Making the most of your time

Consider the concept that something that is urgent should not be your number one priority. (Excepting patients in need of an emergency appointment, of course.) We all need to learn the difference between urgent and important. Important things are those that help you to achieve your goals and to make the most of your time. Urgent tasks are often not that important in the scheme of things.

Once you have got your head around the fact that there is a difference between important and urgent, you need to make a plan. This kind of planning should minimise the number of urgent tasks you are faced with because it will help you to recognise potential dilemmas and calamities.

As an aside, if your initial thought is that you don’t have the time to do this, do ask yourself why!

Getting started

You need to put in place a simple system with goals that are SMART:

• S – specific, significant, stretching

• M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

• A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

• R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

• T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable.

First of all, keep a log for a week to see where all your time goes. Draw up a table on the computer and print out a copy for each day that you are going to monitor. Each time you change task, fill in the table.

At the end of the week you use these sheets to help you to eliminate wasted time; from the log identify periods of time that you may have been able to use more effectively. Once you have identified what is happening, deal with one issue at a time.

For example, look at the social aspects of your working environment, such as having a chat by the coffee machine or taking a call from a friend on your mobile in between appointments. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you eliminate these events – everyone needs a break – but you do need to be aware of this time use in order to make informed decisions. For example, for you personally, is it better to have a social chat with the receptionist or to spend the time catching up with the diarised schedule? Your log will show you if it is a problem. What you choose to do is a matter of personal perspective but realise that to implement time management you want to be:

• Effective

• Efficient

• Effortless.

A new way of scheduling

If you have a task to do, decide before you get started how long you think it should take. Work to that deadline and then move on. So, if you give yourself half an hour to check the surgery’s supplies, going beyond that 30-minute time slot is not managing your time because it is eating into your next task.

You also need to look at the time you spend meeting the dentist’s requests – perhaps he gets you to repeat tasks unnecessarily, redefines them or somehow negates what you have done. Training your boss is an important part of successful time management!

When it comes to appointments, look to see what you can do to make sure no time is wasted. Be prepared, as this allows you to avoid work! Consider what you have to do before and after each appointment, and have the time that you need for that blocked out in the practice diary. After all, there’s no point in a patient coming in if you haven’t had the chance to autoclave instruments used earlier in the day.

In for the long haul

One weekend, sit down and put together a long-term plan of your objectives, for example how to further your career, and consider how you can achieve them. Allocate time to do whatever it is you need to do to get there, such as attending a course or registering with the Dental Council.

The whole planning process works best if you review the plan on a regular basis, as it is easy to slip into old patterns without realising it.

Remember, time management does not resolve problems but reveals them; it is a way for you to take control. There is no doubt that it takes a concerted effort to manage time, but if you are successful, you can reap great rewards.

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