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Time-management tips: Improve productivity and efficiency

Planning is an essential skill in time management, yet it's rarely formally taught to anyone, says Pam Vaccaro, MA, CSP, president of St. Louis-based consulting firm Designs on Time ( A speaker about time management to healthcare professionals since 1991, Vaccaro has developed the following time-tested advice on coping with hectic schedules:

1. Find your most productive time of day. Vaccaro says that although nurses know the body well, few know how to capitalize on their best time of day-the three- to four-hour periods during which they're the most alert mentally and physically. Our peak periods are followed by a slump and then repeat during the day, she says.

2. Capitalize on snippets of time. Interactions with patients, faculty, and other healthcare providers during the day can splinter even the most flexible schedule. Nurses may rarely have blocks of time during which to accomplish tasks, but they do have occasional snippets of time which Vaccaro identifies as seven- to nine-minute segments. "You might initially discount these because there isn't enough time to do something. But if you capitalize on them, you'll be surprised at how much you can get accomplished," she says.

3. Get adequate rest; take breaks. Studies have shown the negative effects of sleep deprivation and fatigue. Among them is a report published in the October 2004 New England Journal of Medicine that found that residents who worked more than 80 hours a week made 36% more serious medical errors than those who worked 65 hours a week.

4. Subscribe to the 80/20 theory. In the late 1800s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country after he noted that 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. Along the way, management experts began applying "Pareto's Principle," as it became known, to the way people managed their time. The theory that "20% of what you do produces 80% of the results you want" can be useful for healthcare providers striving to maximize their time and focus on the job, Vaccaro says.

5. Manage technology. A large part of time management in today's increasingly high-tech hospitals is managing all forms of technology and the stress that results from having to learn yet another program or procedure. Vaccaro says inefficient people aren't automatically aided by technology itself. In fact, she believes it can make them "inefficient faster."

As a result, she recommends that nurses start with the basics (i.e., good planning) even if that means using an old-fashioned paper planner in lieu of a flashy personal digital assistant.

Source: Residency Program Alert, HCPro, Inc.