Jan 2001 Table of Contents

Balancing Act

Why Working Smarter Isn’t Working Anymore



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When you’re doing more and it still isn’t enough, it may be time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Fam Pract Manag. 2001 Jan;8(1):70.

This content conforms to AAFP CME criteria. See FPM CME Quiz.

What would I, a time-management expert, say if you told me that, despite your best efforts to “work smarter, not harder,” you still can’t get it all done? I’d say, “You’re absolutely right. You can’t.” “Sure, tell that to my family and patients,” you may say.

Advances in technology are stepping up the pace of our days and are causing precious aspects of our lives, such as the five I’ve listed below, to fall by the wayside. Setting limits and defining priorities are more important than ever if we want to preserve some of the things we used to take for granted. Here are a few easy ways to begin to take control.

The livable work day

Has technology really given you more time, or are you more “connected” than you want to be? Cell phones, pagers and computer technology have blurred the line between work and home. And new technology that will make it easier for us to multi-task during our personal time is on the horizon. Consider this: the Ford Motor Company has a prototype minivan equipped with a wet and dry vacuum, a trash compactor (for all those meals eaten in the car), a microwave oven and a small washing machine (no dryer).

Rx: Don’t wait for a block of time to do things in your personal life. Scheduling personal time (and adhering to that schedule) should be considered as sacred as your patient appointment schedule. To re-establish some personal time, start by turning off your cell phone during two short car trips per week. Try it for several weeks. If you don’t miss it, do it more often. And don’t give out your cell phone number to people who can make do with your pager number; that keeps you in control.

Lunchtime

Do you take a break for lunch? Two-thirds of meals in the United States are eaten on the run. Today’s dining rooms are our desks and cars.

Rx: Decide that three days a week you and your staff will take an hour for lunch. Work toward a full week of lunches.

The dining room table

The dining room table has traditionally served as the venue for children to learn manners, character and ethics. Today families take their meals at the dining room table an average of two times per week; that’s four times per week less than in the 1980s. For many of us, our families are our most important support group. Shouldn’t they rank higher on our priority lists?

Rx: While this won’t be easy to accomplish, try to get the family together for one more meal per week. You may define a “meal together” in a non-traditional sense. Perhaps everyone could get up early on Saturday, even the teenagers. Or perhaps Sunday lunch could be sacred. Whatever you decide, I guarantee a valuable return on your investment.

Lag time

Lag time is a thing of the past that patients are finding harder to accept. Technology promised and delivered a faster pace and faster response times, and expectations have increased accordingly. The last test tube of blood is barely full before the patient wants to know, “When will I have the results?”

Rx: Recognize that you sometimes have little or no control over response time. In those cases, all you can do is acknowledge your patients’ eagerness and provide reassurance.

Courtesy and civility

Our fast-paced lives increase our stress levels and may also affect the level of courtesy we extend to others.

Rx: Think about how your patients would describe you and your practice. Are there additional ways to be courteous and civil? A kind smile or touch can be priceless to a vulnerable patient, colleague or family member. Do you greet a patient who’s endured an extended wait with a kind apology or reasonable explanation? One physician I know gives out car wash and restaurant gift certificates to patients who’ve had to wait an unusually long time. It is his way to say, “I value your time, too.”

More isn’t necessarily better

At this juncture in history, we all must decide what we can live with, and live without. The latest technology might promise greater efficiency, but, if you’re not careful about setting priorities, it may just make you increasingly ineffective.

Pam Vaccaro is president of Designs on Time, a consulting firm in St. Louis specializing in time management and organization. She is also a nationally recognized speaker and a contributing editor to Family Practice Management.

Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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