Author: Brett R. Todd, MD, FACEP (Beaumont Health)
Originally Presented at CORD 2017 Academic Assembly
Do you remember that feeling on Match Day when you discovered that you had matched into an emergency medicine (EM) residency? You probably felt a whirlwind of emotions, but almost certainly you thought about how great it will be to have a job with no call, and where your free time is all yours to enjoy. Unfortunately, most of us soon realize that in the world of EM, our free time can be devoured by endless tasks and obligations, especially if we are involved in administration or academics.
Emergency physicians (EPs) employ multiple methods to deal with the problem of having too much on our plate. Perhaps the most common solution is the to-do list. Unfortunately, the to-do list is a far from ideal solution to the problem of task overload. It fails in two ways. First, it doesn’t tell us when we’re going to accomplish any of our tasks and in what order. Second, when we finally do sit down to do a task, we usually pick the easiest ones, leaving the tedious and unpleasant tasks for a later date.
In response to this time crunch, many EPs turn to the countless business books that have been written about organization and time management. Unfortunately, most don’t offer ideal solutions for the EP. They tend to employ overly complicated systems, and don’t account for the shift work and variability of schedules that EPs face.
Fortunately, staying organized and managing your tasks can be quite simple and can work with the lifestyle of the EP. All that is needed are two elements: an inbox and a calendar.
The inbox is where you’ll store all the items you need to remember throughout the day. From simple things like remembering to buy eggs, to more complex projects like planning a research project, you’ll place all of these thoughts into the inbox as they occur to you. This can be a physical inbox, where you toss all notes taken through the day, or an electronic inbox, such as an email app or note-taking app on your smartphone. Whether physical or digital, the inbox has the effect of unloading your cognitive burden of trying to remember all of the tasks that build up throughout the day.
At the end of each day, you need to review the items in your inbox and find a block of time on your calendar for each task. As you move through the week, you’ll see each task that needs to be done that day and what time it will be accomplished. If you don’t get to a task for that day, you need to reassign that task to a different time slot later in the week.
By combining an inbox with a calendar, you’ll have a system that tracks all the tasks that you need to do, and assigns a specific time to accomplish all of them. Hopefully you’ll recapture that Match Day feeling and enjoy all of your newly found free time!
- Allen, David, Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking, 2001.
- Newport, Cal, Deep work: rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.