Whether in active practice, or in retirement, identify activities with which you want to fill your days and hours. The following suggestions may help you to put these into practice, and are roughly based on the work of 19th-century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the “Pareto principle.” It incorporates the observation that often 80% of results come from about 20% of the effort. Here is a simple example: When a carpet is vacuumed, about 80% of the dirt picked up is likely from 20% of the carpet, namely, the high-traffic areas. MOST OF THESE CAN BE APPLIED TO ONE’S HOME LIFE, BUT FOR THE ED, NOT SO MUCH. There are, however some that can be applied, perhaps with modification for our ED environment.
1 KEEP A DAILY TO-DO LIST. Number items according to the order in which you will handle them. Indicate items that are worth spending more time on. Check off each when it is completed. Carry over unfinished tasks to tomorrow’s list.
2 SYNCHRONIZE YOUR CALENDARS. Don’t risk missing an appointment because it is only in your other calendar. If you have a calendar in your computer and another in a handheld device, see if you can synchronize the two.
3 WRITE AN “ACTION PLAN” consisting of all the steps involved in a project, and put these in their proper sequence.
4 GENERALLY, SCHEDULE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS FIRST. Then, it’s easier to find time for less vital ones.
5 SET GOALS OVER WHICH YOU HAVE A LARGE DEGREE OF CONTROL. You have more control over increasing your skill at a certain job than over becoming president of your company.
6 ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE TIME FOR EVERYTHING. Favor activities that yield the most important results. What about other tasks that are urgent or that simply have to be done? If you cannot eliminate or delegate them, see if you can spend less time on them. Some unimportant tasks can wait for months if necessary, or they may not need to be done at all. Allocate as much time as possible to those activities that are related to what you feel is truly worthwhile in light of your goals.
7 KEEP A TIME LOG. To find out where your time is going, keep a time log for one or two weeks. Is much time lost on unimportant activities? Do most of your interruptions come from the same one or two individuals? Are you most likely to be interrupted during a certain part of the day or week? Eliminate time-wasting activities that have crept in.
8 SCHEDULE LESS. If you plan to shop for food, fix the car, entertain friends, see a movie, and catch up on reading—all in one day—you will feel rushed and will likely enjoy nothing.
9 MINIMIZE INTERRUPTIONS. Block off time each day in which you are not to be interrupted unless absolutely necessary. If possible, turn off your phone and always turn off electronic pop-up alerts that interrupt your work.
10 SCHEDULE THE MOST CHALLENGING WORK FOR HOURS WHEN YOU ARE MOST ENERGETIC AND ALERT.
11 DO THE MOST UNPLEASANT TASK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Once it is out of the way, you will feel more energized to work through the less-challenging activities.
12 ALLOW TIME FOR THE UNEXPECTED. (the ED motto). If you think you’ll arrive somewhere in about 15 minutes, promise to be there within 25. If you believe an appointment will take an hour, allow 1 hour & 20 minutes. Leave a portion of your day unscheduled. Always remember: tasks that you think will take 2 hours, always take 5, 7 or more.
13 USE TRANSITION TIME. Listen to the news or a recording while you shave. Read while waiting for a train or riding on it. Of course, you can use that time to relax. But don’t waste it and then later fret over lost time.
14 APPLY THE 80/20 RULE TO YOUR LIST, AND TO EACH TASK. Are 2 out of 10 items on your to-do list most important? Do them first. Might a certain job feel less pressing if you give attention to just its most important aspects?
15 WHEN YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED WITH WORK, write each patient/task on an index card. Then divide the cards into two groups: “Action Now” and “Action Next.” Repeat and re-write as necessary.
16 PERIODICALLY, TAKE TIME OFF TO ‘RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES.’ Returning to work with a refreshed mind and body might prove more productive than hours of overtime. That is: don’t overwork yourself, take time off and away.
17 THINK ON PAPER. Write down a problem bothering you, describe why it is disturbing, and list as many solutions as you can think of. This works on life-problems, as well as with individual patient issues that you are trying to complete.
18 BE ABLE TO SWITCH GEARS. Know when it is time to stop and move on to the next important activity.
19 WORK LIKE A PROFESSIONAL, OVERCOME YOUR OWN STUFF. Don’t wait for the right mood. Just start working.
20 BE FLEXIBLE.
These are suggestions, not hard-and-fast rules. Experiment, find out what works, and customize ideas to your circumstances and needs. Your patients, your staff, and you, will benefit greatly.