How to effectively time-manage without learning the hard way

Residents Corner By Casey M. Mabus, PharmD

Like many others in pharmacy school, I developed skills to effectively manage my time and make sure that all of the items on my “to-do” list were completed before the deadline. For me, it was easy to make sure I got everything accomplished, and I didn’t seem to struggle very much. However, once I became a New Practitioner and began my residency, all of that quickly changed. Suddenly, the time management skills that I thought I had mastered during pharmacy school proved to be inadequate.

Effective time management begins with organization
I thought my organizations skills were pretty good. Like anyone else, I had my planner, monthly calendar on my desk with deadlines marked, and I had a “to-do” list I added to every day. All of these things sound great and make it seem like I was a very organized person; however, sometimes all of these things weren’t enough. Even though I felt organized, I still began to fall behind on other tasks that needed to be completed.

To be organized is to be detailed
Details. These are the steps I was missing in my organizational process. Although I had deadlines marked and followed a running “to-do” list, I had broad items on my list. For example, an item on my list would be “Diabetes Class,” and I would have the date and time of the class marked on my calendar. For some this may be adequate, but for me, I needed to be more detailed so that I could see what I had to do and actually feel like I was accomplishing the tasks at hand.

So what do I mean by using more details? Instead of just having “Diabetes Class” written on my list, it became a category on my list with specific tasks listed underneath to help me accomplish the overall category. “Diabetes Class” went from just a bullet to an item where I also had sub-items like “call patients to remind them,” “review and update lesson,” “print advertisement flier,” etc., listed to help me accomplish the overall goal. By doing this, I could see specific things that I had to get done and it helps to make sure that nothing gets left out. Focusing on smaller tasks to help accomplish an overall goal also allows you to really see the progress you are making.

Detailed goes hand-in-hand with prioritization
Once you have all the details for each overall task listed, it becomes easy to look at everything and then determine what needs to be completed first. Of course, always complete things first that have a deadline closing in, but it is also important to prioritize the smaller tasks to make sure everything is done in an orderly manner to get the overall goal completed. To do this, I began to take 30 minutes every morning before going into the pharmacy to prioritize items and make sure important things were on my radar to be completed first.

All of these components complement time management because without these things, you may feel like you are running in circles and forgetting to complete smaller tasks. When this occurs, it then delays the time to completion and you may find that you are wasting time trying to remember what you need to work on next. By having a detailed list and prioritizing that list, it helps you know exactly what and when things need to get done to help you optimize your time each day.

Stay grounded
As a resident, you often get pulled away from what you are doing or have to work on multiple tasks at one time. Having that detailed “to-do” list and planning your day before you step into the pharmacy helps keep you oriented and grounded instead of feeling flighty and like nothing gets accomplished. When you are getting pulled away to do something else, it is easy to look back at your list and know exactly what you were doing that helps prevent things from falling through the cracks and putting you even further behind schedule.

Good luck managing your time and enjoy your residency experience!