Personal productivity: every little helps
Frankly, we’re just not pulling our weight. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, British productivity used to grow at a solid 2% a year, but in the last decade it’s hardly grown at all. Productivity is now lagging behind the majority of Western Europe – and it’s a problem that needs to be solved if we are to achieve more with less resource.
For all too many practices, just managing to deliver core services is a big enough headache. The admin burden seems to be growing exponentially, the GP shortage has created work for all remaining practice staff, and then there are policy ideas such as seven-day opening to further stretch resources.
The answer, at least according to the NHS, could be personal productivity. In fact, it believes so strongly in this that it has made it number six on the 10 High Impact Actions list of ways to free up practice time.
Essentially, it says that practices can save time through:
• Personal resilience: Supporting staff to be happy and productive in their work through the way they respond to pressure. The maintenance of an engaged organisational culture through deliberate leadership of the team and systems can have a significant impact on resilience and productivity. A wide range of activities may help build staff resilience, including training, mentoring and peer support schemes, as well as more intensive support for staff experiencing difficulties.
• Computer confidence: Provision of initial and ongoing support to staff to ensure they are able to make the best and most efficient use of practice computer systems. Specific opportunities may be created for staff to discuss their use of systems and to share tips, or this may feature as part of other team sessions.
• Touch typing & speed reading: Training for staff in typing and reading at speed. This frees staff time, and reduces frustration and distraction, making it easier to devote attention to other things.
The above is all well and good, but arguably the biggest challenge for practice managers in today’s complex and collaborative workplace is managing not just your personal workload but the collective one. Here are seven tips and techniques to use to do it, some of which are already being put into practice by PMs:
Encourage open communication
Conversations with team members about time management and productivity should be ongoing and honest. Let people discuss the challenges they’re facing, what’s holding tasks up and let them share thoughts on the tools, training and additional resources that would help remove the blockade. It’s when people don’t tell you that they’re overstretched that serious problems can occur.
Play to strengths
We’re all different, which means you’ll hopefully have a range of complementary skills in your practice. Delegate according to those strengths, as people will generally be happier doing tasks they’re better at. Just avoid giving the same person the most mundane tasks all of the time!
Rhythms and autonomy
Following on from the above, we all have an ultradian rhythm that differs from person-to-person. The ultradian rhythm is made up of 90- to 120-minute cycles where you’ll be at peak productivity, followed by 20-minute lulls. Focus on your most difficult tasks during your most productive cycles and then complete less difficult, mentally intensive tasks during your 20-minute lulls.
Interestingly, one practice manager told us: “We had heard about personal rhythms so decided to see if we could use them to our advantage. So, we stopped micro-managing and left people to work out their own structure for their day, based on some knowledge of rhythms that we provided and a fair bit of experimentation. We saw notable improvements in productivity, so decided to let our admin teams arrange their own breaks and rotas. That worked too, so I would recommend others doing the same.”
Avoid the meeting drain
Meetings can be the worst time drain in any workplace. While they are essential, you could eliminate them or change their format. The Golden Rule of meetings is to ensure you have a clearly defined purpose for each one. It can also pay to send out meeting material beforehand to speed them up.
Batching is a really simple technique that trains people to accomplish a lot of similar small tasks in one sitting. By grouping repetitive, regular tasks into concentrated work sessions, you turn many tasks into a single task, making you feel like you have more uninterrupted time blocks in your day to accomplish larger, time demanding tasks. It also enables you to get into your workflow in the morning by starting with easy, repeatable tasks first—or keeps you productive at the end of your work day when your brain has maxed out on strategy and problem-solving.
The Pomodoro Technique maximizes time and efficiency by blocking out 25 minutes of uninterrupted focus, followed by 5 minutes of break time. While it sounds easy, making yourself stay fully focused for 25 minutes straight can be a challenge. Be reasonable with yourself; try just starting with one block a day of uninterrupted focus.
Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the Pomodoro Technique, broke down this technique into five simple steps:
1. Choose a task to be accomplished.
2. Set a timer to 25 minutes.
3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper.
4. Take a 5-minute break (this marks the completion of one “Pomodoro”).
5. Every four Pomodoros, take a longer break. If you think of an unrelated topic or task that needs to get done, make sure to jot down a note for yourself and deal with it later.
Consider using technology to save time. Could digital dictation an speech recognition, for example, save time? Could time management apps help set up the day? What processes can be automated to avoid any human effort at all? Simple measures can save time – including ensuring printer settings are correctly set-up and templated for printing on letterheads etc.
Workplace productivity is a big problem for organisations of all types – including GP practices. However, a few simple steps like those highlighted above can help win back precious time, ease the pressures on practices and help more to be done.
Do you have any hints or useful advice on how you have improved personal productivity? Join the debate here