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4 Keys to Time Management for Doctors

From setting your goals to finding efficiencies, use these tips for time management for doctors to do more in less time.

With seemingly endless to-do lists, protocols and administrative duties, time management is an essential factor for achieving your personal and professional goals while also providing excellent care to your patients. Here are four key steps that can help you take back your time.

1. Lay the Groundwork

The first step to better time management for doctors is introspection. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, your habits and your objectives. How, when and where are you most (and least) productive? Articulate what you’re looking to accomplish by making a change. More time for career development or family? General stress management? Greater work-life balance? Setting so-called SMART goals — the abbreviation stands for “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific” — will help you understand your time management needs.

Next, you’ll need to monitor how your time is spent. Create a time audit and note tasks that are taking longer than expected. You can do this by hand or with the help of time-tracking software and apps.

Constantly reevaluate your objectives and goals to make sure that the tasks you’re working on are helping you achieve them. It’s also important to keep the big picture in mind. Don’t let perfectionism stop you from hitting submit!

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2. Create a Plan

The best way to actually make progress on your time management goals? Plan, plan, plan. With any new project, it’s important to first map out your timeline and process and then make planning a part of your weekly routine.

On Sundays, for example, break down your weekly goals into daily tasks so you know which days to accomplish which goals; each morning, set specific tasks for that day. Keep in mind that your energy levels will fluctuate throughout the week, so plan lower-priority tasks for Mondays, if possible, and more creative and demanding tasks for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Consider scheduling meetings on Thursdays, when others’ energy starts to decline, and wrap up the week by using Fridays for networking and looking ahead. Don’t forget to look at everything crossed off the list and congratulate yourself.

None of this will work if you don’t stay organized. Schedule everything, using online applications that can be linked to your email, such as Google Calendar. Create color labels for specific calendars if you’re managing multiple family members’ schedules to ensure that nothing is missed. Mind your email: Physicians receive an insurmountable level of electronic communications. Use email settings to archive emails that do not need to be taken care of immediately, create labels, enable templated responses for messages that are sent regularly and use filters to automatically assign specific labels to certain messages. And create folders (virtual or physical) to organize projects, papers and research. Name them so they’re easy to find. Create one folder for each research product, academic endeavor and strategic plan.

With all that planning and organizing, don’t overlook the value of scheduling downtime and prioritizing having a life outside of work. Block at least one hour a week to catch up, be creative or just let your mind wander.

3. Stay Focused

Even with an airtight plan and organizational chops, distractions abound. Do what you can to eliminate them.

For starters, step away from your device. Use the “Do Not Disturb” function on your phone and computer, and turn your phone over or put it completely out of sight so you can avoid mindlessly scrolling. Try using your phone’s settings to enforce a time limit for using specific distracting apps.

Even work itself can be a distraction from the task at hand. Focus on what needs to be done and avoid work that divides attention. For example, instead of checking email every few minutes, check once an hour. Similarly, avoid multitasking if possible, as it can ultimately limit your productivity and the quality of your work. Keep a separate list of to-do items that come up during the week. More broadly, use your time audit to set limits for each task, and put them on the calendar. Do leave a buffer in between tasks and meetings to give yourself time to clear your mind and reset.

To help combat procrastination, schedule the hard tasks that you don’t want to do first. This includes closing out charts of challenging patients with difficult diagnoses!

Finally, learn to say “no.” When you’re asked to do something, ask yourself whether the request is going to advance your career, bring you joy or help someone else. If not, politely decline and sponsor someone else for the opportunity. It’s important to be realistic about your time.

4. Look for Efficiencies

The last key to time management for doctors is to look for ways to do things faster — or not do them at all.

If you typically run behind, determine if more time is needed for visits. If closing charts is a challenge, consider a scribe. If your electronic medical records are dragging you down, ask for training on how to significantly decrease the time you spend on them.

