Good time management is a key aspect in avoiding burnout. According to research on burnout in physicians, work overload is the single largest factor contributing to burnout, and when it’s combined with a perceived loss of control – like when you have too much on your plate and no time to complete it – it can create a burnout ‘perfect storm’. While time management can’t get rid of all the problems associated with a too-heavy workload, it can help you feel more in control at work and give you a better handle on your day to day duties.
So what can you do to better manage your time? Here are some of the top time management tips for doctors from medical experts:
1. Spend at Least 20% of Your Time Doing Something You Love
One of the biggest problems associated with burnout is job fit. If you’re a busy surgeon who loves being in the operating room, a promotion to a role as clinical facilitator might come with a new administrative or managerial workload, requiring you to put down your scalpel for most of the week – which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t your favorite part of the job. While sometimes problems with job fit are unavoidable, making time for the parts of the job you love makes work worthwhile, and the research suggests that it doesn’t have to be a huge amount.
Experts suggest that even in the busiest organizations, giving employees at least one half day per week to do work that excites them allows them to connect with the part of the job where they feel the most satisfied – reminding them why they chose the job in the first place. For many doctors, this is the clinical portion of your day. Since many healthcare professionals consider medicine not just a career, but a calling, spending time with patients can recharge them and keep burnout at bay.
2. Use Technology (in Moderation)
The next time management tips for doctors is to use technology – when it helps – and forget about it when it’s distracting. You might be surprised at how many of the routine tasks in your office environment could be streamlined or eliminated with a little setup. For example, many mundane or repetitive administrative tasks can be put through your EMR software; even if you don’t know how to do something, spending some time figuring it out with your EMR provider’s help desk might be worth the time investment if it leads to you spending less time on admin in the future.
Similarly, spending too much time submitting claims can get frustrating and time-consuming. But, if you sign up for a service, like Dr. Bill’s, that lets you submit invoices from your phone and easily track all your income, you’re not only making sure you’re getting paid properly but you won’t need to spend hours at the end of the week adding up every procedure and routine you’ve done.
Spending time setting up flags for your email, creating email templates for frequently sent messages, or processes for your medical office staff that help you spend less time at work is a great time-saving idea. If you’re feeling really pressed for time, automating as much as you possibly can in your personal life – such as by hiring a cleaner, nanny, or paying bills by direct deposit – can save you time and stress, as well as help your work-life feel more balanced.
The downside of technology is its ability to be distracting – if you find yourself getting constantly sucked into your phone or email inbox, it might be a good idea to shut off certain apps during office hours so when you do pick up your phone – you’ll stay focused and use the apps that help automate your day.
3. Build Good Habits
One way to get more done in less time is to build great habits – things like flagging actionable emails for your to-do list as soon as you get into the clinic, doing one hour of paperwork before you go home for the day, or going through your calendar while you have your morning coffee can all be ways to make time-saving tasks second nature.
Habits experts suggest linking habits with things you do predictably every day – like eat lunch, have a morning coffee, or get into the office. This can also help you go from task to task without getting distracted, adding more to your to-do list, or getting sidetracked from patient to patient. Still, remember not to try and pack too much into your day, since making habits too routine (and putting them on autopilot) can make your work feel mundane.
The idea of prioritizing your most important and most urgent tasks might seem like a given, but researchers into physician time management suggest that doing so is crucial to both time management and the completion of career goals. Experts suggest physicians separate daily and monthly tasks into important and urgent, important and less urgent, less important and more urgent or low on both factors, and focus especially on making time for tasks that are important and less urgent. Although this might not be possible on a daily basis – when important and urgent tasks tend to take priority – doing so on a monthly basis will keep other important (but less urgent) tasks from slipping through the cracks.
Burnout can happen when doing things that are important to you – such as applying for research grants or heading up committees – continuously get put off in favor of things that are more urgent and more important that day. Without weekly or monthly planning, each day’s most pressing tasks tend to take priority even if they are of lower importance. Keeping at least a loose handle on planning in advance – or carving out time for the things that matter – is a good way to make sure you’re satisfied at the end of the day.
5. Create Blocks for your Time
Even if you’re spending most of your day with patients, you likely still have a frenzy of other activities competing for your attention – phone calls, emails, prescriptions and insurance forms can come in from all angles and create roadblocks for your day, and spending your time in this frenzy of small tasks – in between seeing patients – can leave you feeling frazzled and worn out, not to mention leaving the office without accomplishing everything you needed to accomplish.
If you’re finding your time in the office is hectic, try blocking it off: check email/EMR inbox once or twice per day, bill on your smartphone after every patient, set aside time exclusively for paperwork, and aim to work in 90 minute blocks. Blocking off your time into your various job activities (core responsibilities, personal growth activities such as mentorship, free time, management/admin time, etc.) will help you get more done and spend less time spinning your wheels. If making time blocks seems like a daunting task, try tracking the time you spend each week in the various categories and going from there – you might be surprised at how much time you spend on some activities – such as administration – compared to others you might see as more important.
If you do block off amounts of time (say, for something like billing), let your staff and administrative team know. This way you can keep the door to your office closed, turn off all distractions, and get to work. Setting time blocks can also help your staff know when you’ll be getting to certain tasks, such as a lengthy worker’s compensation form or going over your weekly billing, which can help everything in your office to run smoother overall.
6. Take Time For Yourself
The most important aspect of time management is also one of the most important: make sure to take some time for yourself! This doesn’t mean bubble baths or fancy lunches (although it could), but simply taking time for yourself each day, whether it’s to enjoy a coffee and catch up on your text messages, eat a meal away from your desk, or keep half an hour at the end of the day to collect all of the odds and ends and get yourself sorted before you leave, is crucial in keeping you feeling refreshed. After all, if you’re feeling hectic and overworked, chances are you could also be feeling emotionally or physically drained.
After all, as much as every physician wants to be superman, the fact is that sometimes it’s simply not possible to get everything done! Taking even the most basic amounts of time for yourself shouldn’t be what gets left off the calendar every day – so even if means putting fifteen minutes for yourself into your daily schedule, good time management tips for doctors start with prioritizing your own well being. You are a valuable resource – so use your energy wisely!