4 habits most physicians want to break (and how to do it)

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published January 26, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Several habits, like running late and spending excessive time on EHRs, can interfere with patient care.

  • Eliminating or redirecting the trigger for these habits can help eliminate stress and help you focus on your patients.

Everyone has a habit or two that they would like to kick, but certain habits are harder to break than others, especially for clinicians who are almost constantly crunched for time.

Habits are reinforced in three parts, according to the authors of an article posted on the Harvard Business Review: First, there’s a trigger, then a behavior, and finally a reward.

Eliminating or redirecting the trigger for unwanted habits can help eliminate stress and help you focus on your patients.

Running late

You’re busy. Everyone gets it. Everyone knows that you are seeing dozens of patients a day, and time is a luxury. Nevertheless, the sting of being late still affects colleagues, friends, family, and acquaintances. How can you stop being late?

According to an expert at Psychology Today, the following may help:

  • Reconsider how long a task will take. If you think it will take 30 minutes to make a run to the dry cleaner, add a 25% to 50% time buffer. If the task is bigger, this buffer will keep you on schedule. Also remember to factor in time drains such as parking and waiting in line.

  • Beware of doing “one more thing.” Multitasking is natural, doing just one more thing before you need to be somewhere is an easy habit to fall into. Resist this temptation! Doing one more thing could result in you being late—even if it’s just checking your email or reading one more abstract.

  • Refrain from thinking you can do everything faster. It’s tempting to sleep in one morning and think that you’ll just take less time to do something later in the day. The problem is that you end up being stressed, and it’s hard to do everything more quickly. It’s best to avoid the temptation of doing things faster and to realize real limitations on your time.

  • Make being early your new routine. Try to be 10 or 15 minutes early to as many things as possible. Being early will make you feel relaxed and often allow you to do a couple little chores while you wait, like checking your email or reading that one last abstract.

Related: Cut these 5 habits if you want to last in medicine

Falling behind on EHRs

The “reward” for falling behind on charts is that you seemingly don’t have to worry about them for a bit. But charts pile up—and with EHRs, notetaking is a process. According to the authors of an article published in FPM, there are ways to help.

  • Employ the assistance of others: The use of scribes is increasing in popularity, and they can provide robust documentation. Even if you don’t employ a scribe, however, assistants or nurses can help by documenting things such as a patient’s medical history or current complaints.

  • Chart in the room: Do as much notetaking as possible in the exam room. Summarizing the notes out loud will help to engage the patient. You can also complete electronic prescriptions while with the patient.

  • Leverage EHR functions: Using copy-and-paste functionality and templates can go a long way toward saving time.

  • Keep it brief: Not all boxes require checking. Keep abreast of documentation guidelines and provide only the necessary information. Resist the temptation to produce the “perfect” chart that completely encapsulates the patient. Remember: You’re writing a brief note, not a biography.

  • Time yourself: Use your smartphone or watch to set a maximum time for each note. Typically, this time is 5 minutes or less.

Related: 6 healthy eating struggles of the busy physician—and how to solve them

Poor nutrition

Physicians are so busy that many find it hard to take time and eat nutritious foods at work. Although candy bars and chips from the vending machine may taste delicious, they do little for your health. 

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Keep hydrated by carrying a water bottle or taking a swig from the water fountain whenever possible.

  • Bring a few nutritious foods to work, and keep less healthy snacks out of sight to avoid temptation.

  • Avoid snacking while bored, and don’t bring too many of your favorite foods to work.

  • Eat a healthy breakfast replete with protein, healthy fats, and fiber.


As a physician, you hold yourself to high standards. Beware, however, of holding yourself to excessively high standards and being critical of yourself when you don’t achieve them. Perfectionism can put undue stress on your well being.

“You can continue to be someone else’s best, or you can focus on becoming your best, focusing on becoming 1% better every day,” according to a post on Medicine Revived. “Many of us understand the concept of compounding. In 1 year, if you worked on getting 1% better every day, you would have improved 3,800%. So focus on small incremental improvements daily. Whatever it is, make sure you are constantly moving forward. It will feel imperceptible at first but will reap dividends for you. Consistency is the key.”

What does this mean for you?

Unwanted habits are common among physicians and all other professionals. Fortunately, there are strategies to break them. Importantly, mindfulness may play a role. The insight derived from recognizing the reward of the habit may help you break it. The key is to realizing that the apparent positives of the reward are really negative.


  1. Fogarty CT. Getting Your Notes Done on Time. FPM. Published 2016.

  2. Hendriksen E. How to Stop Being Late. Psychology Today. Published 2021.

  3. Brewer J. How to Break Up with Your Bad Habits. Harvard Business Review. Published 2019.

  4. Karydes H. How to Break These 5 Bad Habits That Doctors Make. Medicine Revived. Published 2021.

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