This month’s article on time management for doctors will explore several pertinent tips on how to manage your time – this most elusive commodity.
The Wikipedia definition of time management is as follows: ‘Planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity’.
Stop chasing the clock
My favourite time-management technique is the Eisenhower method created by the US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is also referred to as the Urgent/ Important Matrix.
[plsc_pullquote align=”right”]Eisenhower said: ‘I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.’[/plsc_pullquote]
The matrix described by Eisenhower allows you to consider each activity in one of four sectors in his matrix.
An activity that falls into the urgent and important category is clearly something that you need to do immediately.
Urgent, Non Urgent?
However, non-urgent but important tasks are often more significant, but as they are not urgent, they slip down the list. Efforts should be made to deal with these tasks with urgency.
At the other end of the scale, any task that fits into non-urgent and not important should be discarded completely. And if it is urgent but not important, should you bother to do it? Only you can decide, but do make a conscious decision instead of wasting your valuable time.
One of the biggest potential time-wasters for all of us is the use of email and the Internet.
If time management consists of ‘planning and exercising conscious control’ over the amount of time spent on an activity, then email and Internet usage need to be managed with care.
If you are managing your own practice email and sifting out requests for prescriptions and follow-up appointments, why not ask your secretary to manage that account and to forward only the relevant emails to your separate ‘private’ account.
Personally speaking, I have picked up several tips over the years that have helped me in various ways. I tend to find one or two lightbulb ideas in each different method I research that subsequently stick with me.
Here are my tips for you:
- Plan. Establish a planning routine. Some people do it at the start and end of the working day, others do it on a Monday and Friday at the start and end of the working week. Planning helps you avoid having to unexpectedly dedicate a chunk of time to dealing with an urgent issue.
- Prioritise. Use the Pareto principle or 80:20 rule. Prioritise the 20% of actions that will have the most impact.
- Delegate. Just because a task lands on your lap doesn’t mean that you must complete it. Immediate delegation is a very effective strategy, which brings me onto number four.
- Avoid procrastination. This is a bad habit that needs breaking. Decide on the next action and do it.
- Use an app. Numerous app developers have focused on time management, and you can choose from a wide range of software applications. I use Toodledo daily, but there are many others to choose from.
- Email agenda. Always have an agenda in mind before you log into your emails. Starting at the first email and working through them chronologically is not an effective agenda. Decide how much time you can allocate to email and set your objectives. Have a list at the ready of your top five objectives and deal with the emails that relate specifically to those objectives.
- Analyse your time. Think about what you spend the most time doing and look at changing processes to save time. There is a choice of time-tracking software programs, designed to help you measure the time you allocate to various activities. For example, if you spend a notable amount of time phoning patients, perhaps the patient emails or letters you send could be amended to include more information. Enclosing guides on medications, symptoms and so on might help to cut down time spent on repetitive calls.
- Meetings. Before the existence of email, this was the number one time drain. Even if it’s not your own meeting – clarify your agenda and objectives in advance so you can focus on getting your desired outcomes. Set your boundaries by stating a time limit up front. Let the organiser know that you must leave at a certain time and stick to it.
- Filing system. How much time do we all spend looking for something that’s filed in a safe place? Most of us need both a paper and online filing system. Investing some time in a good filing system will save many hours in the long term.
To conclude I would like to finish with a great quote by Stephen Bayne: ‘I am rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp; I know what I want to do but I don’t know where to begin.’
I hope these tips help you avoid being that mosquito!
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