Seven Tactics to Tame Physician Personal Time Gobblers

July 26, 2007

To download this article, click here: Seven Tactics To Tame Personal Time Gobblers

The age old adage that “time is money” is never truer today than it’s ever been. To make our money, we all seem to be cramming in as much in a day as we possibly can, oftentimes leading to personal and business chaos. So along with my guest author, Philippa Kennealy MD MPH CPCC of entrepreneurialMD, we give you seven tactics to tame your own personal time gobblers.

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!

Dr. Kennealy teaches her 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!

Set Appointments with Yourself

You don’t take phone calls, read e-mails or walk to the refrigerator in the middle of a physical exam or meeting with someone important, do you? At least, we 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.

Use a Kitchen Timer

Do you find yourself checking email or surfing the web every 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.

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 take calls, 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. Then repeat this process until they have accomplished the task before them.

Use Scheduling Tools that Support You

PDAs, computer scheduling tools, a big daily planner or a little black book – Use the tool that works for you and ignore the pressure to update to the latest and greatest gizmo! The only mistake is when you rely on the tool in your head – your memory. Unless you have an uncanny knack of recall for your to-do list, write it down, somewhere.

The best luck we have both seen as a scheduling tool is to create a Master List of ALL the big tasks you want to accomplish (you can 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 list all the small actions that you need to take to complete the larger task.

Each evening, take a look at your Master List and select the five to seven actions that are either marked AA or A, or that you know you 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!

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.

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 tasks sequentially. It appears that we are able to maintain a more focused concentration for each task alone, and therefore much more efficient AND effective overall.

Handle it no more than twice.

We’d love to say handle it once, but reality forces us to acknowledge that most papers or items need to be handled twice, given our prioritization needs. Lab and X-ray reports, dictations to sign, personal paperwork – handle it all no more 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 to have 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).

Dr. Kennealy confessed to me that her secret addiction is her $30 Brother label-maker. She just revels in the sense of order she gets when she looks at a row of neatly labeled files on her desk and in her filing cabinet. Look into small and simple ways to feel more organized.

There are many more time-saving ideas out there, but making a commitment to instituting just one of these seven habits each week, or even month, will free up enough extra time 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 hour earlier, or even that extra hour to research your next entrepreneurial opportunity!

Philippa Kennealy MD MPH CPCC is a certified physician coach and President of The Entrepreneurial MD. She coaches aspiring and actual physician entrepreneurs, and can be reached at or (310) 476-6116 (Pacific Time).

She blogs regularly on resources, ideas and business topics of interest to entrepreneurial physicians at

To download this article, click here: Seven Tactics To Tame Personal Time Gobblers

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