Two books that helped me manage my time

My time management – an essential part of work-life balance – leans more towards the aspiration than the realist. That’s why I’m often late at worst and right on time at best. My natural optimism is reflected in my planning, and as a result, I mentally build a schedule that leaves no room for red lights or long lines. At the end of another week in which I haven’t had a chance to exercise regularly or get the required 8 hours of sleep, I think about how to make this week – a other busy – is going better.

I have two approaches that I have taken based on the books I have read. The first is The 4 hour work week by Timothy Ferriss, who argues that, among many other things, the time you think something is taking and the time you actually need to spend doing it can be exponentially offset.

When I’m asked to do one more thing (or a lot more), I’ll try to channel Ferriss’s approach and challenge the idea that my schedule is really busy. After all, if a typical 40-hour workweek can be reduced to just 4 hours, then I can probably find a few minutes to fold the laundry. Its principles are strong in that many of our time constraints are arbitrary and based on construction, not reality. For example, most of my office visits last 20 or 40 minutes, depending on the reason for the visit. Some tours take 3 minutes and some take 55 minutes, but part of my brain is usually trying to fit the tour into a predetermined time slot, although often the reasons why the tour might be long or short are not clear until after. start of the visit.

This book challenges me to challenge myself and critically examine why it takes me so long to get things done, like documenting office visit notes (which I often get distracted by reading emails ) or clean the house (which I get distracted by Facebook or a good read). The mistake of the 4 hour work week, of course, is that we have to have a lot of control over our own time; as a working mother / doctor I am often at the mercy of others’ demands on my time.

The second book is Margin by Dr Richard Swenson, who maintains that there will always be more things that fill our days. The solution, he suggests, is to create a margin in your mental space, your calendar, and your bank account that strategically maintains a reserve so that unforeseen demands don’t leave you overdrawn – financially or otherwise. This is the white space on your calendar that you intentionally leave unreserved or lunch time that you don’t use to schedule another meeting.

In our current culture, even with the indelible mark left on our lives by COVID-19, the concept of margin is much more difficult to embrace. In an age where we strive for maximum productivity in everything – from our clinic schedules, to our clinical departments, to our exercise routines – consciously choosing to leave extra space feels, well, unproductive.

These two books take different approaches to the challenge we all face in devoting more time to the things that are most important to us; both books also recognize that if left unattended our schedules will quickly become full, possibly overflowing with obligations that are not of our choosing. What I personally take away from these books is to challenge myself to be effective, not by stepping up activities, but by being extremely selective about what has a place on my schedule. Second, you have to remember that I am finished, that my time is finished and that my energy is finished; although 100% of my time and energy may be needed on any given day, giving my all should never be my plan.

How to reconcile being efficient and being too taxed? Have you read any books that have helped you master time management?

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About Dr Jennifer Frank

Jennifer Frank has the incredible privilege of being a family physician, leading physician, wife and mother in Northeastern Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves being busy and loves a lot of different things. In her spare time (ha!), She enjoys reading thrillers and murders as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own detective novels and loves being outdoors.

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