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Time out! What to do when things go wrong in the middle of your day

One of Newton’s Laws of Motion is that an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Similarly, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.

While I learned this law in high school physics, I didn't expect to have to use it in my professional life. Yet here we are!

Over the last few weeks, we have been talking about burnout and what we can do to address it. Last time, we talked about the fundamentals of taking care of ourselves, and I encouraged you to identify your own fundamentals to take care of yourselves. 

If your fundamentals are anything like mine, you find they tend to be used at the beginning or end of the day.

Today, I'd like to touch on what we can do when things take a turn for the worse mid-day.

We have all been there. Things are going swimmingly, and then some disaster befalls us and the day heads into a tailspin. This is where Newton’s Law comes into play. Your day is in motion, and then it is acted upon by an outside force! And now the day is going in another direction – south!

How do we get back on track? How do we regain our composure?

We need to have some mechanism to call a timeout. Some way to break the momentum of an object going in motion the wrong direction. We need some way to interrupt and break the circuit. What's more, we likely need some help to identify when things are starting to go off the rails. This is where empowering team members to be on the lookout for when others are beginning to struggle. 

What you do absolutely must be tailored to what's appropriate for your team. The things I do with my team may not deliver the same results for your team, but I share this as an example.

There is a certain energy in the workplace. That energy can be good or bad, positive or negative. This is something we all have a feel for. When things start to go south, we can sense it happening. What do we do? We need to stop it. And we need to put positive energy into the system to get us back on track.


The good things we can do are timeouts. These are the circuit breakers to use to our advantage. The key is they must have a positive energy. The more positive the better. 

Some of the things we did in the pharmacies I served in included:

  • Music: Music can change your mood quickly.  I don’t know what your taste in music is, but I would suggest having a few songs on your phone that you would be able to play in short order. In one pharmacy, we would turn up “Low Rider” by War. On my list today is “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti from the Rocky soundtrack. Find what works for you. Just not death metal!
  • Breathing: Remember when you used to get so mad and your mom would make you count to 10? A few deep breaths for a 10-count can interrupt a day going in the wrong direction. 
  • Water: Drinking water can energize your body. 
  • Quotes/affirmations: I have found that replacing bad thoughts and attitudes with good thoughts and attitudes from quotes or sayings positioned near the workstation is helpful. 
  • Movement: This one is especially useful if you find yourself with very little energy throughout the day. Perhaps a walk around the pharmacy (always useful!) or to the back room can be enough to break things up.

Yes, not all these suggestions will apply to your setting. I encourage you to come up with your own. And I encourage you to use them! But don't use negative things that may seem positive on the surface. Perhaps the most destructive of these tools is sarcasm. It may seem attractive to use a tool like this in the moment, but it will not change things. In fact, it's a negative.

So, what tools do you have to get your day back on track? I would love to hear from you. 

Until next time-

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn


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