BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT
You've heard the popular song lyric, "Time is on my side - yes it is!"
Sorry, it's not.
At least it doesn't seem that way most days.
Time is like wind: we cannot create it, but when we use it efficiently, it works in our favor. Some physicians and dentists are exceptional at time management. An internal clock ticks throughout the day reminding you of exactly how many minutes certain patients require, how long it takes to read specific lab results, or how many hours are needed for certain procedures. Others, though, fall behind daily by too much time spent with patients, procrastination, or an inefficient rate of work.
As you are well aware, falling behind in the medical profession creates a snowball effect exponentially greater than most other careers. If you're not careful, poor time management can even cost you a job.
So, here are six steps to help you manage time better.
STEP 1: START STRONG
Most studies show that the Early Bird truly does get the worm. Waking up early is a useful time management practice. It gives you more time to ease into the day and provides clear focus. Once you arrive at work, don't waste time checking email or social media. Instead, focus on what must be done, and get going. A strong start is critical for efficient time management.
STEP 2: PRIORITIZE
In the financial world, we divide money into two categories: DISCRETIONARY AND NON-DISCRETIONARY. Time is money, as the saying goes, so why not approach time the same way we approach money?
Non-Discretionary Time is anything that's required to fulfill obligations and to keep you performing at an optimum level. Both are critical! Prioritize those tasks that keep you employed as a physician, but also those tasks that keep you professionally sharp. If you require 30 minutes on the treadmill each day, put that in your Non-Discretionary column even though it is not directly connected to your income.
Everything not tied to employment or peak performance goes here. These are things that are important but can be done after Non-Discretionary items are marked off your checklist.
STEP 3: ORGANIZE
FIND YOUR RHYTHM:
Pay attention to the time(s) of day when you're at your best, and put Non-Discretionary work in those time slots. If seeing patients is the most critical part of your work, don't schedule the majority of your consultations when you know your brain will be mush. Save your Discretionary work for those times. Or, if you consistently perform poorly at a crucial part of your job, consider moving it to a time when you're more alert, even if it means sacrificing part of your daily rhythm.
USE A CHECKLIST
Seriously, use a checklist. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande notes that entire industries were transformed by checklists. When an airplane loses power, what's the first thing a pilot grabs? A checklist! How did hospitals reduce infection in patients? Checklists! Checklists break tasks down to their most basic parts and establish priority. They're simple. You can make them on a $1,000 iPad or the back of a napkin. Wherever you choose to write it, lay out your daily tasks out in the form of a checklist, and mark them off throughout the day. It's simple, and it works!
STEP 4: REVIEW YOUR DAY
At the end of the day, spend 5 minutes reviewing your checklist. Note the things that didn't get accomplished, and move them to the next day's list. If you notice non-discretionary tasks that are consistently unchecked, make a note to take care of them at the start of your day instead of waiting until the end. Use this time of review to measure your efficiency and make gradual improvements each day.
STEP 5: DON'T FORGET YOUR PERSONAL LIFE
We typically consider work-related tasks our only non-discretionary time. But making space for your personal life is just as critical as organizing your work life. Neglecting your relationships and responsibilities at home can lead to just as much stress as neglecting responsibilities at work. A health work-life balance requires us to make "life" just as important as "work."
To improve your personal time, make sure you are in the best possible mental and physical state when you get home. Here are some tips to help you get ready for the moment you walk in the door:
LISTEN: If you're married, ask your spouse what would help them most when you get home. Each day before you leave, call or text and say, "I'm leaving the office. What can I do for you when I get home?" If you have children, pay attention to what they want when you walk in the door. They might be eager to show you something they made at school, a YouTube clip they think you'll like, or to just wrestle for a little while. Listen, and respond to your loved one's needs.
CREATE A ROUTINE: Create a routine that helps cleanse your emotional and mental palate before going home. Read a book for 20 minutes, pray or meditate, exercise, stop and have a cup of coffee, etc. Develop this routine with the help and support of your spouse/partner so that they know you're doing this to maximize your family time, not as a way to avoid going home.
USE THE COMMUTE: Use the commute to your advantage. Whether you're driving or riding a train, listen to relaxing music, an inspiring podcast, or turn off everything and let the silence do its work. Commutes can be tedious and stressful, especially if you travel during rush hour. Use it intentionally, though, and it becomes invaluable time.
The important thing is to be intentional. Listen to your family and understand who they need you to be when you walk in the door. Do whatever it takes to be that person.
STEP 6: GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
Every person struggles on some level with work-life balance. If you do well one day, pat yourself on the back and move on. If you bomb, get up early the next day and try again. Know that whether you're wired to be efficient or a procrastinator, you can create habits that improve your time management, and will ultimately make every part of your life better.