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Time Management: A Realistic Approach

Dec 27, 2022
Time Management: A Realistic Approach
written by Valerie P. Jackson, MD

We have all been there: busy with our jobs and taking care of our families, we have to-do lists a mile long. If we are lucky, when we stumble into bed at night, we might have crossed off a handful of tasks. We have trouble sleeping as we think about all of the things we failed to do. For some reason, in the middle of the night, the size of these tasks is exaggerated. When we get up the next day, we are sleep deprived and racked with guilt, ready to begin yet another day of being behind. This vicious cycle goes on day after day, month after month, year after year. In this age of 24/7 connectivity, if we take a “vacation,” we continue to do work, and if we don’t, we feel guilty. The fatigue, disorganization, and sense of loss of control usually leads to reduced productivity and quality of our efforts, both professional and personal. The stress and anxiety take up valuable time and energy. Anxiety eats brainpower. How do we break this cycle? Learning to manage our time, instead of allowing time to manage us, is the key.

There are many time management and organization books and other resources. Unfortunately, many make the reader feel guilty, because it is difficult to complete all of the suggested tasks. Morgenstern [2] stressed that you must take small steps and do things that feel comfortable to you. If you feel guilty and try to adhere to someone else’s style, you are likely to become frustrated. If you find something that works for you, you will feel good about whatever you are able to accomplish and forge ahead. For example, most authors stress the need for filing. This is great if you 1) have a simple filing scheme and 2) have someone to do the filing for you. Otherwise, filing is a time-consuming task that is difficult to maintain over time. From Morgenstern, I learned that my method of “organized piles” is perfectly acceptable as long as I can find items easily. Instead of feeling like a filing failure, I feel successful in my maintenance of orderly heaps.

The Basics of Time Management

The key steps for successful time management are as follows: 1) set realistic goals, 2) get organized, 3) delegate, 4) relax and recharge, and 5) stop feeling guilty. There are two major time management stumbling blocks: procrastination and perfectionism. When we put off tasks (usually distasteful tasks), we often increase our anxiety level, further delaying our work on the task. If we insist on being perfect in every task, we minimize the chance that we will actually complete the task. In fact, perfect is the enemy of good. If 80% of the effort produces 95% of the product, does it really make sense to reach for that final 5%? Will anyone notice? Will it affect the outcome?


The development of goals is critical for personal success. Covey [3] described this as a process to “organize and execute around priorities.” Everyone has both immediate and long-term goals. In many cases, the very short-term goals or tasks supersede long-term goals to the point that individuals may never achieve their lifetime goals. To determine if you have fallen into this trap, write down your top 3 to 5 lifetime goals (Table 1). Next, list 10 things you plan to accomplish in the next week (your to-do list; Table 2). Compare these lists (Table 3): is there anything on your to-do list that relates to your lifetime goals? In the example here, many of the small tasks might ultimately lead to becoming the head of a radiology practice. However, this individual is unlikely to ever get an MBA, learn to play the saxophone, or get to Fiji. For many of us, the lack of correlation of the lists goes on for weeks, months, even years. It is important to work toward your lifetime goals in addition to accomplishing your immediate tasks. This means you must elevate your lifetime goals to higher priorities. Obviously, you cannot ignore many of your weekly activities, but if you don’t perceive that you are not working toward your lifetime goals, you will never accomplish them.

Excerpt from Journal of the American College of Radiology (read the full article here: