment accounts, then spend the rest or let it sit in low-yield accounts. Or we simply hand it over to a financial advisor.

Let this be a year in which you learn about a new type of investment, and then actually invest it. For personal finance beginners, this might be learning about index funds. More financially-savvy doctors with a high net worth can delve into an alternative investment.

5. Mentor a young doctor or medical student

Outside of academia, many doctors don’t actively teach or mentor students and trainees. But I guarantee that there are trainees and early-career physicians who want to know how you got to where you are today, how you found your job or started your practice, what resources you used to study for your specialty board exam, and how you gained your leadership skills.

It’s easy to ignore in-person, email, and Linkedin requests from students and residents seeking advice. I’m guilting of responding to a plea for mentorship by offering a terse response and a “Best of luck to you!” to compensate for it.

Dedicating even just a half-hour of your time can be meaningful for a mentee. So next time you get a request, prioritize a half hour for it and see where the relationship goes. Or let your local medical society or colleagues know that you’re available for mentoring.

6. Tweak your schedule

Much of the stress of work as a medical provider comes from the schedule. It tends to be long hours, time spent on-call, and at least some weekends and holidays. If your schedule has been detrimental to your enjoyment of practicing medicine, make this the year to do something about it.

It doesn’t need to be a big change. Make a single “tweak” to your schedule to improve it.

This might mean a relatively minor pledge to yourself, such as:

  • Committing to leaving work by 5:00 on Fridays
  • Actually using your half-day-per-week admin block for its intended purpose
  • Taking a lunch break away from your desk at least once per week

Or something more drastic that might take time or money up front to implement, but will pay off in droves. For example:

  • Meeting with your practice partners to re-think your group call schedule
  • Hiring a part-time NP to cover some evenings and weekends

Your schedule needs to meet the needs of your personal well-being, not just your employer’s bottom line.

7. Do something for your profession

Does anything about being a physician aggravate you? If so, don’t let yourself be on a cycle of going to work, coming home to de-stress, and then repeating it all the next day. Get involved in some way on the professional level to make your specialty or the medical profession better overall.

You might consider:

  • Joining a committee through your specialty society
  • Writing an article for a professional publication
  • Advocating for providers’ needs within your healthcare system

This year, choose a single way that you can positively impact your field.

8. Do something for the patient population you serve

Chances are your job involves treating individual patients in succession. This is very noble. Nevertheless, it may do little to address the overall needs of the patient population you manage or to combat a health trend the community is facing.

Do something to help the patient population you treat on a larger scale. This can be as simple as drafting a resolution or writing to a legislator. In my case, I’ve been serving on my county’s board of health. Many of the decisions that the board makes for our local population ultimately improve the health of my patients – those who are incarcerated or have substance use disorders.

9. Plan out or set an objective for your next career move

A career move can take several forms:

  • Lateral – changing jobs to an equivalent – but different – role
  • Vertical – getting a promotion within your organization
  • Diagonal – moving to a higher level or broader job at a different company

Consider which form will best suit your career goals and interests. If you desire a lateral move, what shift would you like to see in your responsibilities? If you see yourself moving upward, what skills will you need to add to your armamentarium?

You may love your job at have no intention of changing positions at this point in time. But planning ahead can only help you down the road. Unexpected changes happen.

10. Update your resume or CV

Along the lines of planning out your next career move, take a couple of hours to update your CV (if you’re in academia) or resume (if you have a non-clinical job or work in the industry).

Again, you might not be actively planning a job change. But there are a number of reasons why it pays to have an up-to-date resume:

  • You won’t struggle to recall titles, positions, and responsibilities when trying to update your resume at a later date
  • Your resume may be requested prior to a speaking engagement or other professional commitment
  • A moonlighting or consulting opportunity might require a resume
  • And, as noted above, unexpected changes happen

Updating your CV is also a great way to reflect on your accomplishments from the past year. You might feel like the year flew by as you went about your usual routine. But, as you recall and document your professional involvement, you’ll probably realize that you did a lot – and have a whole lot to be proud of.

11. Switch out a time-sucking activity or tool for an efficiency-creating one

The internet and digital technologies are beneficial in many ways. However, they also offer countless ways to waste time. Social media, mind-numbing games, email subscriptions, and poorly-curated news feeds are just a few ways.

