When you tell people "I'm busy" do you really mean "I'm swamped"?
It's nothing to be ashamed of. Time management is one of those skills that many people claim to have but few people seem to master. The image of the haggard, harried physician rushing from clinic to hospital is deeply ingrained in medicine. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Unfortunately, while most physicians are exceptionally skilled at medicine, precious few are skilled managers. But since you're providing a service, when time slips through your fingers you're doing your patients a disservice. Luckily there are some quick fixes out there to help get you back on track.
1. More haste less speed Doctors are always under pressure to spend more time with each patient. But that's a luxury most practitioners don't have. This leads most docs to size up a patient right away and make a diagnosis based on that initial assessment
Time management whiz Steve Prentice, of Toronto-based corporate consultancy firm Bristall Morgan Inc, says if you allow a patient more air time before jumping in to give your assessment, you may come away with more information and save yourself time in the long run. "A lot of diagnoses happen when you take the time to listen to a patient and you put their complaints in context," he notes. While you're not necessarily shaving minutes off of each patient encounter, you are making each one more meaningful.
2. Work less. Your job depends on it Another effective way to get more done is to work less. Set a maximum amount of hours that you'll put in every week and schedule regular breaks. "The more you want to get done, the more you have to address your own needs," Mr Prentice says. "If you're a physician who's burning out, that's no good for anybody."
3. Get a life Many professionals fail to find a balance in their lives. It's a key message that Mr Prentice, who studies the impact that stress has on people, tries to deliver. Give yourself permission to step away from your work.
That doesn't mean cutting your work week in half. But it does mean being engaged in activities outside of work, even if they're related to medicine, such as networking events. And a regular vacation is mandatory.
Mr Prentice reports his own doctor takes a one-month cruise every six months. "I know what he's doing guarantees 10 months of top quality work rather than 12 months of mediocre quality work." It doesn't have to be that dramatic, but taking regular breaks and resting adequately will make you more efficient in the long run.
4. Wake up, sunshine! "How much time do you give yourself in the morning to get up, get ready and go to work?" wonders Mr Prentice. "Most of us vastly underestimate the time it takes to do that and we end up rushing." Most people would agree that isn't a good way to start the day.
If you show up late for work and you've already got a backlog of patients, it causes a great deal of stress that will carry forward for the rest of the day. Being realistic will help you get a good head start and will give you a few moments to breathe between patients instead of running from one to the next.
5. Peak condition Another easy trick is to figure out when your energy level peaks. That's when you want to take care of the most important tasks of the day. "If there are certain things that have to get done, like administrative work, you might find you can get it done in half the time in the morning than if you leave it to late at night when you're fatigued," Mr Prentice says.
6. Make a list, check it twice Setting priorities is something that's taught in those Introduction to University Life courses for wide-eyed freshmen.
But if you find yourself cramming in those ostensibly menial administrative chores between patients or at the end of the night, it might be a good idea to set aside an hour during the day when you can finish them, uninterrupted. Or, if you absolutely can't do it, then delegate to your support staff. After all, that's why you're paying them the big bucks.
7. Just say no to 'Crackberry' It's no longer just Bay Street types who have one hand glued to their Blackberry. The constant need to be connected has spread to other fields, including medicine.
But stopping what you're doing to check your email or text messages is extremely distracting. "It tends to pull people away from the most important things, and each message has a ripple effect of distraction as your mind changes gears again" Mr Prentice says. "Try not to fall prey to the knee-jerk reaction of having to respond to email immediately."
That alone should give you one hour of your day back and make you more effective at the task at hand: helping your patient get better.
In your business, that's the bottom line.