The Fundamental Art of Getting Stuff Done

Courtesy of FlickrWe are busy. Patients, charting, meetings, business plans, e-mails, and texts flood our daily life whether we are in the office, operating room, or at home on the weekends. By profession, I think doctors are more efficient than the average person. We could still do better. Remember, the sooner and more efficiently you can finish your tasks, the higher your hourly rate becomes.

We all have our methods to get stuff done. No single strategy is going to be better than any other, but I have a few pointers that have gotten me through 50 e-mail days. Below is the Smart Money MD rules for getting stuff done.

Don’t Panic.

One of the administrators at my practice receives over 100 e-mails a day in addition to phone calls. I’ve had several days where my inbox had over 50 e-mails! Sometimes you run late in clinic, have meetings to attend, and then have dozens of tasks to complete or phone calls to return. Realize that our work lives have become so much more complex than it used to be, and so has medical practice. The world will not end if you don’t finish every task.

Prioritize using Buckets.

I am not a fan of “To Do” lists. It works great for groceries and a handful of household tasks/errands that I need to run. But in the workplace, many tasks fall into grey zones and these tasks end up staying on the list for an indefinite amount of time without being dealt with.

The goal of having buckets is to have a means to store your pending tasks without having to think about them while you’re doing something else. We have limited cognitive processing power, and the more we keep in our minds, the more likely we become distracted from the task at hand. Remember, the sooner you finish the task you are working on, the sooner you can move on to the next.

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I recommend keeping two mental “buckets”: one for getting stuff done right away and one for everything else. Every end of the week, the goal is to clear out the everything else bucket and start with a clean slate. Prioritization is key. The right away bucket should have patient tasks, lab follow-ups, and other needs that must be taken care of by the end of the day.

Prioritize the items within the bucket.

Every morning I quickly review the tasks for the day, and reprioritize them during the day as new issues arise. The items that must be performed during business hours take precedence, and tasks that can be taken care of via e-mail are taken care of immediately. Once the e-mails have been sent, the task is done. Get rid of it from your memory.

When your right away bucket has been emptied, review the everything else bucket and move accordingly.

You may never finish.

Remember that even though you are hypomanic, you are still human. Society has forced us to work efficiently whether or not getting tasks done actually create positive value to society. Be aware that you may never finish everything that is thrown at you. Take care of your patients, finish your charts, and work hard. The rest will fall into place.

How much time per day do you spend reading and sending emails?

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