Select just a single activity, app, or habit that sucks up your time without adding value to your life. Then replace it with a tool or routine that makes you more productive and helps you focus on your priorities.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Unfollow a negative Facebook friend or page –> Join a Facebook group on a subject that you care about
  • Delete a game app from your phone –> Install a medication app
  • Unsubscribe from an email list whose emails clog up your inbox –> Learn how to use a sorting or folder feature offered by your email service

As with temptation bundling, making a swap can be more successful than simply trying to cut an activity out of your life cold-turkey.

12. Delegate something

It probably doesn’t take you long to think of an activity you spend time on that a) you don’t enjoy and b) doesn’t require your skills as a highly-educated professional.

Choose one and delegate it to someone else.

This can be at work or at home. Delegation at work might require a discussion with your supervisor or even hiring a new staff member. Delegation at home might require a discussion with your spouse or spending money to outsource cleaning, landscaping, meal prep, or other activity.

13. Show appreciation to your staff

Whether you’re a practice owner or an employed physician, there are many ways to show appreciation to the staff who assist you in effectively treating patients and getting your work done.

Though gifts or lunches show your appreciation, don’t feel like you need to spend money on this. Other tokens of appreciation can go a long way in helping your staff feel valued and bringing you closer as a team.

A few ideas to consider:

  • Short, hand-written notes
  • Asking for their input
  • Straight out telling them you appreciate them
  • Providing an afternoon off or “summer Fridays”

14. Revisit your employment contract, company policies, and benefits

Dig out and dust off your employment contract. Confront your fear of the company “intranet” to find new or updated policies.

You might be surprised to see that you’re entitled to a 3% annual salary increase, but that HR conveniently forgot to give it to you.

You might realize that the convoluted “way we’ve always done it” is not actually required per organizational policy.

15. Catch up with a colleague

I recently touched based with a college friend that I hadn’t had a contact within years. We both went on to become physicians and have surprisingly similar interests within the field of medicine. It was fun to catch up, though I also feel that, because of our mutual professional interests, we may benefit from our connection at some point.

Staying connected with old friends, classmates, and co-workers are easier than ever, but it doesn’t happen automatically. It still requires effort. So commit to putting in the effort to catch up with just one colleague this you. You may find yourself wanting to reach out to more.

16. Clean out a folder

Clean out a folder. Just one. A physical folder hanging in a file cabinet or a digital folder on your computer or in the cloud.

See how many files you can simply throw away. And which could be scanned and stored digitally. And which should really be stored somewhere else.

If you dedicate the time to clean out one folder, you’ll probably realize how great it feels and cleans out the rest.

17. Brush up on a disease or treatment where you have a knowledge gap

Most medical providers – even generalists – manage the same complaints and diseases over and over. Then, when we see something rare or unfamiliar to us, we scrape by on the minimal knowledge necessary or refer the patient immediately.

Next time this happens, jot down the topic and make an effort to read about it when you have some downtime.

18. Move your body a different way

This article isn’t about changing your health habits, but it’s difficult to completely separate personal and professional goals from physical health. Exercise has ample benefits beyond burning calories.

If you’re skipping workouts in favor of spending more time at your job, you’re missing out. Even if you make time for a workout but tend to do the same cardio or same weight lifting routine repeatedly, you’re missing out.

This new year, try a new type a cardio, a different style of weight lifting, a new gym, and change in your workout schedule, or updated fitness goals.

Your body will thank you, but so will your mind.

19. Say no to a new commitment

Absolutely say yes to new commitments if they fit this criteria:

  1. You have the bandwidth to adequately prioritize them and make time for them
  2. You’ll enjoy the work and/or feel rewarded by the results
  3. You will actually follow through with your commitments

If these criteria aren’t met, say no. And do it tactfully. Avoiding “saying no” by not responding to an inquiry. Avoid saying that you don’t have time. Rather, be honest without feeling the need to justify your decision. For example, you are prioritizing other obligations.

By saying no to a new commitment that you don’t actually want, you benefit yourself and the other party in the long run.

20. Share your plans for 2020 with your spouse, partner, or close friend

The benefits of sharing your goals and objectives for the year are numerous.

  • The other person’s enthusiasm will motivate you
  • They may help to hold you accountable or remind you of your original goal if you shift off track throughout the year
  • You may have a mutual goal that you can work toward in parallel or in partnership
  • They might have resources, connections, or ideas that will assist you

Make this a great year!

1 Comment

  1. Xrayvsn

    There are some real gems of advice in here.

    It is easy to get complacent and go with status quo but then you may never better yourself and get bored/disinterested even.

    I take a day off during the work week by paying a semi retired radiologist to cover for me. Best decision ever. It makes the work week much more manageable and the day I have off can be as relaxing/unproductive as I want.

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