3 steps to becoming a more productive doctor

By Physician Sense, for MDLinx
Published August 15, 2019

Key Takeaways

Doctors are maximalists by training. Residency teaches them to do more with less. See more patients with the same amount of time. Work more hours with less sleep. File more documentation with less support staff. However, if a doctor wants to increase productivity, they need to take the opposite approach.

Increasing productivity often means thinking and acting like a minimalist. It’s about differentiating the essential from the unessential, setting a singular priority, and pursuing that priority with laser-beam focus. Increased productivity also requires improved time management.

Lucky for you, this is all easier than it sounds. Here are three steps to improving your productivity.

Step 1: Eliminate or minimize distractions

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but in many instances, it’s actually creating obstacles to our productivity. Some of the technological offenders, like social media, are more obvious time sucks. Others, such as email, are more insidious.

If your goal is to become a more productive physician, then you must begin here. Consider the following: Americans age 18 or older spend about an hour and 15 minutes on social media daily. Statistics regarding email use don’t look much better. The average American worker spends about 11 hours weekly reading and writing emails.

These are just two of the more common time consumers. Think of all the others that occupy your precious hours during the week: EHRs, authorizing refills, and calling patients, just to name a few. Some of these things are unavoidable elements of medicine. Others — like mindless technology use — can be eliminated.

Inventory your tasks and look for ways to streamline those that are essential and eliminate those that are superfluous. In many instances, devoting half-hour blocks of time to unavoidable administrative tasks will increase your productivity. Imagine if you set aside a half hour at the end of the day to plow through your email, rather than dipping into your inbox every time you have a spare second. Your attention and effort will be much more potent if you resist the compulsion to check email every time there’s a lull. By scheduling your administrative tasks, you’re taking control over them rather than letting them control you.

Step 2: Set a priority

After you’ve eliminated or minimized your distractions, it’s time to set a singular administrative priority for the day. This is the one make-or-break task that must get done that day. Setting a singular administrative priority for each day can be challenging for physicians because in most cases, doctors are trained to be reactive — responding to the needs of their patients. It can be an adjustment for some doctors to be more proactive. The key is to be proactive where and when you can, knowing that patient needs will always come first.

Priority is singular in that sentence for a reason. Physicians are some of the most Type-A, driven achievers on the planet. Their ability to take on large workloads and complex problems is practically without parallel. As a result, many of the unavoidable tasks mentioned in Step 1 have a way of piling up.

Assign an administrative priority to each day. Schedule where and when you’re going to take it on. Selecting multiple priorities daily will in all likelihood work against you when patient needs take over. By limiting yourself to a single priority, you’re choosing to make steady progress, which might not be as gratifying as plowing through your to-do list in one setting, but will prevent an administrative backlog. 

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