Time management is an essential skill for resident physicians, but for many, it’s also a skill they have had little to no training on.

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A workshop for emergency medicine and transitional year residents at the Indiana University School of Medicine (IU) is aiming to change that.

“Medical education is achievement oriented,” said Cory Pitre, MD, an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at IU who runs the workshops. “What if young physicians learned more about how to balance a challenging career with all the other important aspects of their busy lives?”

Dr. Pitre offers these valuable lessons to residents looking to better their time management skills.

Defining what is a positive use of your time, both inside a medical setting and outside of it, is personal. Because of that, at the outset of his time management workshop, Dr. Pitre asks residents to define what is important to them.

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“First and foremost, we really need to identify our personal priorities,” Dr. Pitre said. “Residents prioritize medicine, their patients and learning the craft, but there’s so much more to each individual than the job. Passions outside of medicine, like relationships. Prioritizing those things should be just as important and unique to the individual.”

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Know how you spend your time

To account for your time, you must understand how you are spending it.

“We talk about being cognizant of how time is spent,” Dr. Pitre said. “We challenge residents to complete a detailed activity log for a 24-hour period, including sleep, exercise, patient care and even Netflix. This helps to identify activities that may be time wasters for some.” Learn the top challenges trainees face during residency.

Dr. Pitre says that during each workshop there is typically at least one participant who admits that they don’t use a calendar of any sort. They perform their daily routine off memory. The inevitable outcome is that things get overlooked and they are inefficient.

Technology can be a major asset in the time management process, Dr. Pitre said.

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“While some colleagues still use paper calendars, most of us use electronic organization systems in 2020,” Dr. Pitre said. “You can leverage tech to help with a lot [of your scheduling]. Keys components are a calendar, a to-do list and a notes program for spontaneous lists and ideas. Having access to those items all the time is key.”

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Released in the early 2000s Dave Crenshaw’s The Myth of multitasking: How “Doing it All” gets nothing done is a text Dr. Pitre cites in his workshops. The premise is as simple as the title. Doing two things at once is ineffective.

“There’s something called cognitive load theory,” Dr. Pitre said. “This theory describes how a brain can’t process two things at one time. It’s just not possible. In reality, trying to do two things at the same time ends up taking twice as long.

“The science suggests that we are better off blocking time to accomplish one task prior to moving on to another one.”

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