To start, a disclaimer: I am not an expert in time management. In fact, I am a serial procrastinator. Somehow, I have been able to function and achieve a modicum of success in spite of this. I often justify my procrastination with the excuses “I do my best work under pressure” and “I work best under a deadline.” (That sound you hear as I write this is my wife rolling her eyes in exasperation.)
However, as I progress in my academic career, it has become clear that I need to improve in this aspect in order to achieve my goals. The pressure of deadlines that seem to sneak up without warning, when combined with increasing academic and clinical responsibilities, and the desire to enjoy time with my family, makes my previous habits an unsustainable model. From speaking with my colleagues across the country, I am quite sure that I am not alone in the need to improve in this regard. In fact, a recent Google search using the phrase “time management academic medicine” yielded over 4.6 million results.
With this in mind, I present four of my favorite tips for time management, with hyperlinks to resources that discuss them in further detail.
- Write down my goals
Time management starts with task prioritization. It’s hard for me to figure this out if I’m not sure what goals I am trying to achieve with each task. I have a list that I refer to about once a month to keep me on track, containing both long-term (5-10 years) and short-term (1-3 years) goals.
- Learn to say “no”
In the first year or two of my career, I said “yes” to every opportunity presented to me. While some of those have helped further my career, many ended up being “time-sinks” that distracted me from my goals. While I am still learning how to do this well, I have become more selective about the projects/committees/task forces that I join, freeing up my time for the projects that align best with my career objectives.
- Reserve time to write
I often fall into the trap of multi-tasking, when my best work tends to come during periods of single-minded focus on a single task. Creating a block of uninterrupted time and building it into my schedule is something that I am striving to implement. While I generally have an open-door policy to my office, during these blocks of time, I put a “do not disturb” sign on my door and have my administrative assistant keep my calls to a minimum.
- Flee distractions
E-mail is the worst offender in this category. The desire to get to that mythical “inbox zero” status often distracts me from work that really matters. I recently started the habit of keeping Outlook closed except during my designated “e-mail check times.” This has helped remove the temptation to constantly look at my inbox and keeps me focused on the task at hand. The same probably holds true for time wasted on social media that can serve as a significant distraction and time sink.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of best practices in time management, just a selection of my favorites. I am certain that many members of the AAS have their own strategies that they would like to share with others. What are some of your favorite time management tips and tricks? Share in the comments section below or tweet me: @rogerhkim
- Gordon CE, Borkan SC. Recapturing time: a practical approach to time management for physicians. Postgrad Med J. 2014;90:267-72.
- Lowenstein SR. Tuesdays to write…A guide to time management in academic emergency medicine. Acad Emerg Med. 2009;16:165-7.
- Kressin NR, Saha S, Weaver F, Rubenstein L, Weinberger M. Career and time management strategies for clinical and health services researchers. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22:1475-8.