10 ways doctors can boost their productivity

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published June 21, 2019

Key Takeaways

Productivity is defined as “a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc, in converting inputs into useful outputs,” according to the Business Dictionary.

In healthcare systems throughout the country, many practice managers obsessively measure productivity in terms of work relative value units (wRVUs), which conflate skill, effort, and risk into a code that can guide reimbursement or calculate physician pay in a hospital-employed or academic practice.

But, on its own, the wRVU is merely a metric, and its practical application to the everyday lives of physicians and other healthcare physicians is tenuous. You don’t need to measure wRVUs to know if your productivity is lagging—the backlog on your desk will probably give you a better idea. And—if this happens to be the case—here are 10 practical tips that can help you boost productivity.

1. The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1990s and is named after the tomato-shaped timer that he used to track his work while at university. This method involves breaking larger tasks into short, timed intervals called “pomodoros.” These pomodoros are typically 25 minutes in length, and punctuated by short breaks of 5 minutes. Importantly, the breaks enhance your motivation and keep you going.

Proponents claim that this approach trains the brain to focus in short periods and stay on top of deadlines or tasks that recur frequently. For instance, if you’re behind on your charts—which seem to flow incessantly—try the Pomodoro Technique! If interested in employing this technique, apps are available for your smartphone or desktop.

2. The 2-minute rule

Do you ever find yourself postponing small tasks that are not difficult at all, like making a phone call to a patient? Well, then the 2-minute rule may help. If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, do it now, according to David Allen’s bestselling book Getting Things Done. The 2-minute rule is designed to make it easier to get started on the things you should be doing.

3. Switching tasks

It’s no fun doing one task for too long. Switching tasks can add variety to your routine. For instance, instead of doing most of your yearly continuing medical education (CME) requirements in one marathon weekend, try breaking up these requirements by doing a little every few weeks throughout the year.

4. Declutter

Decluttering your workspace can help you focus better. Per organization guru Marie Kondo, try to keep everything in its own place, get rid of excess papers that can be accessed online, and try to store things vertically for better visibility.

5. Monotask

Multitasking is pernicious because it splits your focus while giving you a false sense of accomplishment and, ultimately, results in undue stress. Instead of concentrating on many things at once, try monotasking. Consider, for instance, spending time with one patient at a time instead of constantly scurrying between examination rooms and seeing several patients at once.

6. Set deadlines and keep them

Researchers have shown that people who have self-control issues often fail when imposing self-deadlines. Instead, it’s best to evenly space deadlines and have an outside party help you enforce them. This help may come from a nurse, physician assistant, or office manager—somebody who is aware of your responsibilities and works closely with you. For instance, an office manager can help you set deadlines to complete medical dictations.

7. Prioritize

Just as with your differential diagnoses and treatment plans, it’s best to prioritize your responsibilities. For instance, filling out patient charts should be prioritized over ensuring the supply closet is fully stocked

8. Put down the cell phone

The ordinary American spends a whopping 5 hours a day on mobile devices, with half this time spent on social media. If you have a busy day, it’s a good idea to store your cell phone in a secure yet accessible location. Doing so will definitely increase your productivity.

9. Advance planning

After setting goals and prioritizing tasks, spend time planning your workload over longer periods of time. Planning for a single day is reactionary, with attention quickly gobbled up by urgent activities. Instead, experiment with weekly or monthly planning to achieve long-term goals. For instance, if you’re writing a review article, submitting a grant, or developing new curricula, planning over the long haul can help you get things done.

10. Select the best environment

Different people work best in different environments, but all people work well in environments with minimal distraction. If you plan to spend Sunday catching up with journal articles, don’t do it while watching television or playing with the kids. Instead, retire to the solitude of your home office or a local library to keep productive.

As you can see, none of these methods for boosting productivity are particularly difficult. But, they do require commitment. Following any of these tips—or even a few of them—may help improve not only your productivity, but your quality of life, practice revenue, and patient satisfaction as well. Good luck!

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter