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    Kristina B. Ziehler
    Kristina B. Ziehler, MPH, PMP

    Time clockThe everyday time management skills you use to be personally efficient translate well into leading your medical practice team to successful project management (PM). These skills can assist in helping your practice survive yet thrive in changing times. 

    Why PM matters

    Creating organization out of chaos improves individual and team efficiency across the practice. If you don’t have formal PM training, focus on the four key skills of flexibility, problem-solving, interpersonal and leadership.1 While healthcare project managers need to excel in each, the softer skills involving people management and relationships are increasingly important. 
     
    According to “Next Practices: Maximizing the Benefits of Disruptive Technologies on Projects,” organizations that embed proven PM practices experience greater success with strategic initiatives and higher project success rates — 71% versus 60% — than those that do not. PM-driven organizations use disruptive technologies to their favor to:

    • encourage greater efficiency and automation;
    • increase productivity;
    • promote the development of better products and services;
    • automate mundane tasks, thus freeing up time for higher-level work;
    • develop more strategic roles/leadership skills; and
    • build stronger connections among team members.2

     
    To put this into perspective in our day to day, emotional intelligence — an interpersonal skill — is an important factor for improved time management and efficiency. For example, managing emails is a part of relationship building/management. How a practice leader responds (or doesn't respond) to emails can be interpreted by staff and providers as a positive (demonstrating respect for employee feedback with prompt responses) or a negative (creating a presumption of disinterest by not having an organized approach to responding to communications).  Your emotional intelligence is key to being aware of how you come across via email, chat, in person, etc., as well as in a future meeting by being socially aware of both your verbal and nonverbal communication.
     
    As you practice techniques to boost your leadership and business acumen, it’s important to find and use the right tools to keep yourself organized and efficient in your PM work. To be an impact driver for your organization, keep these tools and best practices in mind as you approach PM to optimize personal and organizational efficiencies.
     

    Remember the 4 Ds: Do, Defer, Delegate, or Delete

    Best practices tell us to only handle it once (OHIO). How many times does your front office manager (or other administrator) look at a task more than once? Are there automatic reminders embedded in your practice tools? Consider your email, tasks, Microsoft Planner, EHR, or practice management system. You might have several, but few may be automatic. Assess your options and determine the best automatic reminder option rather than writing things down and possibly forgetting them.Color Categories in Outlook
     
    As an example, when an email comes into my inbox, I consider if it is something I can easily delete. Not interested in a newsletter? Consider unsubscribing. When evaluating an email to defer to a later time (see shortcuts in email to defer), think about how much longer: a day, a week, a couple months? Think about the sequencing. Does something need to happen before you can act on the ‘do’ for this particular ask? What is your A that needs to happen before B?  That determination should assist you in how long you defer it. 
     
    Is it something you don’t have to do? Consider delegating to another team member or department as appropriate.  Finally, if it’s something you can do at that time, make sure it does not require focus time; if it does, find the right amount of time in your calendar to block. Perhaps it’s a 10-minute task before a meeting rather than a four-hour project. If not, defer it until later in the day. Set a reminder on your calendar with the email body included in the calendar appointment.
     
    Reminders closer to an intended due date require only a few quick steps to organize with color coding. Start by right-clicking the email to see your options to set a color (e.g., a custom blue for “to do”).

    Manage Quick Steps in OutlookUnder Quick Tips at the top, create a quick step to turn an email into an attachment that defers the task to your suggested date.

    How much time have you spent shuffling through pages of notes trying to remember where you put something? The advantage of your digital record makes this a simple search; simplifying your search — in an email, task, or chat — will help you gradually embrace OHIO through your behavior.
     
    Asking yourself the 4 Ds can give time back to your day because you only have to look at an email once!
     

    Do not “reinvent the wheel.” Do use previous work as a starting place.

    We do not want to reinvent the wheel (that's why we in healthcare should use Organizational Process Assets (OPAs). As a healthcare leader, “we know a lot of good work has been done before and continues around us.”  By utilizing OPA’s, we can “reduce overall technical debt, provide greater value quicker and support others.” It is not just about the process documentation; it is about version control. How many of us have received countless emails with updates? We download what we think is the latest version and then we discover we’ve been working off an old version. Had we all been working on the same thing, we would have saved so much time.  Repositories serve as important central hubs where, without a doubt, everything is housed.  This could be a shared intranet, the cloud, behind the scenes SharePoint; aka-a single source of truth.
     
    What is one tool you can start using today? What could you do with this article?  Delete it? Defer and read later? Do read it now? Or (after you read it) delegate to other team members on life efficiency hacks.  This could be at work or even in your personal life.  If it is OHIO and/or the 4 Ds, you can utilize simple techniques to organize the chaos and give you back time to focus on the stuff in life that matters. 

    Additional resources

    Notes:

    1. Ray S. “Career Spotlight: Healthcare Project Manager.” Project Manager. May 23, 2018. Available from: http://bit.ly/3ErCKnE.
    2. PMI. “Next Practices: Maximizing the Benefits of Disruptive Technologies on Projects.” 2018. Available from: bit.ly/40jQye4.

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