The Time is Now

Improve your time management skills with these pro tips.time is now

There's no time like the present. However, when you're a radiologist tasked with clinical, administrative, research, and teaching responsibilities, it can be difficult to manage the present effectively.

"Our time is only finite," says Puneet Bhargava, MD, associate professor of radiology at the University of Washington in Seattle. "We can read studies faster to a point, but beyond that, we have to work smarter, not harder." Despite the shifting focus toward quality rather than volume, radiologists are under pressure to read more studies in less time.

In 2009, Bhargava felt pressured in the early stages of his career. In fact, as an academic radiologist and journal editor, he was, in his own words, "drowning in stuff." Bhargava thought there must be a better way to manage his time, and so he decided to take advice from the business world. He spent six months studying and learning about business professionals, reading books such as Getting Things Done by David Allen and experimenting with several time-management techniques. What he found is that while there's no one-size-fits-all method for everyone, there are some universal strategies for radiologists to better manage their day-to-day activities. Here are some of the lessons he learned and has since applied in his own daily life.

Two Major Pitfalls

The first thing to realize is that time-management techniques are extremely unique and very personal. What works for one person may not work for another. However, through his research, Bhargava found two common mistakes that most radiologists were making:

1. Email Overload: "If you don't manage your email, your email will manage you," says Bhargava. He notes that many of his colleagues have no strategy for managing their inbox; many don't even delete email. "They live in their inbox," he says. He also cites data that people with smartphones check their phones more than 100 times per day.

2. Lack of Priorities: The other bad habit that Bhargava sees radiologists adopt is not fully prioritizing their projects. "Unless you have a to-do list and manage it, you won't know what's critical and urgent," he explains, adding that this is particularly important for this specialty. "Our reputations are built on delivering on time, and if you don't meet a deadline, then you'll tarnish yours."

And what's one big part of prioritizing? You must delegate when necessary. Remember to follow the advice of Valerie P. Jackson, MD, FACR, in the JACR®: "Ask 'Why me?' ... Get over the guilt of delegating: think of it as a leadership-building opportunity for others in your practice."


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Tools to Test

To help with both email and priority management, Bhargava believes in relying on technology. Here are a few of the tools he's found to be essential:

Text Expander: Opt for a text expander to draft common email responses as macros, noting they have saved him hundreds of thousands of characters in typing. Textexpander (Mac) and Breevy (Windows) are two good options, Bhargava says.

Password Manager: Use a password manager, so you can have unique passwords for all of your logins, and yet only have to remember one master password. This itself can be a huge time and headache saver. 1Password is Bhargava's tool of choice.

Speech-Recognition Software: Expand your use of speech-recognition software. You probably already use it in your daily workflow time is now in text 1for dictating reports, but Bhargava recommends using speech-recognition software outside of the reading room to save time on emails. Dragon speech recognition software is his favorite.

On the other hand, not every solution has to rely on technology, and Bhargava emphasizes that these methods don't work for everyone. He notes that his wife still uses a hard copy calendar on their fridge to manage their busy schedule, and it works — for her. Alternatively, a radiologist might keep a to-do list on paper.

In this day and age, there are tech solutions for calendars and to-do lists, but in the end, all that really matters is that you have a system and stick to it. "There is no single tool that works for everyone, but most of us need some type of system to function," explains Christina Surawicz, MD, associate dean of faculty development at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Freed-Up Space

Committing to reform your management methods can be difficult at first. It will take time to adapt. Yet Bhargava says that he knew as a young radiologist spending 3-6 months on this project would pay off in the end. But how?

First and foremost, it has allowed him to spend more time with his family. "I thought, 'If I can do my work in less time, I can spend more time with them,'" he explains.

In addition, Bhargava says that managing his time better also freed him up to try some daring things.

Like what? Well, Bhargava was able to write journal articles about time management and organizational psychology as it relates to the business of radiology. He runs a time management course for faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He has even been invited to give talks and presentations on the subject around the country. "Being viewed as an expert on this one unique and useful topic as really helped me in my career," he says.


By Alyssa Martino, freelance writer for the ACR Bulletin

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