We're creatures of habit.
Staffing considerations, clinical concerns, budget deadlines, and overall organizational effectiveness are among the situations the physician manager faces on a daily basis. These and other responsibilities represent time demands that can be dealt with effectively or that can be overwhelming. This "how-to" article is designed to give physician managers a variety of time management ideas, strategies, and techniques. Time management is a critical skill that enables a physician manager to accomplish more with less effort. Benefits of improved time management are higher quality professional and personal life and reduced stress.
How well you manage your time depends on the habits you've developed. Much of your current managerial, administrative, and organizational style results from years of habit development. Many of these habits serve you well, but some habits hinder your effectiveness. For example, the way that you communicate to others, or the way you organize your work, is largely a reflection of habits you've developed relating to communicating and organizing. You may be a skilled communicator and highly organized with your work, or conversely you may lack good interpersonal communication skills and struggle to keep on top of paperwork and details of your job. Clearly, it's in the physician manager's best interest to develop habits and behaviors that facilitate career and personal effectiveness. Good time management sometimes involves behavior changes. To optimize your effectiveness and progress toward excellence, some of your current habits and behaviors may need to be changed. There will be an adjustment period during which the "new style" of behavior will be uncomfortable. Implement positive changes one step at a time and allow a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks to let new behaviors become comfortable and automatic for you.
Revealing Your Habits
The first step to better utilization of your time is to know where your time is now going. A classic technique to accomplish this is the time log. Record each activity on which you spend time for a few days. Keep a notepad handy, and jot down what you are doing in 15-minute segments. Code your time usage to the type of task. For example, R-reading, D-dictating, P-paperwork, T-telephone, C-consulting, RV-Chart Review, M-meetings, PT-patients, S-socializing, etc. After several days, you'll have a good idea of where your time goes. Look for major sources of interruptions, lack of good delegation practice, ineffective meetings, and other areas of inefficient time usage. With the facts in black and white, you're ready to be a time management consultant to yourself by eliminating low-payoff activities and increasing the time spent on high-payoff activities. Consider the following ideas to help save hours each week:
Batching Makes Sense
Whenever possible, batch related activities. Tasks that are ripe for batching include returning telephone calls, opening the mail, writing memos, seeing patients, handling personnel problems, reviewing charts, delegation and planning, interruptions, and meetings. Batching saves time because there's a warm-up, or momentum-gaining, time associated with most tasks. It takes longer to accomplish the same amount of work when you continually move back and forth between different activities.
Develop the "Read & Decide" habit when dealing with paperwork. Paper management is decision making; paper clutter is procrastination. Divide your paperwork into three folders or piles labeled "Do Now," "Do Soon," and "Do Whenever." Put away the "Do Soon" and "Do Whenever" folders. Organize the "Do Now" items in order of priority in your planning system or "to do" list. Decide when you'll schedule each item. Stay focused on this plan until the items are completed. By being organized in this way, you will be able to return to top priority items between the inevitable crises, interruptions, patient care demands, and other duties for which you are responsible. Take the "Do Soon" items and put them in a "Tickler System." A tickler file could be dated file folders in which you put items that need to be dealt with at a later date. With less clutter you'll think clearer and be able to better focus on the task at hand. The clutter around you draws your attention and uses mental energy. Check your tickler file each day and add the items you have filed there to your daily plan. The secret to time management is to focus on one thing at a time. The "Do Whenever" pile is trivia that is low payoff and low priority. Trivia might be interesting, but it is not the main focus of your job. Save this pile for unproductive down times and quickly go through it using the "4D" method for handling paperwork. The four decisions you can make with paperwork are dump, delay, delegate, or do. Dump. "Next to a dog, a person's best friend is the wastebasket."--B.C. Forbes. Read and toss as much of the paperwork as you can. If you have a tendency to be a pack rat, you might have a habit of holding on to things "just in case." To help overcome the pack rat habit, ask yourself the following questions before keeping anything: "If I need this again, can I get it again with reasonable effort?" The answer is almost always yes. There are so many pack rats around that someone else is probably keeping a copy. If you have too much clutter, you probably spend too much time looking for information. Having and not finding is just like not having. When in doubt, throw it out. Delay. If you still think you might need it and are reluctant to throw it out, give it the test of time. Put the item out of sight in a miscellaneous drawer. This "delay drawer" will act like a septic tank. Items you've placed there will ripen. After a ripening period, you'll find that most of it can be thrown out and you need not spend anytime on it. This is more effective than thumbing through a miscellaneous pile on your desk dozens of times before you finally throw things out. Delegate. If it doesn't die a natural death in the delay drawer, and it has to be dealt with, consider delegating. Low-payoff items can be dealt with in a more cost-effective and time-effective manner by delegating them to support staff. Check your time-log to see if you're in the habit of doing trivia yourself. Decide which activities are repeated or routine and then determine how to delegate them. Keep a log in which you record all of the tasks you've delegated. Make a note in your tickler file or planning system so you'll know when to check up and get progress reports. Do. The last approach to consider is to do it yourself. This might involve distributing to others, reading and making a quick management decision, or jotting your response in the margin of the letter or memo. A word of caution: Don't be a perfectionist with the low-payoff items when you must do them. Save your perfectionism for high-payoff activities.
Improving Your Environment
Have a logical place for everything so things don't end up in a time-consuming miscellaneous pile. Keep frequently used items close at hand. Other things are best kept out of the immediate work area so that your desk becomes an action center that will help you accomplish important tasks in minimal time. Frequently communicate your goals and plans to the people on your team. This will help align efforts and improve team efforts. Plan your day at the end of the previous day when the important tasks you need to accomplish are fresh in your mind. By writing down tasks you need to focus on tomorrow, you can release them and have a higher quality home life that night. Limit your daily plan to a significant few high-payoff tasks. Start the day with the least pleasant activity and get it over with. Stay focused on the "elephants" and refer back to your written plan after being sidetracked or interrupted.
Do Something Today
Pick one idea that will improve your time management and do something to implement it today. Pick something else the next day. If you continue this pattern, in a few weeks you'll be sitting at a clean organized desk, current on all your projects. You'll be planning ahead to avoid crises and you'll stay focused on the important tasks. When you're more organized and productive on the job, you'll have less stress, feel better about yourself, be more pleasant to work with, and have a higher quality personal life.
Ben Adkins is a management consultant, training specialist, and Vice President of the National Management Institute, Fort Worth, Tex.
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|Title Annotation:||time management ideas for physician managers|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1989|
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