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Calm the Chaos & Cultivate Harmony: Step 1 – Take back control of your time.

There are 168 hours in a week for all of us. If you haven’t read 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, check it out. 


Basically, that means if you are a busy physician, even as a resident within work hour rules and sleeping 8 hours every night, you have 32 hours each week.  How you use those hours (both at work and outside work) and how you think about them can help you calm the chaos. Taking back control of time, and investing it wisely, is empowering.


There is a fundamental principle used in business that translates well into medicine – Parkinson's Law (no idea if there is a relation to Dr. Parkinson of neurology fame). It merely states that work expands to fit the time allotted.  So, if you give yourself 1 hour to write a discharge summary or 4 hours to make a lecture, you will naturally use all of that time. Imagine what happens when you have no time limit?! To gain efficiency, we need to set goal times to work at the top of the efficiency bell curve. You can apply this in many areas, but one place I like to challenge physicians is in utilizing it with your notes. Aiming to get your note done between patients stretches you. If you have never done it, aim for at least one patient per clinic and work your way up each week.  Never will be fresher in your head (and therefore easiest and most efficient), but knowing a patient is waiting to be seen pushes your efficiency level up.


In addition to Parkinson’s law, I offer 3 general areas to improve utilization of your time.


The schedule. Our brain likes to rail against having a schedule – it feels so confining, right? However, knowing what you need to accomplish in a given week and prioritizing it as a busy physician helps take back your time and create some relief. Start by first building in rejuvenation time for yourself as the top priority. Seriously! You will be more efficient and present with this one simple tip.  Another key when looking at your schedule is looking for the larger chunks of "free" time and putting the larger tasks there. We can all utilize small tasks (individual emails, inbox messages, etc.) to fill up large gaps, but it’s hard to take a large task (researching and prepping grand rounds) and devote only 5-10 minutes at a time to it. Task switching is very inefficient.


Reclaiming time. Since we can't create time, we can reclaim time. The first is looking for wasted time.  How much time do you really want to spend on social media, Reddit, Netflix, venting, etc., each day? Instead of scrolling while waiting on your MA to room your next patient, knock out a note, address an inbox message or two, read through a couple of important emails. The second is reclaiming time by off-loading what doesn’t have to be done by you. Utilize your team at work effectively, utilize curbside pick-up or Instacart your groceries, drop your clothes at a wash and fold laundry, or consider meal delivery. Pay the neighborhood kid to take care of the lawn. Consider a monthly or weekly housekeeper. You may not be able to afford all of these, but your time is valuable, so figure out what's it's worth.


Boundaries. I’ve heard many physician leaders remind us that “No,” is a complete sentence. Make sure you don’t overload your plate intentionally. When you need focus time, turn off computer and phone notifications, use headphones, or close the office door to signal others that now's not a good time for interruptions. Get very intentional about keeping your work at work and not at home. I don't mean to be overly rigid. It's okay to read up on clinical topics. Just notice this is something you like to do instead of viewing it as something you "have" to do.


Those 80 hours at work are for your education and/or your patient care. They’re yours. Utilize them wisely, so you don't take work home regularly. Those 32+ non-sleeping hours outside of work are yours. Use them in the way the fits best with your priorities. A coach can help with this and the mindset around time. Instead of your time being the victim of a haphazard life, take back control of your time. Command the chaos. And for reinforcement, let me repeat: Prioritize your downtime for rejuvenation. Cultivate Harmony.


Join me next week as we look at Step 2 of Calming the Chaos and Cultivating Harmony.


Have a joy-filled day!  Tonya


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