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The MD's Guide to Maximizing Time: 7 Strategies to Help With Time Management for Physicians

Introduction


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Time is a physician's most valuable and scarce resource. With a demanding workload and long hours, it's critical for doctors to use their time efficiently. Effective time management leads to improved productivity, reduced stress, and better work-life balance. It allows physicians to provide higher quality care while avoiding burnout.

 

However, between patient visits, procedures, documentation, phone calls, and administrative tasks, it's easy for a doctor's time to get consumed by urgent but less important matters. Without a system for prioritizing and managing time, physicians end up reacting to the loudest demands instead of focusing on goals and priorities. They get bogged down putting out fires instead of moving ahead with meaningful progress.

 

Time management skills distinguish star physicians from the average. They enable doctors to work smarter instead of just working more hours. By taking control of their time, physicians can create focus and order amidst the chaos of their workload. They can utilize their precious time in alignment with their values and priorities. The result is higher job satisfaction, better patient outcomes, and a career filled with accomplishment.

 

This article will provide effective strategies busy physicians can use to take charge of their time. With concerted time management, doctors can transform how they work and what they achieve each day. They can maximize their time rather than letting it manage them.

 

Understand Where Your Time Goes

 

The first step towards better time management is to understand how you currently spend your time. Conduct a time audit over the course of a typical work week to analyze where your time goes and what your time wasters are. 

 

Some effective time audit techniques for physicians include:

 

  • Keep a log of all your activities for a week. Record when you start and finish each task or appointment. This will reveal how much time you actually spend on different responsibilities.  

  • Categorize your logged activities. Separate clinical and administrative tasks. See how much time is spent with patients versus on paperwork.  

  • Note interruptions and distractions. Track how often you get interrupted and what the sources of distractions are. This shows what steals your focus.  

  • Identify areas of waste. Look for inefficient use of time, such as excess meetings, duplicative work, and low-value busywork.  

  • Calculate time allocation. Determine what percentage of your week is devoted to key tasks versus low-priority activities.  

  • Analyze trends. Do certain days have more wasted time than others? When do interruptions occur most? What are your peak productive hours?

 

Conducting a time audit provides data-driven insights into how you currently spend your time and where there is room for improvement. The knowledge gained from a time analysis is essential for implementing better time management strategies tailored to your schedule and habits.

 

Prioritize Your Tasks 

 

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As a busy doctor, it's crucial to discern what tasks are truly urgent and important in any given moment. The "urgent vs important" time management matrix is an effective framework for prioritizing tasks and responsibilities.

 

Urgent tasks demand immediate attention, while important tasks contribute to your long-term goals, mission and values. Ideally, you want to spend most of your time on important but not urgent activities - the mission-critical actions that empower you to be proactive and focused on your biggest priorities.

 

For instance, building relationships with referring physicians may not seem urgent on a daily basis, but this activity is deeply important for growing your practice over time. On the other hand, phone calls and pages from patients and staff are often urgent, but not always important relative to your broader goals.

 

When triaging your to-do list, take a moment to classify each task as:

 

  • Important and urgent - tackle these ASAP 

  • Important but not urgent - schedule focused time for these priorities

  • Urgent but not important - delegate or outsource these if possible

  • Neither urgent nor important - eliminate or postpone these tasks

 

Getting clear on the relative urgency and importance of tasks will help you align your schedule with your true priorities and avoid getting stuck in reactive mode. Over time, you can train staff to handle more urgent requests and reserve your time for the work only you can do as a physician. The result is greater focus, productivity and achievement of your most important goals.

 

Schedule Blocks of Focus Time

 

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Setting aside extended blocks of uninterrupted time can enable you to focus deeply on complex diagnoses, research, patient cases, and other cognitively demanding tasks as a physician. This "deep work" allows you to tap into a state of intense concentration and productivity.

 

The benefits of scheduling focus time include:

 

  • Reduces context switching between tasks, which preserves mental energy.  

  • Allows you to dive deeper into complex work. Flow states and insights are more likely to occur with fewer distractions.  

  • Enhances ability to think deeply and creatively. This leads to better solutions and outcomes.  

