Six Ways to Reclaim Your Daily Practice Schedule

October 21, 2015
Sue Jacques

Is tardiness undermining your medical practice efficiency? Here are six methods to conquer your worst time thieves.

Medicine has a unique and random rhythm. The unpredictability of patient needs makes it challenging to maintain a regular schedule, primarily because so many timelines must intersect simultaneously in order to provide necessary care in a timely fashion. Your agenda must be firm enough to function effectively while being flexible enough to jibe with the schedules of so many other stakeholders, including patients, staff, hospitals, and ancillary care providers. This is no easy feat.

Inefficiency creates both financial and emotional repercussions for you, the people you work with, and the patients you serve. Being late, disorganized, and frenzied means you're always behind the eight ball, constantly feeling the need to apologize or make up for lost time. This kind of response trickles down in the form of stress, which ultimately has a negative impact on everyone. And knowing that you're lagging behind fiscally only adds to the sense of anxiety.

Here are six actions to help you stay one step ahead of the time thieves in your practice:

1. Track your exasperation level.

Start taking note of when you feel the most overwhelmed. Are Fridays more stressful than Mondays? Does your frustration peak midday when you realize there's no hope of catching up? Is there a particular week every month that's more demanding? Paying attention to these cycles can be the first step in adjusting your habits. Once you have a clear idea of what triggers your tardiness you can take an intellectual approach to exploring remedies. If you find that you're increasingly running behind as the day progresses, for example, you may need to recalibrate your calendar by starting earlier in the day or seeing fewer patients.

2. Prepare for productivity.

Change takes time and effort, which is why it's advisable to be patient with yourself and others when exploring efficiency options. It's important to be able to correct course along the way, so if one strategy doesn't work you can institute others. By setting goals and establishing landmarks you'll be better able to assess your progress. If you implement a small change, like adding a time buffer of 3 to5 minutes between appointments, take note of how it enhances or detracts from your daily productivity. That way you can objectively measure your success and prepare for additional amendments.

3. Reduce the number of distractions.

While endless interruptions are a matter of fact in healthcare, let's admit it, many of them are self-imposed. Constantly checking your phone or tablet for notifications is one example of a time-stealing behavior that is often more of an addiction than a necessity. But the reality is you are in a profession that is wrought with distractions. One way to deal with this is to agree on a Do not Disturb system with your staff. This could be instituted at certain hours of the day, or during particularly busy times. You may also find it helpful to have "micro-meetings" with colleagues and staff on a PRN basis to address small issues that only need a moment or two to deal with.

4. Take a realistic approach to scheduling.

Like beauty, efficiency is in the eye - or in this case, the agenda - of the beholder. One of the wisest moves you can make in your medical practice is to adopt a sensible and simple scheduling system that complements your personal routine. Easier said than done, right? There are so many pressures on practitioners to meet deadlines and quotas. Start by taking a look at your personal calendar. Are there adjustments you can make in your private life that will help you find balance at work? If you're harried at home, you'll likely be hurried at work, which is why it's imperative to prioritize your personal commitments so they harmonize with your professional obligations.

5. Declare your expectations.

It's entirely possible that you're not the problem. Colleagues and staff can be the biggest time thieves of all. The people you rely on to keep you on track could be the reason for inefficiencies within your practice. If that's the case, you need to use your voice to institute change. This begins with letting people know what your expectations are. If you find yourself surrounded by coworkers who are always late, calling in sick, bickering, or operating at a snail's pace, you'll need to work with them to make adjustments. If one individual seems to be the problem, let them know privately and respectfully what modifications you need to see in their behavior. If it's a systemic problem, call a series of staff meetings to strategize and follow up with new systems.

6. Calm down.

Fretting begets fretting. Any time you find yourself spinning out of control you'll know you're creating a whirlwind of delay and disruption that has a ripple effect. It's up to you to slow down, assess the situation, and deal with it in a sensible manner. Calmness is the key to clarity. Other people naturally rely on a person in your position to have the ability to handle stressful, time-consuming situations with a reasonable approach. Each time you succeed at doing so, you'll enhance the level of trust and efficiency within your practice.

As author Michael Altshuler wrote, "The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." Take control over the time thieves in you practice by modifying your approach to the inefficiencies they create.

Sue Jacquesis The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Jacques helps individuals, businesses, and medical practices create courteous cultures and prosper through professionalism. www.TheCivilityCEO.com