Doctors are notoriously time-starved. Not only are there not enough U.S. physicians, but most also face a growing administrative load. The result is too many clinicians working harder and longer hours, and roughly half of physicians reporting symptoms of burnout. These productivity tips for doctors will help you work smarter, not harder. 

The reality of growing administrative demands makes effective productivity habits for physicians more critical than ever. Faster isn’t always better when seeing patients and delivering care. But when it comes to completing charts and other administrative tasks, efficiency is paramount.

Today, the average U.S. doctor spends over 15 hours per week on paperwork, compared to just 1-4 hours in 2012. A shocking 36% of doctors now spend at least 20 hours per week on paperwork and administration. These productivity tips are more relevant to doctors today than ever before.

Top Productivity Tips for Doctors

Here are five productivity tips every doctor needs to know. Making small changes now could save you hours a week, substantially improving your overall success and work-life balance.

1. Plan when you’ll complete notes

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

– Benjamin Franklin

What approach do you take when you sit down to tackle your EHR in-basket full of progress notes, pre-visit lab results and refill requests? Do you handle these in distracted busts throughout the day or in a single dreaded session when you finish seeing patients? Like many family doctors, your charting and administrative work may carry over into evening pajama time.

Whatever approach you take, it’s essential to have a plan and write it down.

You might think, “I have a great memory; I don’t need a to-do list.” Nevertheless, research shows that people are significantly more likely to follow through on something if they write down their plan.

2. Prioritize your to-do list

One reason it’s valuable to write down your administrative tasks is because it helps you prioritize.

While patient care often has a deadline – the patient is waiting in the exam room – notes and paperwork are more flexible. As a result, you’re more likely to waste time constantly deciding what to do next or jumping between different tasks. Writing a list in order of priority frees up mental energy and increases your productivity.

Try this simple but effective daily practice:

  • Write down 3-5 things you want to accomplish during the upcoming day. Since you will inevitably see patients, keep this focused on your administrative tasks and to-dos. You will be tempted to write more than five items, but don’t add more to-do items until you’ve completed the first five. Make each item clear and actionable.
  • Prioritize your list with the most important items at the top.
  • Set aside dedicated time in your schedule for paperwork and administrative tasks. Begin with the first item and only move on to the second task after you finish the first.
  • Continue like this for the time allotted.
  • At the end of each day, review what you’ve accomplished and make your list for the following day.

To choose priority tasks, ask yourself, “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my effort?” Picking just five items at a time reduces stress and keeps you focused, and you will also feel more satisfied with the things you accomplish.

3. Create distraction-free zones

The main thing that kills productivity is not having a plan with clear priorities. The other is distractions. This productivity tip may be the most important for doctors because it’s the key to getting more done in the same amount of time.

Doctors are constantly juggling responsibilities, so the idea of removing distractions may seem impossible. Nevertheless, if you want to work efficiently, you must dedicate regular, distraction-free time when you can focus on knocking out that to-do list of administrative tasks. Setting aside distractions is how you get your notes done without spending two hours at home every night finishing paperwork.

To create a distraction-free zone: 

  • Find a quiet place.
  • Prevent interruptions by letting your staff or others know that you’re busy.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode.
  • Disable all app notifications.
  • Log out of Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Make yourself comfortable: have water and snacks at hand, listen to music that helps you focus, etc.

It may not be feasible to create such a space while at the clinic, and it is likely impossible during short intervals between patient visits. Instead, try adjusting your schedule to make time at the office when you can focus only on administrative tasks without interruption. You might accomplish this by coming in early or booking an hour at the end of the workday to finish charts before leaving the office. You’ll need to prepare and be creative to create distraction-free zones, but it’s well worth the effort. 

4. Work with your team to delegate

Productivity is a group process. Involve your team in managing your growing burden of administrative work.

For example, you could implement a new collaborative workflow and restructure your EHR in-basket so you don’t get behind. Dr. James Jerzak describes how his team at Bellin Health Ashwaubenon categorized and delegated in-basket subfolders by message type (symptom-based calls, requests for refill, appointments, etc.). Dr. Jerzak is co-author of an AMA STEPS-forward module called EHR In-Basket Restructuring for Improved Efficiency, which explains the implementation process in detail. 

You could also keep your team in sync by tracking the “who, what, and where” of patients, staff, and doctors throughout the day. There are now well-designed mobile apps that tell your entire team what tasks are pending, to whom they’re assigned, where they’re scheduled, and when they’re completed. Consider mastering delegation with an app designed specifically to help clinical teams increase productivity.

5. Track your productivity progress

“What gets measured gets managed.”

– Peter Drucker

Time is our most valuable resource. Like anything, the more we keep an eye on it, the more awareness we gain about the patterns that make us successful.

The only way to measure your progress is to track it. Whether you use a simple productivity app or a daily planner, begin taking brief notes about what you’re doing and not doing now. For example:

  • How many hours do you spend on paperwork and administrative tasks each week? 
  • What might it take to reduce that number?
  • Are you completing your daily to-do list? 
  • Do you regularly finish yesterday’s charts today?

Begin a daily practice of writing down your top administrative priorities and tracking whether you get them done. If you’re consistently not meeting your target, assess what could change and try out a new system. Doctors spending 10 to 20 hours a week on paperwork don’t have the time not to have a plan.

These productivity tips for doctors will help you complete administrative work more efficiently.

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