4 tips for time management

Ben Falkenmire

writer

Ben Falkenmire

Writer

Ben Falkenmire

The power of a quick pause, and other wellbeing tips.

Time management is not a core subject taught in medical school or in professional development courses, but maybe it should be, since GPs are constantly up against the clock. Most learn ways to better manage their time, but for some busy doctors it remains an insidious challenge that can wear them down.

That was Hugh Kearns’ observation while working with GPs in rural South Australia and Adelaide. Based on the experience, the Flinders University psychologist and his colleague, Dr Maria Gardiner, wrote a time management guide for GPs.

“What we were seeing was that the more senior doctors were repeating the same patterns and we thought: wouldn’t it be good to get in early before bad habits develop,” Kearns says.

Give yourself a moment before you commit

One recommendation from Kearns is to pause before deciding whether to commit to an additional responsibility that will only further cram the work week.

“GPs find it difficult because they are people who like to help people. But the problem is there’s no end to it. Often, the more successful you are, the more opportunity you get. And they end up burning out or overwhelmed,” Kearns says.

“Our suggestion is to learn not to say ‘yes’ straight away. Tell them you need to think it through before you commit to that new committee or training program. Then have a think about if it’s a good idea. Usually, nothing bad’s going to happen if you say ‘no’.”

 

Integrate paperwork into office hours

Kearns suggests flipping the habit of doing paperwork outside of normal office hours on its head and either do it while the patient is present, or block out time in the schedule specifically for it.

“One doctor we know blocks out extra consultations every afternoon to catch up with paperwork. Sometimes if she is running late, she doesn’t get to do much paperwork, but it helps her catch up. On other days it allows her to get ahead,” he says.

Another scheduling tip is to book in catch-up appointments to get around the habit of always running late with consult times.

“Go through this with reception staff and explain that catch-up times can’t be booked out. Reiterate this many times if necessary. Interestingly, staff told us doctors break this rule more often than they do,” he says.

Schedule yourself in first

Dr Jo Braid, a physician and burnout recovery coach for doctors, says quality downtime is often overlooked, but it’s time to change that.

“If we’re meant to have sustainable workforces we really need to identify where the individual is as a priority every single day. That’s a high priority. Allocate time for yourself first, because that’s probably being left out or getting steamrolled by something else,” Dr Braid says.

“Go out for a walk, get some sunshine, or connect with somebody in the lunchroom. That change of space performs a reset and is much better than motoring through for 10 hours nonstop.”

Be present

An optimal work life balance is about quality not quantity, says psychologist, executive coach and founder of The Anxiety Clinic, Dr Jodie Lowinger.

“I deal with a lot of people who are high performers and want to be everything to everyone, and it’s just unachievable in a busy world,” says Dr Lowinger.

“It’s about being in the moment with your children or spouse when the moment happens. The same with patients or colleagues. Mindfulness is a big part of time management.”

Kearns agrees. He tells the story of one doctor’s spouse who once noted “patients get the best and we get the rest.”

“Her husband was giving his best attention to patients and then the family got the leftovers, which is usually when he was exhausted and worn out,” Kearns says.

 

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Ben Falkenmire

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Ben Falkenmire

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