Leading Doctors Reveal Their Top Time Management Tips

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Top Time Management Tips

I’m writing this post as a follow-on from 7 Top Time Management Fundamentals For Expert Medics. I thought it would be interesting to learn some more about what successful doctors do to manage their time effectively.

I've been in touch with leading doctors from around the world and collected their top time management tips for you here.

31 Days To A Less Stressful Life

This will be the final post before my new series 31 Days To A Less Stressful Life Challenge starts on the 11th June. I’m going to post one stress-busting challenge each day for a month. You can learn more about the challenge by clicking the graphic below or by visiting the 31 Days To A Less Stressful Life Homepage.

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Doctors Face Pressure Every Single Day

Doctors do have pressurised jobs. It’s not just that the day gets filled with lots of demands on their time — it’s that the consequences of any small inattention to detail can have serious repercussions.

So when medics discover how to make everything work well for them — the rest of us can probably learn something useful too.

Dr Sean Hashmi is a nephrologist at Woodlands Hills, California. In addition to a successful medical practice, he’s set up SELFPrinciple.org a strictly non-commercial website which provides evidence-based health, nutrition and wellness research.

Given Sean's background I was interested to hear how Sean handled the stresses of managing a busy medical career alongside his business interests.

Sean told me:

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Sean Hashmi

"Stress is a part of life. It’s our response to stress that is important. I meditate every morning, exercise and focus on quality time with the family."

As you can see, Sean’s approach emphasises the whole-life context within which work gets done. Look after yourself better and you’ll be in better shape for whatever comes seems to be his message.

Doctors can have remarkably varied careers, as Dr Tess Gerritsen example demonstrates. She’s the author of the Rizzoli and Isles crime series and other suspense novels. Reflecting on her early years as a medical doctor she makes two important recommendations.

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Tess Gerritsen

"Don’t delay recording patient notes. Do them right after the visit and never take work home because it will destroy your evening!"

Tess’s advice to take action straightaway whenever possible makes sense. Storing up work for later which could be completed now in very little time is a false economy.

Like a lot of time management experts, Tess also advocates being disciplined about maintaining a clear boundary between work and home. Patrolling the healthy boundary between work and home — or work and non-work — is important. If these boundaries are blurred, you'll not find time to re-charge sufficiently and your performance is likely to suffer as a consequence.

When I raised these questions with Dr Hilary Jones, however, he led the conversation in a different direction.

Hilary is, of course, many peoples’ favourite TV doctor and has become the reassuring and familiar face of the medical profession for millions over the years. I asked him what advice he would give to a young doctor just starting out on their career.

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Hilary Jones

"Prioritise your patients in terms of clinical need whilst never forgetting to acknowledge and listen to those needing your care, warmth and reassurance."

Hilary is realistic however about the pressures that doctors are under. Calling on many years of clinical experience he suggests that patients are usually very willing to understand the pressures doctors are under:

"They will always forgive you if you explain that you would love to give them more time than you actually have .... a fact they will clearly be able to see for themselves."

He underlines the importance of establishing effective communication as part of an arsenal of time management tools. A lot of avoidable pressure and stress is created when you fail to clarify what you’re really able to do. Most people will, as Hilary rightly suggests, completely understand if you explain your situation in a clear way to them.

Dr Susan Biali Haas lists flamenco dancing among her many interests but it’s her ability to juggle so many different roles that makes Susan stand out. She’s not only a medical doctor, she also holds a Batchelor’s of Science in Dietetics and runs a successful business as a wellness coach, lifestyle expert and international speaker.

When I asked Susan what advice she would give she was clear that ‘keeping the home fires burning’ is a big priority.

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Susan Biali Haas

"Make sure to take time to eat, it will keep your energy levels up and make you more efficient and productive than if you skip meals or grab junk on the run."

Failing to allocate sufficient time to care for yourself properly is a common problem when time gets squeezed. It’s so easy to put your head down and force yourself to carry on.

Maintaining your energy levels is a theme taken up by Dr Mamta Gautam. Mamta, with 25-years experience as a psychiatrist, is now CEO and President of PeakMD an organisation dedicated to leadership resilience, and as she puts it, ‘keeping well professionals well’. With all this experience and expertise, she makes a compelling case for managing time with care. Mamta says she prefers to think of time as energy.

