May 1999 Table of Contents

Balancing Act

Get a Life by Clearing the Clutter

These techniques will turn your mountain of work into a manageable molehill.

Fam Pract Manag. 1999 May;6(5):60.

How you approach your work has as much to do with what you get done in a day as does the number and size of the tasks you perform. Take paperwork for example. Handle it well and it becomes a routine task. Handle it poorly and you get buried beneath a mountain of memos, reports and forms. The following steps will help you streamline your work habits. In return, you'll have more time and energy to devote to the things that are most important to you.

Build white space into your calendar

Don't fall into the trap of scheduling every working and waking moment. Plan your schedule to about 80 percent capacity when you're going to be in the office and to about 50 percent capacity when you're returning from a trip. For example, when you'll be in the office, schedule about 40 hours of work for a 50-hour work week, knowing that another 10 hours of “stuff” will appear.

End the work-and-wait pattern

Waiting for information, equipment or resources can be a huge time waster. Here are some tips to help you minimize, if not prevent, these work slowdowns:

  • Get other people's buy-in on due dates before you schedule tasks,

  • Let people know that you don't necessarily need the information in its final form,

  • Remind everyone involved that you need the information as soon as it's available.

Be wary of high-tech “time savers”

Before you become enamored with any time-saving gadget, consider how much hidden time you'll invest in its use — time to select and purchase it, time to learn how to operate it, time to set it up, time to repair it, time to insure it and time to replace it. It's important to recognize that even low-tech items such as pens and paper clips can be real time savers by helping you plan and organize your work.

Clutter your to-do list, not your mind

Most people's minds can hold only about seven chunks of information at once. Why push your luck? If you frequently have flashes of brilliance when you're in the shower, out for a walk or driving, get into the habit of writing them down immediately rather than trying to juggle them in your mind. People who make lists stay on target and save time between tasks because they don't have to wonder what comes next; it's written down. Those who don't make lists are at the mercy of their memory and spur-of-the-moment events.

Create systems for daily tasks

Systems and routines can help make work go faster, cheaper and better. If you find yourself collecting the same information over and over, create a form for it. Post operating instructions next to vital equipment. Write a handout to answer frequently asked questions. Keep an updated file of patient information handouts to educate your patients and address their concerns.

Get the work done

If you're feeling depressed about the incomplete tasks hanging over your head, or if you're facing a monumental task and need to get a jump start on it, you may need a “work marathon” to help you get over the hump. To run a work marathon, put in a few extra hours, work fast, don't take breaks and don't allow interruptions. Working a few days like this, you'll feel caught up enough to face the world again. The exhilaration and satisfaction you experience from what you've accomplished will erase the fatigue, and you'll be free to move on to something you'd rather do.

Before you find your workload beginning to overtake you, try a few of these tips. You'll get more done and be better equipped to handle even the most out-of-control days.

Dianna Booher is chief executive officer of Booher Consultants, a communications consulting firm in Dallas.


© 1999, Dianna Booher. Reproduced with permission.

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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