Time management strategies for busy physicians can take a number of shapes, from delegating tasks to making the most of idle time. One place to look for those extra minutes? Your daily commute to work.
Learning how to make your commute more productive doesn’t have to mean filling your driving time with conference calls and voice-to-text dictation. In fact, overdoing it with high-level cognitive work while driving can increase your risk of having a car accident, and an article in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery points to the well-known dangers of distracted driving. At the same time, using every spare second for work can contribute to burnout.
So even if you feel overburdened with patient calls and clinical documentation, there are safer ways to get more done on your way to work. Consider these commuting tips as you plan how to make your commute more productive.
Plan Out Your Day
When planning your day, it’s important to be realistic. If you already know you have a full schedule of patients and you also need to prepare a lecture for grand rounds, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll fit in the lecture prep between seeing patients — unless some of your patients cancel or don’t show up. You could work on your lecture if you get some surprise downtime, but you need to be prepared for the likelihood that free time won’t be part of your day. This way, you won’t end your day disappointed in your own accomplishments.
Enhance your productivity during your commute by considering a few projects that you’ve been meaning to get done. Break them down into manageable, realistic steps that can help you make some progress.
Prepare for Dreaded Obligations
On the way to or from work, you could also strategize how you’ll tackle unpleasant tasks you’ve been putting off. Just thinking about annoying inevitabilities like peer-to-peer phone calls may make you groan. And you may notice yourself becoming anxious at the prospect of responding to that patient who keeps calling your office asking for an off-limits prescription.
It can help to imagine an unpleasant process ahead of time and to rehearse it in your mind. Research in Strength and Conditioning Journal shows that imagining a task can improve your competence when it comes time to carry it out. This is especially true if you think through the potential obstacles and figure out how to overcome them in advance. Once you embark on a task you’ve been dreading, you might end up getting it over with more quickly — and less painfully — than you imagined.
Catch Up on Educational Material
You can update yourself on medical knowledge and take care of your continuing medical education (CME) requirements on your way to or from work. Ideally, you’ll find a CME program that can be adapted to your particular needs. When commuting, especially by car, text- or video-based programs may not be your best choice. Instead, search for CME programs using sites like AudioDigest and queue them for your commute.
You can also listen to educational or interesting medical or career-enhancing articles, such as a primer on how to deal with emerging pandemics. A number of phone and computer applications like Pocket and Motoread can convert written articles to audio versions so you can listen to them at your convenience.
A vital aspect of your commute is appreciating the peace and mindfulness that comes from being free of responsibilities while you’re driving. During your commute, you don’t have to clean your house or check your patients’ lab results — in fact, you couldn’t do these things even if you wanted to. This quiet time is a valuable aspect of recharging.
Part of learning how to make the most of your commute is maximizing your appreciation for the good things in life. Thinking back to fun experiences prolongs the enjoyment gleaned from positive life events long after they’re over. And reminding yourself to make plans with friends or to go on vacation will ensure that you continue to make more good memories for yourself and your loved ones.
Enjoy Your Time
Finally, consider finding ways to relish your commute. You can listen to music or talk shows while you drive. You might enjoy audiobooks on topics like spirituality, self-improvement or fiction in your area of interest, whether it’s mystery, adventure or lighthearted stories.
And you might like catching up on phone calls with friends, which can bring a lot of satisfaction to your day. You can even share commuting tips to help each other find more free time and productivity.