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Time management masterclass: Where to start

In the first of a series of articles, performance coach Sarah Christie looks at how GPs can gain the focus to manage their time more successfully

We all need to manage our time, no matter what our profession. However, there does appear to be a greater need for this skill in healthcare, due to the many demands and pressures placed upon individuals in the course of their working days.

In primary care, there are different ways of working and new skills you can develop to manage your time more effectively, which can only help alleviate the age old problem of ‘too much to do and too little time in which to do it.’

Motivation and focus

I should say, at the outset, that we cannot manage or control time, but we can manage ourselves and what we choose to do with the time we have available to us.

When I run time management workshops for healthcare professionals there is often an expectation of miracles about to happen or magic wands about to be waved. Alas, that is never the case and as we begin to explore the various techniques available, I am often told that they are simplistic or rather basic.

This rather begs the question, ‘If they are that easy, why aren’t you using them?’ For time management is more to do with personal motivation, than it is with the implementation of tangible models and techniques.

Think about your summer holiday for example. It’s the final day before you go on two weeks’ leave and there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with before you can go. Have you noticed how much you manage to achieve? There seems to be no end to your energy and your ability to work quickly and tirelessly through your list of things to do and what an amazing sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of the day. So why is that day any different to any other? There is a strong motivation and desire to get things done because on this particular day there isn’t another tomorrow that can pick up all the incomplete tasks of today.

Alongside that motivation to clear the decks, comes focus. You know what has to be done. You have probably made a very comprehensive list but on this particular day you have the determination to clear the items from the list.

Key ingredients

So how can you make every day resemble the day before an annual vacation? I have already identified the three key ingredients of your time management success: motivation, focus and determination.

To generate your motivation, think about why you want to manage your time more effectively. What will it bring you? Will you be more respected by your colleagues? Will your patients appreciate the fact they are not kept waiting? Will you have more time to spend with your family? Will you feel less stressed and exhausted?

More dramatically, some of you may need to think about the consequences of not improving your time management. Many healthcare professionals have told me what they stand to lose if they do not overcome this problem. Some GP registrars have had their rotation threatened, some GPs and consultants have put their marriages at risk by not being at home, some have missed out on their children’s development and others are perceived as incompetent because they work very long hours, implying they cannot cope with their workload. For a seemingly ‘dry’ subject, time management can have very profound implications on life.

What are your reasons? Do you feel overwhelmed by how much you have to accomplish? Is the practice waiting room full of your patients? Is stress a way of life for you? How much time do you spend with your family?

Where to start

The good news is you can overcome these problems. With just a little know-how and a bit of effort, you can soon get more done in less time.

You have to begin by setting some long term goals for yourself. This will bring you clarity and focus and help you prioritise. Goals are the key to effective time management because you need to have a reason to become more efficient and effective. Goals ignite your motivation so make them compelling. If they don’t light your fire, they are not worth pursuing. Take time with this and really think about what is important to you in life and what it would mean to feel better or be better perceived by your colleagues and patients.

If you are a GP registrar a great long-term goal might be to become a GP. That may sound banal, but you’d be surprised at how powerful it can be. You will be judged on your ability to manage your patient lists, your assertiveness and how well you attend the various practice meetings, so start developing your personal effectiveness right now.

If you are already an established GP your long term goals will be different. They may involve spending more time with the family or deciding that your practice is going to the best in the area, attracting more patients from the community. That will be impossible if your practice is perceived as chaotic and poorly run, staffed with GPs who cannot manage their workloads.

Once you have your long term goals established, you may also find it very helpful to focus on shorter term achievements, things that will help you move towards those larger, essential life goals. Ask yourself, ‘What do I need to get done this month?’ Write them down and keep them visible.

I put mine on a whiteboard in my office so that I can see them every day. Visibility of your goals will maintain your focus and allow you to minimise the distractions that will threaten your daily routine. Set your goals this week, write them down and put them where you can see them. Now you are on your way.

Sarah Christie is an author and performance coach who leads management and leadership programmes for clinicians and non-medical managers. Her website is

Time management masterclass