Ten Steps to Better Time Management
Your days are busy; that's why time management skills are crucial.
September 6, 2010
A health care professional's day is a busy one. Sometimes, it may seem that there are not enough hours - or minutes - to accomplish everything that you need to do. That's why time management skills are crucial.
"Wasting just 1 hour a day means in 10 years you will have lost 3,650 hours or 152 days of your life. Every hour is important," according to Christopher S. Frings, PhD, CSP, a health care consultant and speaker from Birmingham, AL.
Dr. Frings described time management as a survival skill. "To be able to survive and thrive, you have to be able to manage your time effectively," he said. "You cannot manage time -- you can only manage events. Time management is making good choices and using the time you have effectively. It's a learned and acquired skill and something that has to be practiced every day. "When you ask health care professionals what the most important thing they wish they had control over, they'd say time management," said Dr. Frings.
Administrators and clinical managers need to learn time management skills because the demands on their time are getting increasingly difficult, said Lisa Henderson, a medical technologist now working for a proficiency testing provider.
"When I first started out as a laboratory technologist, our main focus was in the clinical lab setting, and that's just not how it is any longer," she said. "It became a necessity for me to organize both my work and personal life.
"There are a number of different methods out there, but I didn't find a particular one that met my needs, so I picked little pieces here and there that fit with what my priorities are," she revealed. "I mainly looked in different journals that had tips more specific for the medical environment."
Dr. Frings, author of the AACC Press book, The Hitchhikers Guide to Effective Time Management, said that to practice good time management, you have to make it a habit.
"It takes 21 days to develop a new habit. I give people a 30-day plan to free up 2 hours a day," he said. "You have to do it a little bit every day, and it's primarily identifying your top five time wasters and getting control of them."
Dr. Frings outlined 10 ways to better use your time to help you get on the road to managing it wisely.
Step 1: Set Goals
First, he suggests that you set goals and have a plan to reach those goals.
"Goals are the building blocks of time management," said Dr. Frings. "Without time management, you can't achieve your goals. Without goals, you cannot practice time management. Goals are vehicles to make our dreams come true."
Frings also suggests writing your goals down.
"Writing a goal clarifies it. If you cannot write the goals, you probably cannot achieve them," he said. "Ask yourself if what you are about to do will help you accomplish one of your goals or objectives in life."
Step 2: Prioritize
"If you fail to plan, you are, in effect, planning to fail," said Dr. Frings. "Each hour you spend in effective planning can save you 3 to 4 hours in execution and achieve better results."
He suggested that you prioritize your work by creating a "To Do" list at the end of each day. Assign the letters A, B, C and D to the items on the list, with A's being most important and D's being least important. Review the list in the morning and spend more time on the more important projects.
Henderson uses a program to send notes, prioritize jobs and plan out her schedule in relation to daily, weekly, monthly and long-term projects.
"For me, the best way to manage time is figuring out what's most important to me and making sure those tasks are getting completed," instructed Henderson.
Henderson pulls up her daily calendar and evaluates it at the beginning of each day. "On most of my projects, I evaluate how long it is going to take me to accomplish it," she said. "I put things on my calendars as a reminder. I usually tend to try to have my calendar current for 6 to 12 months out. Normally, I set that up with that frequency and add to it. Therefore, I can evaluate my time.
"Keep the calendar current most of the time so you don't feel like you're ending up spending a lot of time catching up," she also advised.
"The key to prioritizing is to isolate and identify that valuable 20 percent," noted Frings. "If you have a list of 10 things to do and you do the right two, you get 80 percent of your work completed."
Step 3: Increase Effectiveness, Reduce Urgency
"Efficiency means doing the job right, but effectiveness means doing the right job efficiently," said Dr. Frings. He explained that important tasks are usually non-urgent, long-term tasks. To better manage your time, spend more on the important tasks and less on so-called "urgent" tasks. "Work toward reducing the urgent things you must do so you'll have time for your priorities."
One way to increase effectiveness it to start meetings on time, said Henderson. "After a while, people realize that they need to show up for the meetings on time," she said.
"However, you have to respect their schedules, too. Have an agenda and set a time limit for each topic. Make sure the follow-up is easy so everyone in the group knows who has the responsibility to complete different tasks."
Step 4: Delegate Effectively
Frings said that to be a good leader, you need to become an effective delegator. "A catalyst causes things to happen without it being used up," he explained. "If you don't delegate, you'll soon be 'used up.' If you don't delegate well, you will attempt too much and will be involved in crisis management."
"Determine what you can delegate," agreed Henderson. "Some tasks might be more important to complete but maybe you're not the one to do them."
Step 5: Manage Your Details
"Stay away from routine details, but pay attention to important ones," Dr. Frings said. "Minimize, consolidate, delegate or just eliminate them if possible."
"Organize your day," Henderson added. "Normally, a day's going to traditionally fit into a normal pattern. Use the first half hour of your day to take care of little things like checking messages and returning phone calls so that they are out of the way as soon as possible."
Tidy up before you leave to make it easier for you when you return to the office in the morning. "I leave my desk in an organized manner so I know exactly what I need to do when I come in," Henderson said.
Step 6: Just Say No
"No is the most powerful time-saving word in the English dictionary," said Dr. Frings. It's a hard word to say for many people, so it is important that you learn how to decline tactfully, yet firmly when a task doesn't help you achieve your goals.
"Point out that your motivation is not to get out of work but to save time to do a better job on your goals and your plan to reach your goals," he said. "When you are convinced of the importance of saying 'no' to the unimportant things, life gets easier."
Step 7: Control Interruptions
Dr. Frings suggests establishing times during the day when you will not be interrupted. You should plan for interruptions so that your day is not ruined if you are disturbed a couple times.
"When you plan to be interrupted, schedule routine tasks," he advised.
Step 8: Use New Technology
Take advantage of as much technology as possible as you go about your daily routine. "Remember to listen to instructional and motivational cassette tapes while traveling and waiting," said Dr. Frings. "Practice your presentations into a tape player and play them back."
Step 9: Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection
"Excellence is attainable, gratifying and healthy. Perfection is often unattainable and causes frustration. Striving for perfection frequently costs more time than the increased benefits justify," warned Frings. It's a waste of time to try to do things perfectly every time -- you are striving for something that you cannot necessarily achieve, and, therefore, causing yourself and others added stress.
Step 10: Control Procrastination
"Procrastination is the habit of indecision," said Dr. Frings. To conquer procrastination, visualize the end result of the task you need to complete instead of the task itself. Ways to accomplish this are to use "To Do" lists effectively and reward yourself when you complete a job. Henderson suggests that you try to leave the office at the office. "It's very hard for people," she admitted.
"Every once in a while when I'm really feeling behind on something, I come in on Saturday or work late. When I finish the tasks, it's a great sense of relief that I know it is done and I can move on to the next thing instead of having it hang constantly over my head."
Time management is an ongoing process. "Things change all the time and you may need to tweak things here or there," Henderson advised.
"Time management reduces stress, increases productivity and helps you reach your goals," said Frings. "It helps you in your personal, mental and spiritual life -- it's a lifestyle that I live every day.
"If time management was easy to do, everyone would be doing it," he continued. However, the challenge of practicing good time management is worth the end result -- more time.
"Time is money," he said. "You only have a certain amount of it every day. It's just your choice how you want to spend it."
Rebecca Thimm is a former staff member of ADVANCE.
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