Seven Tactics for Time-Taming

March 31, 2007

Here are the top Seven Tactics I have shared to help them tame their personal time gobblers.

1. Prioritize– What’s Important?

Scarcity of hours forces you to choose, over and over, how to use your time. So, how do you choose? This requires prioritization.

By articulating what is truly important to you,you will have an easier time selecting those activities that leave you feeling productive and rewarded. You may have to choose between two competing values, (such as family time vs. earning enough to support your kid’s education, fulfilling a commitment vs. taking care of your mounting stress), or do stuff that, on the surface, doesn’t resonate with any of your values. If you can’t detect an activity’s importance, then drop it!

I teach my clients to use the A,B,C tool for setting priorities and creating task lists. This works only in the case where lists are written down.

AA – “It has to get done today” – Get to it, first thing in the morning.

A – “I must do it within the next 24 to 48 hours”. Make an appointment with yourself on your schedule to get it done.

B – “I must do it within the next 5 to 7 days”. You’ll feel good when it’s off the list.

C – “I would like to get to it sometime in the near future”. Sadly, this is the list whose length is impossible to reduce!

2. Set Appointments With Yourself

You don’t take phone calls, read e-mails or walk to the refrigerator in the middleof a physical exam or meeting with someone important, do you? At least, I hope not!

Well, set uninterruptible appointments ahead of time with yourself for those activities that are likely to fall by the wayside. That 45-minute block of time for exercise, those two hours behind closed doors to clear your desk, that evening to finish your writing project or have dinner with your spouse. No cheating.

3. Use a Kitchen Timer

Do you find yourself checking email or surfing the webevery time you have a chore to complete? This little device, the humble kitchen timer, is a godsend for procrastinators and those who are easily distracted.

I request that my clients set the timer for a manageable length of time (45 to 60 minutes – we can’t concentrate for longer than that!), during which they may not takecalls, check new e-mails or allow other interruptions. Then they use the timer to set a “mini break” time of 10 to 15 minutes, during which they may do anything they choose. Including a brief neck and shoulder stretch. They repeat this process until they have accomplished the task before them.

4. Use Scheduling Tools that Support You

PDAs, computer scheduling tools, a big daily planner or a ittle black book – Use the tool that works for you and ignore the pressure to update to the latest and greatest gizmo! The only mistake I see my clients make is when they rely on the tool in their heads – their memories. Unless you have an uncanny knack of recall for your to-do list, I urge you to write it down, somewhere.

The best luck I have had with a scheduling tool is to create a Master List of ALL the big tasks I want to accomplish (I use a simple Excel spreadsheet for this, with columns to capture important information such as contact names or numbers, notes of prior emails sent etc). Under each big task I list all the small actions that I need to take to complete the larger task.

Each evening, I look at my Master List and select the five to seven actions that are either marked AA or A, or that I know I can fit into the next day’s schedule. Experts tell us that we tend to fail if we aim to remove more than about 7 items of a “to-do” list!

5. Know How You Function Best

Are you a morning person? A night owl? When is your best time of day for exercise? When are you most energetic and able to concentrate?You will accomplish more if you match your activities to your biorhythms.

6. Avoid Multitasking

Recent research shows that you accomplish less overall if you perform several tasks at the same time than if you do the same number of taskssequentially. It appears that we are able to maintain a more focused concentration for each task alone, and therefore much more efficient AND effective overall.

7. Handle it no more than twice

I’d love to say handle itonce, but reality forces me to acknowledge that mostpapers or items need to be handled twice, given our prioritization needs. Laband X-ray reports, dictations to sign, personal paperwork – handle it all nomore than twice; once to receive it, and the second time to take care of it,when its turn arrives on your desk or your list.

To make this work for you, have a system for how you want your papers and charts handled. Be sure tohave a workable filing system or enough labeled and stacked inboxes (“Urgent”,“Patient information”, “Bills to pay this week”, “Family stuff”,“Business/Professional stuff” etc. might be some examples).

I will confess to asecret addiction to my $30 Brother label-maker. I just revel in the sense oforder I get when I look at a row of neatly labeled files on my desk and in myfiling cabinet. Look into small and simple ways to feel more organized.

There are many moretime-saving ideas out there, but making a commitment to instituting just oneof these seven habits each week, or even month, will free up enough extratime to allow you to add in that yoga class you’ve been promising to attend,that early evening family bike ride because you got out of the office an hourearlier, or even that extra hour to research your next entrepreneurial opportunity!

Philippa Kennealy MDMPH CPCC is a certified physician coach and President of The EntrepreneurialMD. She coaches aspiring and actual physician entrepreneurs.

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