Make your time count

Four action steps to help you re-energize and become more productive.

It’s estimated that one in eight Americans work in some area of health care, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be more than 22 million jobs related to this $3 trillion dollar industry by 2020.

You encounter something new in the office every day: new billing guidelines, new hires to train, and new technological advances. How does this impact your work-life balance?

Constantly striving to improve and using your time in a more effective manner has shifted from a skill set that is “good to have” to one that is “essential.” Time management is a skill that makes you more indispensable to your teammates and your doctor. Perhaps more importantly, it helps you deal with the mental stress that causes so many to walk away from a career in health care.

For instance, you find yourself sprinting into work a little late. To buy yourself time, you keep the phones on auto-answer and suddenly realize 30 minutes into clinic that incoming phone calls still are going straight to voicemail. You check and you missed cancellations and new people wanting appointments. You admit to yourself, “I wasn’t really that late or overwhelmed.” Or perhaps you get caught up looking at inactive patient charts and lose 30 minutes before realizing you never finished preparing patient statements and the mail pickup has come and gone.

What’s going on? You are letting circumstances dictate your actions without thinking. As long as you’re making choices unconsciously, you can’t consciously choose to change that ineffective behavior into productive habits.

Time management is really about action-refinement — specifically, adopting an educated, mindful, disciplined approach to accomplishing daily tasks that. Along with sweat equity, this approach will compound itself daily into radically greater productivity levels.

Much of today’s frustration comes from poor use of our time. It causes confusion. It means we feel like failures because things don’t get done, and it adds stress to our already stressful work life. Being your best every day is the result of intentionally learning how to direct your natural energy and abilities; it’s not just a lucky break. Carefully chosen routines save us time; more reactive actions can slow us down. But that can all change.

Here are four tips to re-energize your workday.

Keep a daily to-do list generated from urgent tasks, calendar items, and your master list.

Consolidate items from these three lists into a group that you can reasonably expect to complete in one day. I pair the power of my calendar app with my random list-making by recording my tasks into the digital world once a day. Personally, I use a digital calendar and keep my master list in the “task” feature.

What’s a master list? As described in Stephanie Winston’s book, “The Organized Executive,” the master list is a single, continuous list of everything you have to do. Let’s say you are on hold with an insurance company when a coworker walks over and requests you assign someone to call the backlog of eyewear no one seems to be picking up. Then, your doctor text, “Please remember to order Ms. Suter’s hybrid multifocal contacts.”

That text re-energizes your idea of having technicians start to use the software’s prescription order function so you can delegate this time-consuming process. Then, you remember you forgot to pick up kale yesterday and need it to make your famous sweet and sour cabbage and kale slaw. You reach into your pocket and jot down these notes.

Capturing the clutter from your mind becomes your master list. Brain disorder specialists report writing down your list frees your mind to focus with greater clarity.

Keeping your daily to-do list short will allow room for interruptions. Working in a practice, we certainly have to be flexible as we plan our work and make our way through our list. But, starting out with a list, even if it gets changed, is still the smart way to make the best use of the workday.

Be in the moment.

Our relationship with technology and how it becomes our master contributes to on-the-job stress. According to former Apple executive Linda Stone, continuous partial attention between technology and the task at hand creates an artificial sense of constant crisis that diminishes our energy and productivity. The net effect of split attention is more time and more errors.

Partial attention is different from multi-tasking. Productive multitasking typically involves one routine activity paired with something that requires more mental attention, or energy.

Know when you are “in the zone.”

When are your internal and external prime times?

Internal prime time is that time when you work best. For me, it’s 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. I’m running at highest capacity; my energy is high, my drive is high, my creative juices are flowing.

External prime time is when external resources — usually people — are most readily available for decisions, inquiries and information. Make phone calls when you have a high chance of getting through to that person. Learn the best time to catch the doctor for those needed times of interaction.

Eliminate paper clutter.

What does your desk or your work surface look like right now? Is it totally cluttered and covered with “stuff”? Do you hang onto things too long? Paper shuffling can be one very poor use of our time.

How often do you just re-shuffle things that need to be done? If you are like me, when you add all the time you spend shuffling the papers, you could have done many of them while you were re-sorting!

Touch it once is my mantra when I see paper piles growing. Getting organized can ward off insanity, shorten your workday, get you out in the fresh air, and improve your quality of life.

The benefits of better time management

Building your day around these and other rituals that reinforce your personal energy and work-style adds tremendously to your work-life balance. You may not be the fastest or the smartest or the most experienced person in your office, but having a grasp on your day can make you the most dependable.

We can always find excuses for letting things fall through the cracks: You got busy; you had more to do than you thought; you forgot. But a dependable person works very hard not to let those things happen.

I have learned not to trust my memory. If I don’t write a promise or commitment down, I will forget. I have learned to do it while I’m thinking of it and not put it off, so that I won’t forget.

Share these tips with your coworkers. Studies involving MRI neuroimaging suggest giving support reduces stress-related brain activity and benefits your health.

Enjoy life-balance. I know I do! OP