by Melinda Aquino, M.D., and Sergey Pisklakov, M.D.
What does “time management” mean to you? “Time management” is the ability to utilize one’s time efficiently and productively. It is the conscious control over time spent on specific activities. Time management is a skill that helps us carry out tasks, complete projects, and achieve goals punctually and reliably.
Time management is important not only in our professional lives but also in our personal activities. It is a combination of efficient thought processes and planning techniques.
The tools we can use to manage time may include planning, distribution, setting goals, delegation, analysis of time costs, monitoring, personal organization, and prioritizing.
We all feel exhausted at times. Often this is not because we work too much, but because we work inefficiently. We may also face a shortage of time at work. This is not always our fault. In many instances this is caused by poor organization management and structure, and even by unnecessary haste. This leads to suboptimal patient care, case delays, poor interpersonal communication, and losses in production, affecting the efficiency and performance of the entire department or even the healthcare center.1
To identify the reasons for a shortage of time, it is important to look at the performance of every functional component in your department. In addition, it is necessary to periodically perform inventory of your own time availability.
Lack of time causes unnecessary staff anxiety. Possible tangible causes may include:
• Absence of a clear and planned workload for the current day
• Staff members may not know the day’s schedule, or where they will be at certain times of the day
• Insufficient staffing
• Significant overtime
• Micromanagement, which hinders the ability of staff members to concentrate on the main job
• A manager who constantly performs work for his subordinates because he thinks he will do a better job
• A large stream of routine tasks that prevent a manager from performing the main job
• Working in conditions of constant haste, which leads to overwork
• A mismatch between the leading employee and the leadership position held
• Inadequate assessment of a particular employee’s abilities and performance speed
• A lack of mission on the part of an employee
• An employee’s inability to control emotions, expressions or personal needs
• Weak motivation (for example, wages have not increased for a long time; there have been no promotions for a long time)
Planning your time means preparing for the realization of goals. Spending just a few minutes planning your workday can save hours each day. It is important to have a clear understanding of your functions, goals, tasks and time budget. It is also important to constantly monitor and adjust your plan, taking into account any changes in your situation.
When managing your time, the following processes are important:
• Analyze how much actual time you are able to dedicate to your task.
• Employ only those time management strategies that take into account the amount of time you can possibly allocate for the task.
• Set realistic goals.
• Plan and prioritize other tasks you may have on your agenda. Develop a timeline to achieve your set goals.
• Implement concrete steps and actions to achieve your goals.
• When a particular stage of achievement is reached, sum up the results. It is advisable to keep a record of the achieved results.
When planning, the following basic rules should be taken into account:
Prioritizing your tasks is particularly important. Divide tasks into categories based on their significance. The most important tasks should make up approximately 15 percent of the total number of tasks. Remember that completion of those tasks is key to the achievement of your goals.
Use task analysis:
• Make a list of all tasks for the time period.
• Systematize tasks by their importance and sort them into categories.
• Number the tasks.
• Determine if the least important tasks can be delegated.
Proper time management helps you make better use of your personal time as well. Balancing your personal life with your professional life is an important key to your career success. Be sure to devote the proper amount of time to family needs and rest. Set aside time each day for leisure activities as well. Watching a short movie, reading a story, or talking to a friend on the phone, even for few minutes, may help tremendously. Using long holidays as mini-vacations is a great option to prevent fatigue and burnout, and to improve your well-being. During your vacation, put rules in place regarding the use of the phone, e-mail, the Internet, etc., to ensure you disconnect.
Proper planning increases productivity. Unfortunately, from time to time unforeseen distractions can arise during the course of one’s work. Occasionally you may need to delegate your tasks to address unexpected circumstances such as emergent cases. In these instances you may choose to complete only one or two of your planned tasks. It is wise in these situations to refrain from multitasking. If you become overwhelmed, you must inform your manager. Patient safety is our number one priority.
Melinda Aquino, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Department of Anesthesiology at Montefiore Medical Center.
Sergey Pisklakov, M.D., is an associate professor and director of the neuroanesthesia fellowship in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Department of Anesthesiology at Montefiore Medical Center.
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