  • Results in higher quality work output compared to fragmented schedules.  

  • Provides opportunities to learn and master skills through intense repetition and practice.  

  • Maximizes the value of your limited time and mental resources as a physician.

 

To implement this, block off 1-2 hours daily of focus time in your calendar. Identify when you tend to have the most energy and mental clarity. Schedule focus blocks during these peak times. Avoid scheduling meetings or calls during focus blocks. Find a quiet location to work from, such as your office with the door closed. Turn off notifications, email, your phone, and close apps not needed for your deep work session. The uninterrupted time allows you to gain momentum and make significant progress on projects requiring deep concentration.

 

Limit Interruptions and Distractions

 

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As a busy physician, your time is valuable and interruptions can severely impact your productivity. Here are some strategies to minimize disruptions:

 

  • Set office hours and be unavailable outside those times. Block off chunks of time in your calendar as Focus Time when you cannot be interrupted except for true emergencies.  

  • Train staff to hold non-urgent requests and questions until your next availability. Empower them to run interference and decline impromptu appointments or meetings.  

  • Silence notifications, close email, turn off your phone ringer, and close your door during focus periods. Consider hanging a "Do Not Disturb" sign.  

  • If possible, have a private office where you can work without distractions. If in a shared space, use noise-blocking headphones.   

  • Batch similar tasks together to minimize having to shift between different mindsets. Return calls, answer emails, or fill out charts in designated time blocks.  

  • Take breaks away from your desk to fully disengage your mind, such as taking a short walk outside. Recover mental focus before diving back into deep work.  

  • When you have an important deadline, book focus time on your calendar and decline all non-essential meetings and requests. Protect blocks of productive time.  

  • Practice active time management rather than passive reactivity. Set daily priorities proactively based on your big picture goals. Avoid getting swept up responding to urgent-seeming tasks.  

  • Set boundaries around work hours and after hours. Checking emails or taking calls during personal time leads to burnout. Disconnect fully during evenings, weekends, and vacations.

 

Limiting interruptions takes discipline, but the productivity payoff is immense. Protecting focus time will result in higher quality work and greater career satisfaction.

 

Take Breaks and Manage Energy

 

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Taking regular breaks is essential for effective time management as a busy doctor. With hectic schedules and long work hours, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and burned out. However, taking intentional breaks helps renew focus and energy so you can be productive for longer periods.

 

When your energy starts lagging, take a short 5-10 minute break to get up, stretch, eat a snack, or simply clear your mind. Consider incorporating brief meditation sessions, breathing exercises, or listening to music. Even short breaks give your mind a chance to recharge.

 

It's also crucial to take longer breaks throughout the day and week. Make time for a proper lunch break, and don't work through it at your desk. Take time in the evenings and weekends to truly unplug from work. Activities like exercise, hobbies, and socializing with family and friends are energizing.

 

Getting adequate sleep, nutrition, and work-life balance enables you to manage your energy more effectively long-term. The goal is to avoid burnout so you have sustainable energy to care for patients at your best. With strategic breaks and energy management, you can make the most of your time and avoid fatigue.

 

Delegate and Outsource

 

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As a busy physician, you simply cannot do everything yourself and still have time left over. Learn to leverage your team and delegate tasks that others can do instead. Focus on your unique expertise and abilities as a doctor, while delegating administrative tasks, documentation, billing, scheduling, and other responsibilities to trained staff members.

 

Identify opportunities to outsource tasks outside your practice too. Consider hiring assistants or services for meal prep, house cleaning, paperwork, technology assistance, etc. This lifts non-critical tasks off your plate, freeing up precious time and mental bandwidth. Though it may feel easier to do tasks yourself, the time investment to delegate or outsource is well worth it.

 

Set clear expectations when delegating tasks. Provide adequate training or resources to set your team up for success. Start by delegating tasks that are routine and within capabilities, then consider delegating more complex or high-impact projects once processes are running smoothly. Follow up to ensure completion and quality. Show your team appreciation and invest in their growth. The more you empower others, the greater your capacity to focus on patient care and priorities as a physician.

