I practice in a small group setting with two other doctors. When we built a new office a few years ago we decided to have our “private” office space as one room. We have enjoyed this choice as we can banter back and forth during the day discussing everything from sports scores to case management and the latest antibiotic management regimes. This open style also exposes our personal management styles as we can see the area we use for our desks. What you see in each doctor’s area speaks volumes about personal style and self-management skills.
Early in my career I had a long conversation with Dr. Loren Miller at the Pankey Institute about how he developed his outstanding practice and still made time to teach. One comment he made still is in my mind today. “Son”, he said, “you have to get control of your time. Then you can do some straight line thinking.” After forty years I am still struggling with “getting control of my time”, but I continue to make progress.
Time management does not make you a rigid person. In fact, the better you are at managing your time the more flexibility you have. Key elements in time management can be found in Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Understand the difference between what is important and what is urgent. Begin with the end in mind. Take time to “sharpen the saw”.
Learn to determine what things in life are truly important and you will eliminate many urgent, stress producing situations. Some things are very simple – like being at work at the proper time. Other things are not simple – like how to manage an issue of poor staff performance. The key element is to determine the level of importance of the issue. If it is important then deal with it now or create the time to deal with it and stick to that promise. If an issue is not important do not waste time on it. Most “urgent” issues are not really that important. Delegate someone to deal with the issue or communicate that you will not be involved. Understand that you are not in control of many elements of life, let them go and focus on what you can control and make better. This sounds easy but is extraordinarily difficult. This is where the “straight line thinking” comes in. Not as in rigid, but as in focused, open and analytic all at the same time.
Take time to think about what you want to see as the result of your actions before you act. You would never start restorative care on a complex case without a comprehensive exam, diagnosis and treatment plan. Why would you treat your personal and family life with less care, skill and judgment than that of your patients – and vise- versa? Before you pick up a piece of correspondence or a patient chart commit that you will not put it down until you have completed the work involved with it. This is the biggest time waster I see with most dentists.
I see desks with piles of opened correspondence, unfinished charts and journals with dog eared pages. These items are then picked up, put down and pushed around on the desk for days at a time while staff waits for a decision that could have been made in five minutes of focused, active concentration. Don’t tell me that you don’t have the time! All you have is time. Each of us has 1,440 minutes in every day. How we allocate them makes all the difference..
Consider making some changes in your personal schedule so that you can have some time to yourself. Give your mind some “time off”. This is time when our mind “resets” and subconsciously comes up with answers to the problems we agonize over every day. This is Covey’s time to “sharpen the saw”. Whether it is an hour off or two weeks off we all need time for recreation – think of it as “re-creation”. Build time into your life for something more than just work. Find a hobby or avocation to get your mind off work and develop new skills. The mental “exercise” helps strengthen our mind to manage the stress of everyday life.
Here are some bullet points to consider trying:
Look at your desk – What can you throw away, put away, delegate?
If you pick it up – don’t put it down until you have finished with it.
Put it back – papers, books, tools – it will be where it belongs when you need it again
Make a list – At the end of the day make a short list of what you want to get done tomorrow. Then let go of those issues until tomorrow.
Make a schedule – for chart review, morning staff meetings, vacations, family time, exercise
Pre-block – productive time at work, staff meetings, vacations, CE time, urgent care time
Make a file – Tear out and file the articles you want to read and carry them with you to read when you have to wait somewhere.
Work on being an active listener – The person perceived as having the greatest social skills is the best listener.
Commit to a tiny change for the better and stick with it – measure your progress – celebrate your success.
You have only 1440 minutes in tomorrow’s time bank account - spend them wisely, with love and joy.