As we navigate our way out of the uncharted waters of lockdown, we will find ourselves getting busier and busier. Many practice owners are reporting that they are booked well ahead now and one of the challenges we will face is how to best manage our time.

Never enough time

For some of us, it seems there is never enough time in the day. As we all get the same 86,400 seconds, the question is how is it that some people seem to breeze through each day achieving so much while others seem to struggle to achieve anything.

Good time management

Those people who ‘get stuff done’ are usually excellent at managing their time. There are some well-known time management systems you can learn but for the purposes of this article, I will be looking at Covey’s Matrix and how you can use this to make the most of the time you have.

Covey’s Matrix

While Dwight D Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States is credited with developing the Eisenhower Matrix, it was Stephen Covey who popularised a similar system in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This is a great read if you want to become more efficient with your limited time.

Covey’s Matrix is one of the most well known time management systems. I have illustrated it here and put some content into some of the boxes for context. This model is best used in a reviewing exercise to recognise and understand what tasks you have been doing, then in a planning exercise to see what tasks you plan to do and where they sit in the matrix.

By using this matrix, you can improve your ability to function more effectively – even when time is tight, and pressures are high. Good time management requires an important shift in focus from ‘doing’ to ‘achieving’. This means spending your time in the upper quadrants of 1 and 2.

Table 1: Covey’s Matrix for time management

Many of us are procrastinators and avoiders, often putting off the more difficult or less enjoyable tasks, filling the time with trivial or unproductive things and spending too much time in sections 3 and 4.

Case study

The following example is based on a true timeline experience from my days in practice; with a few artistic modifications to better illustrate the point.

You arrive in practice to find your field screener simply will not light up. You have a busy week ahead and your first patient is due. This really is the last thing you need right now. Clearly, it is a box 1 problem; important and urgent. Whatever you had planned for the day will have to wait. You now must decide whether to cancel the clinic or whether to carry on and get people back for their fields, before working out who to call to get the screener fixed. This is going to block your day and so immediately any plans you had for tackling issues in box 2 go out of the window.

Now you recall that some weeks ago one of your locums mentioned the screener was making a slightly funny noise from time to time and the display was blinking. You had never seen this but nevertheless made a note to get it looked at. As you are an avid user of Covey’s Matrix, you had popped this note in box 2; important but not urgent. You were quite chuffed with yourself and saw the importance having this investigated before something more drastic happened.

On further reflection, you recall that you did decide on one of your ‘management mornings’ to get the screener looked at and remember trying to find the number of the equipment servicing company. While you were looking for the number, James, your new trainee arrived at work to say his car had a flat tyre and he had left it in the car park. You decided to give him the morning off so he could get it fixed and spent the rest of the day covering for him in the practice.

Now this is where the matrix gets interesting. While the flat tyre was urgent for James, it was not urgent for you. Notwithstanding the fact that you wanted to help James, you spent that day in box 3; urgent and not important. It was urgent for someone else, but it was not urgent for you and it was not important for you to spend a day in the practice covering James instead of working on your business.

You tried again to find the number a few days later and while searching through your contacts you felt frustrated at how many useless phone numbers you seem to have in your contacts and decided there and then to delete the ones you no longer need. The dopamine hit your brain received each time the contact list shrank encouraged you to carry on for two hours – forgetting all about the screener.

So where should we spend our time?

Clearly from our example, box 2 is the place where the most effective people spend most of their time. Spending time in box 2 prevents deadlines becoming tight and hence reduces what ends up in box 1.

This matrix, when used for managing work time, family time, leisure time and, dare I say it, ‘me’ time, can improve your effectiveness dramatically and my challenge to you this week it to try it and see for yourself.

Perhaps you could be one of those people everyone else looks at in envy of how much you get from your 84,600 seconds each day.

Till next time…