 

Optimize Processes and Systems

 

As a busy physician, look for ways to streamline your workflows and processes to save time. For example, set up templates, shortcuts, and autofill options in your EHR system. Create standardized charts, orders, and notes that you can quickly modify. Use voice recognition software to dictate notes faster.

 

Evaluate your office/clinic systems to remove redundancies. See if staff workflows can be realigned to reduce bottlenecks. Analyze steps that frequently cause delays and find solutions to expedite them.

 

Standardize recurring tasks by creating checklists, protocols and procedures. This reduces the effort of decision making and ensures consistency. Automate workflows by using apps that connect your practice's software. The less time spent on logistics and operations, the more time for your patients.

 

Streamline documentation requirements and limit duplication in records. Petition healthcare administrators to simplify outdated, complex workflows that waste physician time without improving care. Advocate for cutting unnecessary paperwork and bureaucratic tasks.

 

By optimizing office processes and systems, physicians can regain time to focus on delivering high-quality patient care. Work smarter, not harder.

 

Automate and Use Technology

 

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Technology offers many time-saving tools for physicians. Take advantage of apps, software, and devices that can streamline administrative tasks, documentation, communication, and workflow. This allows you to spend more time delivering quality patient care.

 

Use mobile apps - Mobile apps can provide time savings wherever you go. Apps like Medisafe allow you to track patient medications, while Figure1 lets you quickly consult with colleagues about symptoms or cases. Dragon Medical One provides real-time documentation and Fill allows easy digital form completion.

 

Leverage EHR software - An electronic health records system can automate patient charting, prescription writing, lab orders, billing and more. Features like templates, voice recognition, and macros can optimize documentation efficiency. Train on all capabilities offered by your EHR software.

 

Utilize scheduling/calendar apps - Apps like Doximity and QxMD Provider allow you to manage your calendar and schedule through your mobile device. You can confirm appointments, set reminders, and prevent double-booking. Some integrate directly with your EHR calendar.

 

Text or email patients - Patient portal messaging allows quick, convenient communication while avoiding phone tag. Provide options like text or email reminders to reduce no-shows. Apps like MobileSmith allow two-way texting with patients.

 

Leverage telehealth - Telemedicine visits can save commuting time and room turnovers between patients. Remote patient monitoring also enables efficient care between visits. Evaluate options to implement telehealth into your practice workflow.

 

Automate follow-ups - Tools like healthOWL allow automated check-in calls, post-discharge follow-ups, and appointment reminders. Automating routine patient outreach can maximize productivity. Smartphrases in your EHR can also automate documentation tasks. 

 

Go paperless - Transition fully to digital records, forms, prescribing, and billing to eliminate wasted time on paperwork. Tools like e-prescribing and billing software also automate these tasks. Scan paper documents that must be retained.

 

Cultivate Proper Time Management for Physicians Habits

 

a laptop, stethoscope, and pen and journal;

Forming habits is key to effective time management. Instead of trying to overhaul everything at once, focus on incrementally building time management into your daily routines. Here are some tips:

 

  • Start and end each day by reviewing your priorities and schedule. Bookend your workday by spending 5-10 minutes planning and organizing.  

  • Establish regular daily routines for major tasks like checking email, returning calls, paperwork, etc. Clustering similar tasks together saves time.  

  • Build in time for focusing on your most important work early in the day when you have the most energy.  

  • Take the last 5 minutes of your workday to tidy up and prepare for the next day.  

  • Schedule time on your calendar for strategic planning and goal-setting each week. Keep the big picture in mind.  

  • Reflect at the end of each week on what worked well and what you'd like to improve. Adjust your plans for the coming week.  

  • Make tasks on your to-do list actionable and specific to focus your time efficiently. Break down big projects into smaller steps.  

  • Minimize unplanned tasks and interruptions by setting boundaries and learning to say no. Protect your time proactively.  

  • Review and fine-tune your systems and processes regularly to maximize efficiency. Don't let outdated routines waste your time.

 

By repetitively incorporating small time management habits into your schedule, you pave the way for significant improvements over time. Stay disciplined and be patient with yourself as you build time management skills.

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