American Academy of Ophthalmology Web Site: www.aao.org
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May 2004

 
Professional Growth

Feeling Overworked?
Try a Less Busy Approach

By Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP
 
 

When your friends and colleagues say that they are really busy, sometimes it is hard to tell whether they are exasperated or proud. For many of us, the word “busy” accurately describes several facets of our lives; but if that is the case, should we be admired or pitied?

Consider this: Do patients want their physician to be busy during the office visit? Does a staff member want your complete attention during his or her performance appraisal, or is it okay if you multitask?

Are You Too Busy?
I wonder if our e-mails, voice mails and endless to-do lists really deceive us.

I have heard many men and women brag about receiving 50, 75, 100 or 200 and more e-mails each day. Is this genuine productivity or merely the appearance of productivity? In short, if I cannot be productive, do I settle for being busy?

Here are seven questions that will help you to take a fresh look at your working day.

1. Is it easier to be busy than productive? When was the last time you asked a friend or colleague how his day was and he replied that it had been productive? If that’s a rare answer, there may be a very good reason for that.

2. Are you addicted to e-mail? How many times did you check your inbox today, and how much time did you spend staring at your screen? Worse, how many other people did you copy on your e-mails?

3. Do you play phone tag? If you want to stop playing that game, then your voice mails need to say more than, “Tag, you’re it.” Give every voice mail a headline up front, along with a concise answer to what the person listening to the message wants next and details on the best way he or she can get back in touch with you.

4. Are you always running late? When we are late, we are probably kidding ourselves about the reason. We may be running late because what we were supposed to be on time for was simply not as important to us as it should have been.

5. Do you always look busy? The leader’s job is never to look busy, but rather to be inquisitive, interested and competent. In fact, if you have ever had a busy boss, did that really feel like a good thing?

6. Do people have problems getting in touch with you? If I cannot connect with you within 24 hours, then at least one of us is excessively busy—or we think we are.

7. Do you think life will not go on without you? Do not kid yourself, your family or your practice that you are irreplaceable at work. What is it that you are racing to do right now to the exclusion of other equally important things? It had better be important to you, to them and to the enterprise, or else it means very little.

The famous paradox of Saint Augustine still holds true: What I am doing right now is the most important thing in the world, but should I die momentarily, its meaning is nothing. Of course, what we all do from time to time is very important, but you should periodically ask yourself, “Is what I am doing now important or is it urgent, addictive and misguided?”

Productivity Pointers
In some organizations, looking and being busy can give you a lot of leeway. But time spent being busy should not be confused with time spent being productive. The most important thing to explore is how productive time and busy time serve us differently. How does it feel when you are just being busy compared with the feeling of being at your productive best?

Here are some tips that will help you to become less busy but more productive:

1. Set goals. In order to remember what’s truly important to you, list a maximum of three or four goals in your life. If you have to achieve anything with the life you have, what is it to be? Remind yourself early each day of your personal mission statement.

2. Work from fewer goals rather than more. Do not confuse goals with your to-do list; they are vastly different.

3. Ask the golden question. Alan Lakein, author of How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, recommends that we always ask ourselves the golden question: What is the best use of my time right now? Try asking yourself that question often during each day—the answers will be surprising.

4. Write all of your e-mails and letters for reading, not writing. Do not be hasty when sending important e-mails. Use the draft folder to keep them awhile, reread them (watch both the tone and language) and rework them before they are sent. Even when your e-mail is a simple request, stick to your goal for this communication. Consider the recipient’s needs. Who is the reader? How will that person perceive the e-mail? What questions will he or she have after reading it?

5. Craft voice mails with the listener in mind. Jot down notes to yourself about the voice mails that you send. Do not just call and talk; be purposeful about your voice communications. Do not hang up after you have left your message; some answering systems allow you to review your voice mail. If it sounds long-winded—listen for “uhms” and other useless words—then you should record it again.

6. Your quiet time today will probably be your most productive time. But truthfully, few of us make enough use of quiet time. What if you scheduled some quiet time right now? And not a “close the door and work” session; commit yourself to a “close the door and reflect” session.

7. Listen to your own natural circadian rhythm. Some of us truly are morning people; others really do “wake up” after dark. How can you build your activities around your own natural best?

What If It All Ended Today?
Who are you without your work? What is currently inside of you that will remain no matter what happens to your job? What can the world never take away from you?

R. Buckminster Fuller, the physicist, philosopher and gadfly genius, believed what we think about is largely the result of the outside: What others have thought; what we think in combination with that and our perceptions of the world. But what we feel—that is our contribution to the universe. It is our unique stamp on the world, and it comes from our core being, he said.

Feeling, then, takes center stage. Yes, we need our intellect, but our uniqueness lies in our ability to feel. Consider any of the great leaders you admire: Did they reach greatness only because of what they thought? Or did they reach greatness because they could stamp the situation with great thinking and great feeling?

My question: How do you feel about your world and your work and your life?

It may sound trite, but life truly is what we make of it. If we stay busy, we’ll miss it all.

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Next Month: Mr. O’Connor discusses leadership and its critical impact on the bottom line.

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Further Reading

Lakein, A. How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life (New York: P. H. Wyden, 1983).

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Meet the Expert

The American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives has announced that Mr. O’Connor will be the keynote speaker for the AAOE General Session at this year’s Joint Meeting in New Orleans (Oct. 23 to 26). Mr. O’Connor is a consultant and professional speaker who specializes in leadership for technical professionals, especially those in the medical field.

Mr. O’Connor’s keynote address, Profit-Ability (Sunday, Oct. 24), will offer insights on how leadership can improve the practice’s bottom line. Learn how to help the members of your team better understand their role in building and maintaining a successful practice.

In a second presentation—When All Else Fails: Finding Solutions to Your Most Persistent Management Problems (Sunday, Oct. 24)—Mr. O’Connor will cover conflict resolution strategies; negotiation techniques; effective and diplomatic communications; gender and status issues and more.

There is no fee to attend either of these presentations.

For more information on the AAOE program, check your mail for the Joint Meeting Advance Program, which is being sent to all Academy and AAOE members at the end of this month. Or go online: On May 12, all Academy program information will be posted at www.aao.org.