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7 Time Management Tools, Tips and Techniques for the Successful Healthcare Leader

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One common complaint I hear when I interview healthcare professionals is lack of time. It seems everyone is so busy, yet I wonder if we are doing what needs to be done in order to ensure positive patient and employee experiences. Sure clinically, I believe we are doing what is essential…but that alone does not translate into outstanding patient and employee satisfaction.  And we do need both. In fact, great clinical work is simply the bare minimum of what we should be doing if we want our patients and employees to rave about us!

Time management for the healthcare leader is an essential skill that must be mastered in order to survive in this crazy healthcare economy. This article highlights 7 time management tools, tips and techniques that can be used by every healthcare professional to get control of their time. This will then allow you to spend more time with your patients and your staff so you can deliver great results to your boss and cultivate exceptional patient and employee satisfaction in your department.

1. Nurture a Positive Attitude:

The more you believe you can control, the more you will try to control, and the more you will control. Of course there are certain crisis that none of us can anticipate. However, letting the possibility of such disasters govern our daily behavior is self-defeating. Most of us can probably control far more than we believe we can. Yet we often allow the events of our day determine our attitude. I have often seen a nurse walk onto a unit and say within seconds that it was going to be a bad day…and guess what? It probably was. The problem is not a shortage of time, but how you choose to use the time available to you.

Be aware of the attitude you display during the day as a leader. Your staff watches and takes cues from you on how to react to different situations. Be the positive role model for them. Here are 7 ways a positive attitude can help you to manage your time better according to Craig Jarrow the author of the Time Management Ninja:

i)              Makes People Want to Help – A positive attitude makes others want to help you

ii)            Avoids Wasting Time Complaining – Complaining doesn’t get anything done

iii)          Keeps Your Energy Level High – A positive attitude can lift you up even in hard times.

iv)          Builds Teamwork – A positive attitude is contagious. It brings people together.

v)            Determines Your Confidence – As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t… you’re right.”

vi)          Solves Problems Instead of Making Problems –A positive attitude is sometimes all it takes to turn a bad situation around. On the other side, a  bad attitude can take a problem and quickly make it worse.

vii)           Helps You Make Good Decisions – Anger clouds your judgment.

2. Create a Clear Focus on Your Goals

Focusing on goals must become a habit. Never make a phone call, or hold a meeting or go see someone without first being clear on what you hope to achieve (the goal). Continually ask yourself how is what you are doing going to help you achieve your intended results. When you stop thinking about intended results, you get bogged down in tasks that just make you busier, not more successful. It is not about how much you do, but how much you get done that counts.

How do you know you have a good goal? Make sure it is a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and timed.   Be sure to have one significant goal every day…and it can’t be just to make it through the day! Don’t quit before you reach these daily goals and before long this will be a habit. Of all the functions involved in management, planning is the most important. As the old saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Setting goals is the first and most critical step in the planning process.

3. Plan Your Priorities, the activities to achieve your goal

It is simple, right? Decide on your goals, determine which activities must be done to reach that goal and then do them! Well, it’s not always that simple. We all know we should do the important activities first, yet we often find ourselves doing the things that we like to do, or the activities that we find most interesting. However, your priorities are the important activities, your must do’s, the activities that contribute significantly to achieving our goals that must be tackled before anything else.

How do you decide what to do first? Everything is important in healthcare, right? Important yes, but equally important… No!! First you must distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. Important activities are the ones that contribute significantly to achieving your goals. Yet the irony is they don’t always need to be done right away. The urgent ones are the activities that relentlessly call for our attention, make endless demands on us, apply pressure every hour of every day for us, and yet don’t necessarily get us closer to reaching our goals. You know exactly what I mean…the phone calls from another department head that doesn’t know how to do the budget in the new software program and calls you for help one hour before it’s due or the staff member that desperately needs to change his/her schedule right now because they can’t work next weekend.

A simple way to help you stay focused is a concept presented by author Gary Keller in “THE ONE THING. The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results”. His big question to get you closer to your goal is: What is the ONE THING you can do now such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary. That is it! Just one thing you can do now…not what twenty or one hundred things…just one thing. Perhaps it is just taking a few minutes right now to have that conversation you know you have been avoiding. You will immediately begin to gain more clarity, improved productivity and therefore greater success!

4. Analyze Your Present Patterns

If you want better results, you probably have to change the way you spend your time! Trouble is most of us have no idea where our time goes. Chances are you think you know how you spend your time more than you actually do. Relying on memory is very misleading when we need an accurate account of how much time we spend on activities.   In order to master your time, you need to know exactly how you are spending it now. You need a baseline. Recording a time log is the best way to discover this. It is usually a huge eye-opener when done correctly. Our habits determine much of what we do daily. Understanding your time habits through a time log makes it easier for you to know how to create better ones that will result in a better use of your time and more likely achievement of your goals. I know! A time log takes time! I assure you, it will be some of the best time you ever spent on yourself. For three to five days simply write down EVERYTHING you do at work in 15 minute increments. Write down what you do, when you do it, why you do it and with whom. Don’t slouch on this…it will truly be a waste of time if you do it half- heartedly. Once you are done, take the time to analyze, look for patterns, look for redundancies, look for time wasters and time robbers…yes they are out there looking for you! Remember you are simply looking for ways to make small incremental changes to gain back control over your time.

5. Reduce the Unwanted Interruptions

Face it; interruptions are part of our jobs in healthcare. So there will be many things we cannot eliminate…family phone calls, trips to the pharmacy, staff questions. However, you now have a mighty weapon to help reduce unwanted and unwarranted interruptions…your time log. The single most useful approach to get a handle on interruptions is to analyze who interrupts you, when they interrupt you, how long they interrupt you for and the reason for the interruption. Once you have analyzed them, you can systematically work at controlling them. I would bet most of your interruptions are relatively unimportant…so they can probably wait. Schedule a time in your day to deal with these routine interruptions. Ask the interrupter to come back during that time and that you would be glad to help them then. You might be surprised to see they take care of the issue themselves and don’t come back later for your help, saving you time. And PLEASE make sure you are not the Time Robber in someone else’s life.

6. Evaluate all your Meetings

Many healthcare leaders say meetings are their biggest waste of time. Very rarely do you hear someone say; yes that meeting was so worth it! You know the common reasons for wasting time in meetings …go ahead and list them. Are you the culprit? Do you schedule meetings with no agenda or real purpose? Do you invite people to fill up the room but who have no real need to be there? Do you have an agenda and fail to follow it or allow members on the team to monopolize the time? Do you start late, end late or always call emergency meetings that no one can prepare for? If you said yes to any of these common reasons for wasting time in meetings, please take a moment before you call your next meeting.

7. Foster Teamwork

No one can survive in healthcare without teamwork. No one succeeds alone and no one fails alone. There is only one better question than “what is the best use of my time” and that is “what is the best use of OUR time?” Top performance in healthcare mandates everyone working together toward a common goal. Together we can do so much more. It is important to realize the value of partners whether they be your subordinates, your co-workers or your superiors. The success of every healthcare organization depends on great team work and positive working relationships. Consider making teamwork the topic of your next staff meeting. Ask your staff “what are the biggest challenges to teamwork in the department?” and diligently work to eliminate them

Now go…become a master of your own time!