Start each morning with a team huddle to ensure that everyone is on the same page with the plan for the day, and maintain open lines of communication with your team. Don’t be afraid to delegate: Tasks that can be effectively done by others should be handed off. For those huddles and other meetings, focus on the purpose of the meeting to avoid overly long conversations.

Of course, there will be inevitable downtime. Look for ways to maximize these moments. When you’re waiting in line or on hold, answer emails or complete one of your simpler to-do items. Or use this time to read, meditate or listen to a podcast.

Only you know what exciting goals improving your time management might help you achieve — but here’s one final time-saving tip: Update your CV in real time. Add each new publication, speaking engagement and award to your resume as it comes in. It’s one thing you won’t have to do when you’re going up for a promotion or during career transitions.

Shikha Jain, MD, FACP

Shikha Jain, MD, FACP

Dr. Shikha Jain is a physician triple board-certified in hematology, oncology and internal medicine. She is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Cell Therapy, the Physician Communication Director for Rush University System of Health and the Director of Social Media and Communications Rush University Cancer Center. She was named one of Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Emerging Leaders in 2019, and was also awarded the Rising Start award by the LEAD Oncology Conference in 2019. Dr. Jain was selected as a ResearcHERS ambassador by the American Cancer Society, and was honored by 500 Women in Medicine. She has been appointed to the 2020 American Society for Clinical Oncology Women's Networking Center taskforce and appointed to the Council on Communications and Membership Advocacy for the the the Illinois State Medical Society. She developed the neuroendocrine tumor board and program at Rush and moved the program from the inpatient to the outpatient setting. She speaks locally and nationally on the impact of media and social media on healthcare and ways to demystify cancer care with open communication and education. She has been interviewed on a variety of healthcare and equity topics on local and national tv and radio programming. Dr. Jain gave a TEDx talk in 2019 on the gender moonshot and the importance of gender parity in healthcare. She has been invited to speak nationally and in 2019 spoke at the Harvard Medical School Career Advancement and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare on the topic of physician leadership and mentorship, the Becker's Healthcare Conference, and the American College of Physicians. She founded and co-chaired the inaugural Women In Medicine Symposium at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago in 2018 focused on promoting the advancement of women physicians at Northwestern. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the "Women in Medicine Summit: An Evolution in Empowerment" in Chicago. This national CME conference focuses on gender equality and finding and implementing solutions to eliminate the gap. She is the co-founder of the Rush Center for the Advancement of Women in Health Care. Dr. Jain is a member of the Women's Leadership Council at Rush and is the founder and host of the podcast "The Rush Cast." Her clinical focus is GI oncology with a special interest in neuroendocrine tumors. Her research interests include neuroendocrine tumors, immunotherapy, colorectal and pancreatic cancers, hepatocellular carcinoma advances in cancer therapy, the impact of social media and healthcare and gender equity. She has papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Jain has written for several national publications including US News, Physician's Weekly, Doximity, KevinMD, and ASCO Connection. She was selected as a thought leader by Doximity and completed a year as a Doximity writing fellow. She is the founder of the social media group Dual Physician Families and is on the leadership team of SoMeDocs (Doctors on Social Media). Dr. Jain lectures nationally speaks on a variety of topics including, but not limited to: – Writing in Medicine, the importance of Narrative Medicine, OpEds and finding your voice – Social Media and Medicine – Women In Medicine – Mentorship/Sponsorship, encouraging the next generation of physicians to pursue a career in STEM/medicine – The doctor-patient relationship – Physician Leadership/Leadership – The doctor-patient relationship – GI Oncology – Immunotherapy – Neuroendocrine tumors – Oncologic emergencies – Colon, Pancreatic, GI cancers Along with her clinical practice, she tries to incorporate patient education and outreach as often as possible. With the proper tools and guidance, she works with her patients as a team to treat the disease and helps them move through an often difficult process together with as little stress as possible. She believes in personalized and individualized care, and also feels the more knowledge a patient has about their own disease, the more informed a decision they are able to make. Twitter: @ShikhaJainMD Instagram: @ShikhaJainMD

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