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Posted September 16, 2013

Working More Effectively: Time, Meeting and E-Mail Management

By Lynne Cunningham, MPA, FACHE

Time is the one resource that comes in a finite supply. We can sleep less, work harder and delegate appropriately, but we can’t create more time. We can, however, work more effectively to make the best use of the time we have.

Much has been written on this subject, but we’ve tried to consolidate and summarize into an octet of tips that every healthcare leader can use to make the best use of his or her time.

Let’s start with time management. Do you wish you could manage your time more effectively? Do you sometimes feel disorganized? Do you lose things? Would you like to adopt best practices that can help?

We can start by determining our biggest time wasters and then address them head-on. We’ll talk more about meetings and e-mail in a minute but first let’s look at two tips that will help with time management.

  1. Select a system for prioritization.
    Here are three models that can be quite effective:
    1. A, B, C. With this model, we create “stacks” of incoming projects, mail, data, etc. These can be literal stacks or electronic piles. A’s are the top priority. C’s are the lowest and can go into a drawer (or electronic folder) for resurrection if, and when, we have time. B’s are everything else and should be addressed when the A’s have been completed.
    2. Swiss cheese. This is my personal favorite as I always seem to have a lot of BIG projects and never enough time to complete a project in a single sitting. Just as a brick of Swiss cheese is full of holes, identify the holes (or subcomponents) in your big project and bite off a piece when you have a little time.
    3. Only touch things once. With this model we deal with the issue or project when it comes in, complete it fully, and then forget it.
  2. Manage interruptions. In talking to healthcare leaders across the country, we find that interruptions are a huge barrier to completing a leader’s own work. Try establishing expectations with your team that you will periodically be unavailable due to dedicated project time. Then cue them to this time by hanging a special sign on your door or cubicle. Of course, you’ll always be available in an emergency but you can also coach your team members on what counts as “an emergency” and what they can handle on their own.

Next, let’s turn to meetings. Sometimes it feels like we have a meeting for just about anything. We tend to include “everyone” who will be impacted, meetings may run longer than expected and so on. Meetings are expensive, too. Studer Group has a low-tech tool for analyzing the cost of meetings in an organization and we find that once the cost is realized, leaders find ways to reduce the number of meetings, the duration of meetings, and the number of people invited to each meeting dramatically. Two tips that can help include:

  1. Establish Meeting Rules. The rules should be set by the team but typically include things like start and end on time; use a timed agenda; send out the agenda with all attachments at least three days in advance; use an abbreviated form for meeting notes so the notes can be distributed within 24 hours of the meeting.
  2. Assign Roles within the Team. We recommend assigning four roles at every meeting, including facilitator, timekeeper, scribe and weed whacker. The first three are self-explanatory but the weed whacker is in charge of keeping everyone focused on the current topic of discussion and not letting the conversation stray.

Finally, let’s take a look at E-mail Management. Four tips that can help with e-mail management and create some time to focus on high priority projects, reward and recognize your staff, and Rounding on your internal and patient customers include:

  1. Make better use of the subject line. One tip is putting the whole, short message in the subject line and ending with “EOM” for end of message. For example, “today’s meeting is cancelled (EOM).” This saves you and everyone else time.
  2. Create rules for the To: and CC: lines. At Studer Group, you are only expected to respond if you are in the To: line and you are NOT expected to respond if you are in the CC: line. Again, this saves everyone time.
  3. Stamp out Reply to All, Thanks or Got It e-mails. These are almost never necessary and contribute to email clutter. If you do require a response, ask that the receiver respond only to you.
  4. Use Spell Checker and Proof Read. Even if you are on a personal electronic device, be sure to proof read and spell check your work. When there are misspellings, it can come across as disinterested and unprofessional.

If you and your team are ready to focus on improving time, meetings and e-mail, we encourage you to do a four-step exercise:

  • Brainstorm what’s working well with time, e-mail and meeting management.
  • Identify your biggest opportunities for improvement in these three areas.
  • As a team, agree on three things that you are willing to do differently – starting tomorrow – to make better use of these tools.
  • Finally, hold each other accountable to implement and hardwire these new behaviors.

Additional Resources:

Studer Group’s Time Exercise allows you to identify where you spend your time each week and just how much time you spend doing them. You can then tie the amount of hours to your salary rate per hour to calculate just how costly meetings can be.

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