How I Make It Work

23 Dec 2013

by Danielle Walsh, MD

December is the time of year when the constant struggle between the needs of work and the commitment to family become most strained. Holiday performances at school, parties for kids sports and other organizations pop up, work-related celebrations occur, and both of my children celebrate birthdays within a week of Christmas Day. After a long day of operating you try and shop online or in crowded stores before heading home to make dinner, ensure homework is done, and then proceed to whatever holiday event is scheduled for that night. It’s exhausting. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

People always ask how to make it all work. Lately, my response is more refined than in the past and it utilizes the tried and true analogy of the full bucket. You have to start with the biggest rocks. My kids’ birthdays, gymnastics meets, the annual AWS conference and a few other events are rocks. They are unmovable, non-negotiable events on my calendar. These are my biggest rocks. My OR days are Monday and Friday. My clinic days are Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning. They are not movable and are the next size down rocks. I schedule a date night with my husband at least twice a month. Still a rock, but can fit around the other stuff. Then everything else gets filled in order of priority like the AWS, work on a grant, student and resident teaching – gravel, then sand, then water. Most of the time I try to leave pockets in “reserve” – an hour in my schedule for the gym, prayer, or just walking through a store undisturbed (my husband calls this retail therapy, even if I don’t buy anything). Often this is when I can review what the priorities are for that day or week to determine what goes in the bucket.

Sometimes the bucket overflows. I try to do too much at the same time or something unexpected causes the balance to tip. Then I call in the backup buckets – my husband, my parents, my partners, or some hired hand to take on what I can’t handle. Occasionally it means a paper is late (not unlike this blog, which I had hoped to write last week), emails get left in the inbox, and phone messages are not promptly returned. These times never feel good. I hate not being able to do it all on time. Some of the dislike is frustration of leaving others hanging, waiting for me to take action. Some of the issue is realizing that I made an error in taking on so much. But it serves a purpose – a reminder to be patient with others, accept imperfection, and continue trying to do better.

I always schedule at least some vacation time in December when the kids are off. The first day is set aside to clear out all the late assignments from work (like this blog) that will keep me giving my family my full focus. And then I sign out to my partners, turn off the beeper, set up the auto-reply for work email, and be just a mom, wife, and daughter to family for a while. It always feels good.

So as 2013 draws to a close, take a look at your bucket. What are the rocks, the stones, the pebbles, sand, and water? What can fit where and when? Find your time for work, time for family or friends, and time for yourself. May your bucket be full and satisfying.

Peace to all.

Danielle Walsh

P.S. – Didn’t get around to Christmas cards yet. Might still try to do them, but don’t hold it against me if they arrive a little late.


Dr. Danielle Walsh is an Associate Professor of Surgery at East Carolina University in the Division of Pediatric Surgery. After obtaining her undergraduate degree at Columbia College and her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine, she trained in general surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She also completed a fellowship in fetal surgery and research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a fellowship in pediatric surgery at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She practiced in Jacksonville, FL holding faculty appointments at the Mayo Medical Center and University of Florida before moving to her current position in North Carolina. She is the 2013-14 President of the Association of Women Surgeons and mother of 2 children.

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