Time Mastery

One of my favorite song lyrics is from “When I Find Home” by Cody Chestnutt: “I only got time to think about the time I don’t have” I like this lyric, because when I get really busy I sometimes enter this “freeze” moment, where I am stuck thinking about all the things I have to do without being able to do any of them.

As our work continues to get busier and busier, it is becoming more critical to have good time management skills. However, to actually master time, people need more than To-Do lists. This course focuses on twelve different categories of time mastery and participants assess their skill level in each of these areas:

  1. Attitudes
  2. Goals
  3. Priorities
  4. Analyzing
  5. Planning
  6. Scheduling
  7. Interruptions
  8. Meetings
  9. Written Communication
  10. Delegation
  11. Procrastination
  12. Team Time

However, not all of the categories are equally important in a current position. I might have no direct reports, so even though I might score low in that category, it is not really important in my current job. Based on participants’ answers, the assessment automatically creates a Skills Gap Analysis, a table in which the categories are organized according to two axes: less important to important and less skill to more skills. These tables gives participants a quick overview of which categories they have marked as more important, but have less skill in. In other words, these are the areas of development.

Mastering time and moving away from thinking about the time that I do not have, has allowed me be more proactive about my time and schedule. My written communication and meetings are more productive and better organized; I am clearer in my delegation and define authority levels; I follow my yearly goals more closely and I take the time to analyze when and why I am interrupted or interrupting, to understand what could have been communicated better. Mastering time has allowed me to rarely experience stress while at the same time being more productive. I only got time to think about the time I do have.

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.


 

When many of us are asked if we would be interested in learning more about improving our time management skills, our response, maybe “Yawn, I got this, after all, I am a busy professional.” What we often don’t realize is that getting to the goal, no matter how hurried or rushed, is not just often about you. Our work pace impacts others in the workplace and if we want to become a true leader, we need to master ourselves first. The first place to start on this is how we manage our time.

We have an expression in our family: “we’re always working for the farm.” When you are running a farm, you don’t get to choose your own timing or schedule in the projects that must be done. The seasons come and go and there is planting and harvesting to be done on nature’s time. There are animals to be fed and fences to be mended on nature’s time. Understanding some of these basics help us to realize that there is time in one’s schedule that we can control and time in one’s schedule that we don’t control.

As for the time you can control at work, you can select when to answer your emails, and when to have “that open door” for workplace issues, and when and how to prioritize your projects. In some cases, like the farm, you will not get to always control your own schedule and choose when important events or meetings happen. So to help with this, we can paraphrase Mark Twain: “Eat your frogs early.” This means doing your biggest and hardest task first thing every day so that you prevent procrastination and free up time in case other urgent situations emerge. For some, that may be a phone call dealing with a patient or employee complaint; for others, it may be tackling an unresolved operational issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Whatever it is, go at it first and efficiently and get the job done.

When we look to improve how we master time, we need to have an understanding of what is urgent and important and what is important, but not urgent. The best advice for time management is to work more on what is important, but not urgent, to prevent everything from becoming a last minute urgent need. If you are often focused on urgent issues every day, you are simply putting out the fires at work and never getting to the optimal operational efficiency in your area. You can begin to master this by simply blocking out a time every day that you will work on these important projects. This will soon become part of your habitual schedule and that job will get done over time by breaking these projects up into smaller blocks of time. The most productive writers often say that they sit down with their computer to write during a certain time of day, whether they feel like it or not, and much to their surprise they are able to make progress. Yes, this even works for the great story tellers of our time, such as Earnest Hemingway, who sat down every morning at the same time to write.

One of the best ways to become a time master is to understand your own biases, strengths and weakness about time management. Are you good at delegating tasks that can be performed by others? Do you lose track of time when you are interrupted in your office? There are tools that you can use to assess your time management skills, and help you work to develop better habits for improved productivity and better balance. As you begin to become more proficient in time management, you will find that your overall work place and life stress will also decrease, as you find more “time” to take on more of those projects that bring balance and joy into your work and life.

 

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-Dr. Deborah Sesok-Pizzini, MD, MBA is a Clinical Pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, who specializes in Blood Banking and Transfusion Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  She has a strong interest in resident leadership development, patient safety and quality, and is currently serving as a member on the ASCP Fellow Council.  She is a graduate of the ASCP leadership institute certification program and has an MBA from Villanova University with a concentration in finance.  

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