Physicians Could Learn Something about Time Management from Kids

May 8, 2012

Both at home and at our medical practices, physicians could stand to adjust from "adult time" to "kid time," slowing down to be in the moment.

On Sunday evening, my husband and I were trying to herd our four kids into the mini-van after enjoying dinner at a friend’s home. Since it was Sunday evening, we still had to get everyone in bed and get ready for school and work the next day. As is typical, the kids didn’t seem to be operating on the same clock we were. "Hurry up," we’d admonish while they stopped to look at every crack in the walkway and waved endless goodbyes to our hosts.

Kid-time is something I aspire to enjoy. Usually though, I’m on crazy mom time. Crazy mom time looks like one of those clocks with the hands spinning wildly. I feel tremendous pressure to get everything done, everyone in bed - on time, with clean underwear on, and clean teeth. As any parent knows, trying to speed up a child in the midst of kid-time only serves to increase your level of frustration. They simply cannot be pushed to move faster.

Most of the time, I set my internal clock to operate on adult time which is quick and efficient and focused and on task. Truthfully, most of the time I need to be all those things and don’t have time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. That said, I could definitely spend more time in kid-time. I could’ve joined my kids on the back deck to enjoy an ice cream sandwich instead of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner tonight.

As much as my internal clock rebelled last night, I sat and played construction trucks with my toddler last night, digging pretend dirt for at least 20 minutes. All the while, I’m reminding myself that I have very few 20-minute blocks of time left to play with him. Soon he will march to my clock, feeling the pressure to be efficient.

Clinic visits can be like this too. If a patient comes in for a sinus infection or a rash or an annual exam, I already have my checklist before I walk in the room. I run through my bullet questions, perform the standard exam, present my diagnosis and explain my plan. If I’m feeling particularly generous with my time, I may ask how the weekend was or go through the treatment plan one last time to make sure they really got it. Sometimes, though, patients defy this.

Recently a patient came in ready to unload a tremendous burden she’s carried for two decades. Finally ready to deal with the issue that has caused such misery, she needed time to process everything. At those moments, with these types of patients, I need to remind myself, just like I did when I was playing with my son the other night, that my clock needs to be temporarily reset, slowed down even to operate on kid-time. For my patient, and often for me, it is therapeutic.

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