Budgeting Time for Time-Starved

There simply aren’t enough hours in a day.  I guess that if you are hypomanic, then you probably end up accomplishing more than the average person but you still might not think that there are enough hours in a day.  Fact of life.  As doctors, we think that we are able to budget time and multitask better than the average Joe on the street, but we still have demanding lives.  Patients to see. Kids to pick up from daycare before they charge you an inordinate amount of late fees (Yes, it happens in NYC). Meetings to prepare for. Meetings to attend. It doesn’t end. I am always impressed to see how some of my colleagues are able to accomplish so much with all of their obligations to meet. One could only wish that they had a device to stop time, but the overachievers we know simply find ways to tweak their schedules efficiently. It’s like how one doctor can see two patients and hour and another, four patients an hour.

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While I’m no time management savant, I’ve found myself more and more involved with assignments related to my job and out of work over the years. Some of it is gratifying work, others just a requirement of the job. As I am procrastinating on a budget proposal for my workplace, I’ve decided to reflect on five of the top strategies I’ve implemented for getting stuff done.

Do you wish you could stop the clock? I actually wish that I were younger, poorer, and have fewer responsibilities!

Without adieu, here they are:

  1. Sleep less. One less hour of sleep can accomplish a lot. If you slept one less hour a night for one year, you gain a little over fifteen days and potential productivity! Incredible. The key in trading sleep for productivity is that you have to ensure that you are actually productive. I slept very little during college, and I was probably very unproductive. If you intend to carve out extra time for a project in your already time-starved schedule, make sure you set goals and deadlines. Follow these deadlines and make yourself accountable if you have trouble accomplishing them.
  2. Outline your specific goals and how you intend to accomplish them. This concept parallels point #1.  For instance when I conducted clinical research, I had to follow deadlines to the extreme.  Some research topics were pitted against the clock.  If you don’t get your research published first, someone else will. (That’s right, it actually happened to me). Before anyone embarks on a research project, the research topic has to be deemed appropriate and that the hypotheses could be answered through this research.  We submit proposals to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and often work against a deadline in order to get the research approved. After all research is completed, there is yet another deadline to get the research analyzed and have a paper written.  Every journal will have different guidelines on publication. Once you submit, there is yet another deadline in order to respond back to the reviewers in order to have your research accepted for publication.  Outlining your goals allows you to have a set schedule to make progress.  The more concrete you make your goals, the more likely you can document your progress. Even though we’ve all been doing this our entire careers, I still find it difficult to accomplish.
  3. Make yourself accountable.  Did your parents ever bargain with you to eat your vegetables by offering you the gift of dessert afterward? Perhaps you do this to your kids too? Bloggers implement this strategy all the time by announcing to the world what they hope to accomplish.  Financial bloggers publicly announce that they plan to reach financial independence by a certain date, and start writing about how they’re going to achieve it.  Then it gets done (Mr. 1500 was the first FI blogger I came across who did this)  It is psychologically more acceptable to let yourself down than it is to let someone else down.  If someone else knows about your goals, you have a higher chance of achieving it because it gives you something to prove. You don’t have to write about your goals online, but you could confide in a friend, spouse, or colleague what you hope to achieve. Keep them posted on your progress. If they care enough about you, they will follow-up on your progress.
  4. Add a wager to your goals.  That’s right, if money if involved, people get serious.  There are a few doctors in my hospital who play semi-competitive golf and they always have a pot.  Most doctors have some sort of competitive blood. Use that to your advantage.  When I enter the NCAA Tournament pool with a buy-in, I get serious.  I dig through the stats and the most recent games that each team has played. If there wasn’t a wager, I probably wouldn’t go through the trouble to study the teams as much. (I did horribly again this year in my tournament bracket despite “working hard”).
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  That is what teams are for. There is validity in delegation of power. I remember that very rarely in medical school did a single person, no matter how smart she was, solve a problem before a group of people.  If you are short on time, see if there is someone who could help you out. In fact, I think that I should ask my office manager to help me out on this budget proposal…

What other time management strategies do you implement?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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