Time-Management Tips

Sep 12, 2011

Advice to help you focuson what you do best

By Amish Shah, MD, Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital

I’ve known for weeks that this piece on time management was due today, and ironically here I am writing it at the last minute. Fortunately, the following tips and thoughts about time management were collected from people who are far more successful at managing their time than I have been.

Know when to “single-task” versus multitask. Develop the ability to focus on one thing at a time when needed. I think this is the toughest tip to embrace for the recovering procrastinator, but it becomes easier with practice. The one thing that helps me “single-task” the most is disconnecting from the Internet. It’s amazing how much more productive I can be when the Internet is down.

Delegate at work. When things need to be done, and can be done equally if not more effectively by someone else, delegate them. With the end of residency and fellowship, we find ourselves in leadership positions. Assigning tasks to others can and will make your life better. This tip reminds me of the 80/20 principle, which is that 20% of what you do will generate 80% of your positive results. The converse is that 80% of your efforts don’t really count for all that much. So by delegating away, you can focus on the 20% of your efforts that do generate results, and in essence, focus on doing only what you do best.

Outsource everything you don’t want to do at home. This was perhaps the best piece of advice that I ever received as an intern. My program director said to me, “Amish, I’m not trying to say that you’re a messy person, but get a housekeeper. On that one day off a week from work, the last thing you’re going to want to do is clean or do laundry, so have someone else do it for you.”

Keep a comprehensive calendar. Don’t have a separate work schedule and personal schedule—just have one schedule with everything on it. This unified approach will give you a better representation of what’s going on each day and week, and it will help you avoid scheduling conflicts.

Do less. More often than not, “there isn’t enough time” really means you have too much to do. Edit. Prioritize what is really important and stick to those priorities. That means being realistic and learning to say “no,” so that your commitments reflect your priorities. Taking on less means getting more of what you take on done.

Schedule downtime. Don’t fill it. Even if someone invites you to do something really, really cool, try to stick to that downtime. It will make the rest of your day more productive.

Try to keep email from overwhelming you. That’s easier said than done, but I think it’s important to emphasize how one should not waste too much time with email, which can be a serious time-suck. One great method is to batch your emails if you can—sit down and reply to all of them once (or twice) a day. Avoid responding constantly over the course of the day, which will prevent you from focusing on more important tasks.

Have a support system. Surround yourself with trusted colleagues to help when you are out, and also be a good colleague and help out while others are away or overwhelmed. Remember that you’re not the only insanely busy person you know.

In summary, don’t be “doing” all the time. But when you are “doing,” focus.

My very special thanks goes to the following highly successful and very effective time managers for their keen insight and thoughtful contributions to this article: Aarthi Belani; Lisa A. Carey, MD; ChristineE. Hill, MD; Richard T. Lee, MD; and Susannah Tobin.

Dr. Shah is the chief resident in radiation oncology at Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He is a member of ASCO’s Professional Development Committee


Anthony Robert Herbert

Oct, 22 2011 6:10 PM

There are two helpful principles that I derived from this article.  Firstly, to focus on the task at hand.  This is particularly important during a busy clinic - to just stay in the moment with the patient in front of you.  The second is to not always be doing - but to schedule time in for thinking and also resting.  Dr Richard Swenson has used the term "margin" to describe a way of living and working at 80 or 90 % so that we have capacity to increase our output when required without putting too much stress on us.  The converse is working at 120 % - and not leaving any room to respond to extra needs.  Rather one is more likely to become stressed or even burn out if always giving out more than they can actually deliver.

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