When Managing Non-Medical Tasks, Plan Ahead

November 11, 2015

Doctors are used to making quick decisions, but when it comes to some tasks, you have to think ahead. Prep time is your friend.

One of the most interesting things to me about physicians is their ability to make quick decisions.  Any problem directly in front of them will have their full attention for as long as it takes to observe the situation, pull information from their personal databanks, and process both.  My best guess is that this is a skill ingrained during their training.  (What does MD stand for?  MAKE A DECISION!) 

As necessary and effective as this problem-solving method can be, it does not solve physicians well in the management of non-medical tasks and issues.  A recent personal trip helps illustrate.

An important high school reunion for my husband was to be held outside Washington, D.C.  He responded immediately to the invitation, mostly because he only had to click "yes" and "send."  It was also easy to arrange a hotel for the visit because the Reunion Committee had made that just as simple.  That's where things sat for several months.

Several weeks before the event, we carved out some time on a Friday night, when we were both tired and frazzled, to make our airplane reservations.  We added some days after the reunion, but neither of us had more than a vague notion of what we would do with the time.

Time flew by and we were both overwhelmed with what needed to be done to avoid leaving anyone in the lurch while we were gone.  We had plane tickets and a place to sleep the first four nights and nothing else except structured plans for the reunion. 

Here are just some of the sub-optimal things we experienced after:

• It took quite a long while to decide on a rental car company, mostly because I was making arrangements for the next day and did not know the area.  I was doing it on my phone and did not have the benefit of a map for context.

• After a hard day of driving, we arrived at Kitty Hawk, actually Wright Brother National Memorial, just as its gates were being locked.  That meant the unexpected need to spend the night and visit the memorial the next day.  Who knew they actually lock up national parks?

• Not leaving Kitty Hawk until noon, we didn't arrive at Charleston, S.C. the next day until about 8 p.m.  This meant we disrupted plans with friends for a mid-afternoon arrival. Driving through Charleston during rush hour and later through some remote and poorly marked areas well after dark made for another very long, hard day.

•  The plan was to pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway at Ashville, N.C. and check out the foliage.  We got there just as the visitors' center was closing and learned that lodging was going to be a problem.  We ended up sitting in the parking lot at dusk, looking for a room.

• We did find a room, but it was thirty miles south and pretty substandard.  It was noon the next day before we got back to the Ashville visitors' center.  Basically, we'd lost close to a whole day.

• We had such a good time that we decided to keep the car an extra day.  That meant calling the rental company.  Unfortunately we were in a part of the parkway that has no cell service.  I had to beg a landline from one of the concessionaires.  After working my way through the rental company's automated answering system, it told me it was too late to extend the rental through the automated system.  I had to start over again and ask for an operator.

• We returned the car to Reagan National and took the Metro to a stop near our next hotel.  When we asked them to come pick us up, they said it would be half an hour because the driver was on a run to Reagan.   It had not occurred to us that we could be fetched there, but all we had to do was ask to find out.

What's my point?

• None of the bumps in the road individually did serious damage to what turned out to be a great trip. 

• All of them taken together wasted a lot of our limited time and increased our costs.

• The snags could all have been avoided with just a little bit of prep time on our part.  The benefits would have significantly exceeded the effort expended.  We just did not carve out any pre-trip planning time.

A medical practice is far more complex, and the costs and frustration are monumentally larger.  This means the effort to plan ahead and deal with things in context is even better spent.