"Everything that we do takes time. Some things take time and create more energy for us; other things take time and leave us drained."

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Mamta Gautam

"Identify what is energy-creating for you and do more of that. Let go of what is energy-draining."

I think Mamta's right about the relationship between time and energy. In the final analysis the choice you make about where you focus your attention determines what will get done.

If you can lose the energy-sapping moments and replace them with one's that instead give you energy, your time will be well spent.

Dr Beth Frates is used to being under pressure. She runs Wellness Synergy a company focused on one to one wellness coaching. Her busy life includes being an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School and is a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Reflecting on her many commitments and responsibilities, Beth is quick to point out that ‘making a to-do list’ has been a crucial skill for her. Well-maintained to-do lists, of course, lie at the heart of many people’s efforts to become more time-savvy.

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Beth Frates

"Focus on making a to-do list."

I was delighted to be able to include Dr Clark Schierle in this review. He’s a board-certified Chicago plastic surgeon specialising in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery of the face, breast and body. He’s an authority in his field and runs the thriving medical practice NSPS.

Despite the huge success he’s had however, Clark remains remarkably humble when it comes to time management.

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Clark Schierle

"When you are lying on your deathbed, you will not wish you had worked more."

Clark continues:

"We are very fortunate that we are in a profession with profound meaning that is very emotionally and spiritually rewarding but we must be careful to take care of ourselves to avoid burnout."

I agree with Clark that clarifying and re-clarifying your ‘why’ — the central purpose or purposes of your life’s work is crucial if the work you’re doing is to have meaning.

Sadly, when time pressures lead to feeling overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to lose sight of your purpose when wading through all the non-essential details. Clark encourages us all to be kind and caring to ourselves.

‘You will be a better person and a better doctor if you take care of yourself. You will be a better parent if you spend half as much money and twice as much time with your kids’.

Dr Magnus Harrison combines his role as a physician with a leadership role in one of the UK’s Foundation Hospital Trusts. As Executive Medical Director and Deputy CEO, Magnus takes responsibility for the performance and quality of all his organisation’s doctors. 

In his job, Magnus can't afford a moment's inefficiency. He suggests:

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Magnus Harrison

"Complete each task as it comes up. Complete the task and move on to the next. Do it properly the first time, then don't think about it again."

Having served as a CEO in several different UK hospitals I can thoroughly relate to Magnus’s next piece of advice.

"Emails must not become your to do list."

After a moment’s reflection, he continues: "This is more of an issue for senior docs.’"

Taming the email beast is always a challenge — and Magnus’s wise advice to avoid using email as a to-do list is very important. Email’s not designed to serve that particulate purpose and there are many better tools out there that can help you. I summarise a number of them in What Is The Best Time Management Software?

For senior doctors and senior managers alike, coping with the incoming torrent of digital information imposes a huge cognitive drain — which as Magnus notes we would be well advised to manage carefully.

Bonus Material

As I conducted the research for this article I had a back and forth with the folks at  Johns Hopkins Medicine, a place where I spent some time in the early 2000's. At their suggestion I'm including links to a few articles by faculty at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

  1. Decode Your Stress Management Skills
  2. Stress Management: Important at Any Age
  3. Battling Stress: What You Need To Know
  4. Managing Stress
  5. How to Relieve Stress: A 6-Step Plan to Feeling Good

These articles are all well worth reading — particularly if you're finding managing your time challenging or are feeling stressed.

Having worked alongside so many talented and compassionate doctors (as well as other healthcare professionals) during my time as CEO of several large hospitals around the world, I'm aware that time pressures and stress in general are reaching epidemic proportions in healthcare.

That's why I started this blog and it's why over the next month I'm going to be sharing a series of challenges aimed at responding to this phenomena.

I am doing so with humility, having had my own close-quarter experience with the potentially deadly effects of long-term chronic stress.

So if you'd like to join me in an attempt to lighten the burden that stress is causing, you can do so by signing up below.

Here's the deal: One post a day for a month, with a little teaching (based on my experience and on the research I've done) along with a challenge designed to lift you out of the stress you're living with.

I’d like to thank all the contributors to this article for giving me a slice of their precious time and being willing to share some of their time management secrets.

If you’re a doctor, what’s your top time management tip? Can you add yours to the others on this list?

Leave a comment below.

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