“I would …if only I had more time!” How often have you made this remark, either to friends who wanted to see you, or family, or even your significant other? Well, you’re not alone. Time management is not a new concept but it is one that many people – especially us physicians – often struggle with. We may have regimented schedules, even documenting our time in hopelessly exacting intervals, and some of us may run our professional lives using our smartphone or Google Calendar to be efficient – yet somehow there seems to be never enough time to do what we have to do (never mind what we WANT to be doing). More often than not, this can become a problem in our personal and financial lives.

What else can we do about this? A physician client asked me once if I could offer some advice or guidance on time management and it got me thinking about my post call days as a senior resident. Do you remember those daily patient lists that we would scribble all sorts of notes and stuff into our white coats? Well it turns out, the simple act of making that list represents some key tips for time management that you can use in life after residency.

Make a list. Those patient lists that we would carry around with scribbled notes and reminders worked because it was a forced method of making a list. It was the first step toward the effective management of your day as a resident. So start by making your “to do list” and keep it focused. You do it for others; try it for yourself.

Set Priorities. You would evaluate a critically ill patient before you would evaluate your stable, low – risk patient. It’s intuitive and does not require much debate. Yet without realizing it, you have learned a key aspect of time management; prioritization.

So sit down and prioritize your list. When it comes to time management, tackling the toughest (perhaps the most time intensive) tasks first can not only help to determine how much of your day will be left to the less crucial tasks, but alleviate that mental burden of knowing “the worst is yet to come” that day.

As you scroll down to the lower priority or less time – intensive activities, ask yourself: is there anything I can delegate? You’ve been there to assist colleagues, and that should be a two way street. Maybe some of those tasks can get knocked off the list with minimal input (or time) from you.

Priority: YOU time. Don’t forget to mark off time for yourself! Ten minutes of mental silence at the right time in your day (perhaps after you’ve knocked off that first big task) can rejuvenate you tremendously, and that could make the rest of the day run smoother. You time should not be at the bottom of the list!

Make Decisions with the “Employer/Employee” Approach. Organize your calendar at the beginning of the day – or, for you night owls, perhaps the night before – as if you are the boss, then follow your own lead as if you are the employee. Set up the calendar in a distraction-free environment (I know that’s asking a lot) to help the objectivity, and once it’s done, that schedule is now the boss and you are following it.

We make important life altering decisions for our patients on a daily basis. Now it’s time for you to make decisions about the priorities in your life. What needs to happen today? What can you put off until tomorrow? A resolute mind that has taken time to prepare the day’s activities into proper priority can allow you to relax and just flow with your own game plan. Time that is passively or mindlessly spent is too easily discarded, and this habit will help you to regiment all of it; even when the regiment says the time is free. And as for that free time – make the decision to leave plenty of time to enjoy life. Your practice does not define your life, you do!