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A New System for Organizing Your Medical Practice Tasks


Ranking tasks by priority (patient charts versus chatting with patients) helped this physician maintain balance at her practice and at home.

It seems that CNN has the answer to my time-management problems. In an article I read just yesterday, organizational expert Laura Stack broke down for me how to organize the growing pile accumulating on my desk and in my electronic in-basket. She advises breaking tasks into four categories:

P1: You will get fired if this isn't done today;
P2: A valuable long-term activity that should be done soon;
P3: Someone will be unhappy if this isn't done eventually;
P4: Human "pain-management" activities such as socializing or Facebook.

I see the problem right away. I’ve allowed P4 items (like reading CNN online) to take priority over P1 priorities (like my charts). Of course, this isn’t such a big revelation as I already had a strong suspicion that I should finish my charts before I catch up on the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise divorce saga. However, P2 and P3 are more helpful. I specialize in doing P2 activities and avoiding P3 activities. 

As I look across my desk, I see a Journal of the American Medical Association that has a great article I want to read… when I have time. Peeking out under another journal is the bright orange file folder that our clinic uses for forms and paperwork I need to sign. That’s definitely P3 worthy and I’ll probably avoid it for another two days at least. I see a pile of medical records that I need to read through, again when I have time. There are post-it note reminders about all kinds of P2 and P3 activities. While I’m sitting here typing, I got rid of one of the post-it notes that I already took care of two weeks ago.

I can also use this prioritization schema to triage the multiple concerns my patients bring into the exam room. I may get fired (by my patient) if I don’t address the burning issue they have (sometimes spoken, sometimes not). But, I try to squeeze in a few P2-level activities like referring for colonoscopy and P3-level activities like a tetanus booster. The P4-level socializing and chatting helps both of us deal with the other priorities.

I continually look at my family obligations through a similar triage lens. Just like my kids, I’d much rather engage in P4 level activities like playing flashlight tag instead of cleaning up after dinner (which is probably P1, at least in my house). My husband and I remind them about the P2 activities that still have to be done even though it’s summer, namely reading and practicing math. P3 activities are those unique needs each of us has that must be acknowledged and addressed by the whole family to keep things peaceful. For me, it’s maintaining some semblance of order and cleanliness. For my kids, it might be doing an arts-and-crafts project, playing dinosaur, or going to the pool. Of course, at home, lots of P4 is involved to make it a happy and fun place to be. 

I’m not sure if this organization system will help you at all. But perhaps, just being able to assign your massive to-do list a more streamlined prioritization system may help you cross off a few items and get home on time to enjoy some P4 things with your family.

Find out more about Jennifer Frank, MD, and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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