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Not enough time in the day? Here are four good ways to find new minutes

When responding to Medical Office Manager’s readers’ survey, many managers said the most difficult part of their job is finding time to get all the work done.

So here are four good time management recommendations from workflow advisor Jason Womack of Ojai, CA, author of “Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.”

These recommendations cover interruption management, meeting time management, and how to find little gems of time throughout the day.

1. Head off the interrupters

First is to minimize the interruptions.

Don’t expect to do away with them entirely, because any professional office “is a high-interruption environment.” But they can surely be controlled.

Suppose a doctor comes in several times a day with assignments or questions. The solution is to “interrupt the doctor first,” he says. In other words, shift the interruptions to the manager’s schedule, not the doctor’s schedule.

Do it at the start of the day. Take the bull by the horns and say, “Dr. Interrupter, I know we have a lot going on today. Is there anything on your mind right now that you’d like me to start working on?”

That preemptive strike lets the manager sort out the day’s workload and get the doctor’s extra work done during the slow times, not when the manager is deep into another issue.

It also avoids the nightmare of having Dr. Interrupter come in mid-afternoon with a laundry list of things that need to be done by the end of the day.

Apply the same technique to staff in general or to any one staffer who is constantly interrupting. Head the interruptions off by asking at the start of the morning if there’s anything that needs to be talked about today.

The approach forces staff to think through the day and get organized. It also gives the constant interrupters an opportunity to have their say without draining the manager’s time little by little all day.

2. Bunch up the conversations

The second recommendation is not to break in on a busy doctor or even a busy staffer with questions that need to be answered right away.

There’s a way to manage those interruptions, Womack says.

Keep a notepad on the side of the desk and build an agenda throughout the day. As an issue comes up that needs to be discussed, put the person’s name on the page and make a note of the discussion item. There will likely be one person who ends up with a lot of discussion items.

Then at some point during the day, go to those individuals and talk about the items on the list. Now each person gets interrupted one time with five things instead of five times with one thing.

That saves a tremendous amount of time, he says, because going through a bullet list takes maybe eight minutes total whereas starting a new conversation for each item takes up at least five minutes every time.

3. Move meetings to a faster end

A third way to find more time is to shorten meetings.

For whatever reason, Womack says, tradition has set it that “meetings are supposed to be an hour long.”

Yet in any meeting, the decision-making invariably gets done during the last seven to 10 minutes. Whether it’s one hour or two, everybody spends those last few minutes deciding what to do.

Try shaving off 15 minutes and holding the meeting for 45 minutes instead of an hour, he says. Everybody knows when the decision-making time is coming up, and will finish by then.

For even greater efficiency, schedule the meetings at 15 minutes past the hour instead of on the hour. That gives everybody a 15-minute window to wind up whatever they are involved in and mentally prepare for the meeting.

4. Get value out of the bonus time

And then there’s bonus time.

That’s the “found” time that appears when a meeting or appointment is delayed or canceled.

Don’t waste it, Womack says.

If a meeting is going to start late or a vendor cancels an appointment, most people think “we’ll start in 10 minutes” or “I don’t have anything to do right now” and then use that time looking at Facebook or going through e-mails.

Change the mindset. Use those minutes to keep working on whatever task is already in progress. Or pick up another brief task. Or plan a project. Or do something that wouldn’t otherwise get done for lack of time, perhaps writing a thank-you card to a colleague.

Unexpected time is a windfall. Use it as a productivity saver. Even better, use it “to create something of value.” And that something can be business-related such as counseling a staffer or as personal as making a call to a spouse. Whatever it is, make it something “that adds value” to the day.

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