- ASC Work/Life Balance, ASC Time Management
- BY: Will Campbell
- Jul 2, 2019
Cinderella needed time management. Truly. Given how all those mice/footmen and her fairy godmother were helping her out, how could she have lost track of time? Spend a day in an ASC, and it’s easy to see how time flies. The two levers to grow revenue — increase the number of procedures, or increase the complexity of each procedure — make time the most precious commodity for any ASC. Yet the perils of rushing through the day can lead to frayed nerves, burnout, or worse — patient harm.
Every surgery center has its own time management approach, but there are several “evergreen” tactics that merit a closer look. Here are the top 10 time management tactics every ASC can use for more effective ASC operations:
Know your Baseline
Conduct a time audit to improve your time management skills. Track how you spend your time over a week to 10 days. Be honest! It will likely reveal interruptions and inefficiencies to resolve, as well as uncover 5 to 10-minute gaps available to complete small but significant tasks.
The temptation to do the first thing that pops into your mind or crosses your desk is significant. Push back against that inclination with a more structured approach, like the Eisenhower “urgent/important” matrix. Or adopt this priority-setting matrix recommended by one time management nursing expert:
- What’s the first thing you’re going to do and why?
- Which task or action is more important and why?
- Is there a consequence if you don’t act now?
- What would happen?
- What’s more important for the patient?
This deliberate process becomes more automatic over time and strengthens your ability to think on your feet.
Build your ATM strategy
No, this is not where you get money. This is Always be Thinking about your next Move. Many parents may have already learned this skill when trying to stay one step ahead of their adventurous toddler. In an ASC, mastering tasks allows you to efficiently map out your day by clustering together things as you go. It’s a required skill for nursing leadership and management. Whether it’s by how long it takes to do certain tasks, where they are located or the kind of task involved, clustering activities strengthens your ability to handle the chaos.
Be a Willow, Not an Oak
Things go wrong. People don’t do what they said they would do. It happens. When stress mounts because of a task that took too long to complete, or there were too many interruptions, remember the willow tree. Unlike the mighty oak, which loses limbs in the storm, the willow bends to accommodate the added stress, then emerges upright after the travail has passed. Being flexible builds resilience and prepares you for what’s next.
Patience is an Action
The twin sister of flexibility is, of course, patience. But rather than envision patience as a quality that embodies passivity, think of it as a form of action. How you respond to negative circumstances is entirely up to you. Better to respond by taking a deep breath, acknowledging the stressor, and moving on. Re-focus your energy back to the task at hand and move on.
Get a Jump On the Day
We’ve all done it: raced into the surgery center with a minute to spare before our shift begins. Any shift that begins this way is never going to flow smoothly. Allowing yourself time at the beginning of your day to review patient charts, check in with others on duty, and prepare for what’s ahead prevents you from wrapping up tasks when exhaustion sets in at shift’s end.
Focus on the Big Stuff
And no, it’s not all big stuff (go back to #2).
We’ve known this since our school days, but tackling the big project, report or presentation first, instead of less important tasks like checking email, pays enormous dividends. If you’re having trouble getting the focus you need to get started, and stay with it, use the Pomodoro technique. This time management technique, developed in the late ‘80s by Francesco Cirillo, is fairly simple: Choose your task. Set a timer (he chose his trusty kitchen timer, which is shaped like a tomato, or Pomodoro in Italian) for 25 minutes. Promise yourself you will only focus on this task and nothing else. When the timer’s up, put a check mark on a piece of paper, take a short break of 5-10 minutes, then repeat. Every 4 “pomodoros” take a longer break. In fact, I’m using the Pomodoro technique as I’m writing this post!
Take a Break
It’s important to take a break, even if you don’t think you need it. What you do is hard work. Burnout is sweeping through the medical profession like wildfire. Not taking even the slightest pause in your day is unsustainable. Give yourself permission to stop, look out the window, grab a cup of coffee, or whatever is needed to keep you battle ready.
Practice Meeting Hygiene
Meetings are the time suck of the century. But only if you allow it to. You need the energy and collaboration of face-to-face interactions with peers and professionals to move the ball down the field. Practice your prioritization skills here as well: have an established purpose for the meeting, send out agendas and pre-meeting assignments as needed to underscore the importance and relevance of the meeting. Most important: start and end them on time.
Whether it’s a weekly staff, quarterly board meeting or something in between, here’s a really helpful meeting management tip: About 10 minutes prior to its scheduled end, pause the meeting. Poll participants to determine if there are topics that may require additional time. If so, determine whether the meeting will go over by a designated amount, or if a follow-up meeting is necessary.
Email: It’s All About You
In the days before email, time management experts recommended setting aside a set portion of the day to manage correspondence. On their own schedule. With emails pinging at you throughout the day, answering them in real time can quickly spiral out of control. But just because email is constant doesn’t mean you need to pay constant attention to it. Resist the tendency to immediately respond; that’s an interruption to your day you’ll never get back.
Instead, set aside specific times in the day to manage email. Respond to business emails within 24 hours, and personal ones within 72 hours. Practice the “delete, do it, delegate or defer” to keep your inbox organized. Take advantage of the folders option, and set up filters, so emails go straight to the folder they belong in.
Get Help When You Need It
Things worked out for Cinderella, but as a fairy tale, it’s supposed to. Running a surgery center in the real world is a bit different. Slaying the parts of your day that keep you from working at maximum efficiency requires an inner commitment to change, and the right tools at hand. If you spend weeks preparing case costing reports, or devote several hours to quality reporting on a daily basis, we can help.
Simplify ASC combines an EHR and practice management software into a beautifully intuitive, flexible and complete management platform. With Simplify, time thieves like reporting are checked by the most powerful reporting and business intelligence tools you have ever seen. Simplify’s enterprise reporting seamlessly unifies and consolidates reports with incredible ease. It gives you the control and insight you need to run a more profitable center and provide great care.
Intrigued? Learn more about how what an integrated ASC management platform can do to transform your surgery center.