By Natasha Mohr
Most of us think we’re pretty efficient. After all, you do not cultivate a successful career, engage in philanthropy, enjoy an active social life or nurture a family without a certain ability to get things done.
But at times, we all find ourselves feeling the need to increase productivity at work. If you find yourself contemplating solutions, resist the temptation to start with putting in longer hours. First, take a step back and think about how you can work smarter, not harder. Learn how to manage your time to work for you.
Of all the areas in which you can make small changes that will impact your efficiency, the one over which you have the greatest amount of control, which requires the least amount of financial investment and which can have the greatest impact is how you structure your time. That’s it. Evaluate how you work and you can seriously impact how much you work.
There is a large body of undisputed research that finds most Americans are very poor at estimating the amount of time it actually takes to complete a task. Now, while circumstances and individual influences have an impact, an oft-referred to 1990 study conducted by psychology professor Dan Zakay* found that generally people tend to overestimate brief intervals and underestimate longer intervals. So, rather than guessing how long it actually takes you to complete a task make an effort to track it for one week.
For example, for five business days, track how long it takes you to enter chart notes at the end of the day. Some days will be busier than others, some cases more complicated. But that’s how most weeks are. At the end of five days, you’ll be able to draw some reasonable generalizations.
How does this increase efficiency? It helps you plan. If you know that on average, you actually spend an hour rather than 20 – 25 minutes on a particular task at the end of the day, you’ll be less likely to be frustrated, to keep others waiting or to overcommit.
Nothing disrupts efficiency like the unexpected. So, once you have an idea of how long things actually take to accomplish, get ahead of the day by creating a plan the night before of both personal and professional tasks. Taking time the night before to evaluate and plan tasks allows you prioritize and set aside time for that which is most important on any particular day. Having a clear plan also helps you limit the number of distractions and disruptions.
When building your plan, be sure to include at least a little time for the unexpected. Putting together a reasonable plan to address both your priorities and the unexpected keeps you from being captive to putting out fires and ignoring that which is important to you.
Don’t. Be. Late. Commit to being settled in your office with enough time to get a handle on things before you are expected to begin seeing patients. Once the patient schedule starts rolling, chances are slim to none that you’ll find yourself with more time than you originally anticipated.
You should also deal with the “worst things” first. Getting any dreaded tasks out of the way early, ensures you are at your best and have not yet been frazzled by the day and thus inclined to procrastinate. Besides, this way the day’s tasks progressively get better!
If you do find yourself loaded up with a series of dreaded tasks, insert some small, more enjoyable tasks in and amongst those that are less appealing. Having something to look forward to can serve as a motivational reward to get through less than pleasant items on your to-do list.
Research repeatedly shows that attempting to do several tasks at once is completely inefficient.
So quit multitasking and turn off your alerts and notifications!
In fact, when it comes to email, according to Alex Moore, CEO of the email productivity solution Boomerang, in the Huffington Post blog article, “Email Urgency vs. Actual Emergency,” it takes 64 seconds for your brain to recover from being interrupted by an email notification.” In the Business News Daily article, “Easy Productivity Tips,” Moore shares that research supports that when you check your emails less frequently you can actually send and receive the same amount of emails in about 20 percent less time.
To further increase email efficiency, utilize the “sort by conversation” function for your inbox. Look at the whole of the conversation and see where it currently stands before firing off a response. This serves two benefits: not only will this keep you from wasting time by responding to issues that have already been resolved, but by reading all of the messages related to the topic before sending a reply, you have the most up-to-date information to inform your own response. This way you can avoid looking silly or misinformed.
Implement the two-minute rule. If it can be done in less than two minutes, just do it now. Don’t set it aside for later. This is more efficient than revisiting the issue and having to re-familiarize yourself with any pertinent details.
Follow these five steps to make small changes in this one area and you will increase your efficiency, giving you more time to enjoy the people and the activities you love and have worked so hard to cultivate.
Now to plan what to do with all of that free time . . .
* Zakay, D. (1990). The evasive art of subjective time measurement: Some methodological dilemmas. In R. A. Block (Ed.), Cognitive models of psychological time, (pp. 59-84). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
For expert tips on how to increase the efficiency of your practice, visit Part 2 of this blog series: Be More Efficient – Part 2: Streamlining Your Practice
Peer-to-Peer Tricks for Taming the Email Beast
Matt Zirwas, MD – Columbus, OH
- Use “Follow-Up Then”
This is an email service in which you are able to have any email re-sent to you at any time you want. So, for example, if you get an email with your travel plans, you simply set it to be sent back to you on the day you’re going to leave for the trip.
- Procrastinate Intentionally (not so much email-related, but potentially very useful!)
For me, procrastinating until almost the last minute is the best way to be efficient. For example, if you have a lecture due in 2 months and you figure it will take you 8 hours to do the lecture, start working on it a week before it is due. You will be more focused in that last week because of the pressure. A side benefit is that if the lecture gets cancelled or the topic gets changed, you haven’t wasted any time working on it.
Brooke Jackson, MD – Chapel Hill, NC
- Unsubscribing from most of the lists that send daily notices
- Decline to provide an email address to vendors at meeting
- Consider setting up a second email address for family and friends so you can “turn off work”
- Remove email from your phone
- Have screen-free time at home (i.e. no screens from 6 to 8:30 p.m.)
Erin Gilbert, MD – Brooklyn, NY
In order to avoid inbox overwhelm, I skim through my email, tag important “must read” emails, address them first and deal with the rest at the end of the day. My rule is: any reply trumps radio silence. 24 hours is the best professional practice.
Mark Rubin, MD – Beverly Hills, CA
I start the day at the breakfast table with my laptop and throw out all the junk emails as fast as I can. I then deal with the “real” emails when I get to the office an hour later. When I arrive, the only items I have are ones that I actually do need to deal with.
Joe Niamtu, MD – Midlothian, VA
- Discuss your spam filter settings with your service provider. A little fine tuning on this can screen a lot of junk.
- Know where the “Block Sender” command is and use it for spam that does make it to your inbox.
- Check your junk folder. This is simply one of the realities of technology. On occasion I find important emails in the junk box.
Have some of your own ideas for being more efficient? Maybe email or personal time-saving management tips? Leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!