5 things you didn’t know about being a productive doctor

Productivity is a set of good habits acquired over time by repeated practice and reinforcement.

In our day-to-day professional lives, we come across people who seem to be able to get more hours out of the day than others. “That’s a real gift they have; I wish I could have that”, is a common reaction. You are wrong on both counts. Productivity is not a gift; it is a trait acquired by repeated practice and reinforcement. Yes, you can acquire the same skill by consciously working at a set of good habits and practices. Here’s a list of 5 things you can do to increase your productivity.

Here’s a video that summarises the list of productivity hacks.

VIDEO: Productivity tips

1START WITH A MORNING ROUTINE: Whenever I talk about rituals, the first response is that they are so confining and restrictive. Rituals are not restricting. Having a go-to schedule cuts down on time and energy that could be frittered away in thinking up what to do. All productive people begin their day with a routine. This clears the mind of clutter and sets a positive tone for the day. Effective morning rituals usually include some form of exercise or stretching, meditation or mindfulness and a proper start to the day’s meals.

“Ritual focuses attention by framing: it enlivens the memory and links the present with the relevant past. In all this it aids perception. …It can permit knowledge of what would otherwise not be known at all. …There are some things which we can not experience without ritual”

Douglas 1966

Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” have been around for several decades; three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages –they are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritise and synchronise the day at hand.”

2 TAKE CONTROL OF INTERRUPTIONS: It’s a maddeningly busy clinic. You are already running late and patients are sitting in the waiting area, fuming. To add to the pressure, every few minutes the phone rings, or someone opens the clinic door to pop their heads in and ask a question or walks in to have you look at a document and sign it. The already delayed patient is even more annoyed that you can’t give her problem your undivided attention for more than a few minutes at a time.

There is no such thing as multitasking. It’s always single tasking with rapid task shifting. There is an energy cost for each episode when disconnecting  from one activity and moving on to the next. The effort involved in redirecting focus is the same whether the new task lasts five seconds or five minutes.

Limit the number of interruptions during your office hours by batching questions and documents for review and signature. Have your staff aggregate calls, questions and documents and present them in a batch. This simple strategy reduces the switching overhead to a single event. As an additional benefit, office staff also have fewer interruptions.

3IF SOMETHING CAN BE DONE IN THE NEXT 2 MINUTES, JUST DO IT — NOW:  David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” remains firmly at the head of my recommendations for productivity. In his master algorithm, Allen instructs: If a task can be completely done within the next 2 minutes, don’t postpone or delegate; do it immediately. Leaving small jobs undone builds up an anxiety overhead that looms constantly like a dark cloud and acts as a serious cognitive drain. Amongst the dozens of tips that GTD doles out, this is the simplest and most effective.

As a corollary to the previous recommendation, it might be a good idea to maintain a small to-do list of these 2-minute tasks and, at a fixed time slot, handle them all in batch mode.

4 POWER UP WITH POWER NAPS: Sir Winston Churchill, him of the “blood, toil, tears, sweat and blood” promise, took a nap in the middle of his workday. His productivity was legendary: statesman, writer, speaker, artist.

The brain has remarkable powers of plasticity — the ability to form new connections and ideas. Plasticity seems to improve during sleep, indeed, many experts on the subject state that this is the primary reason for sleeping and dreaming. Losing sleep certainly can limit your brain functioning,

As the day goes by, your brain tends to stumble. Power napping is the key to getting an energy boost. A short nap smooths the glitches, so you can function for the rest of the day.

  • Nap for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t use alarms and timers. If you are jarred awake when they go off, the sudden wakening can actually nullify the effect of the nap. As taking a nap becomes a regular habit, you will be able to naturally limit the time without any aids and gadgets.
  • One power nap is usually enough to get through the rest of the afternoon.
  • Naps longer than a half hour may actually leave you tired and drained.

5PERFECTION IS UNATTAINABLE; GOOD ENOUGH IS GOOD ENOUGH: Perfection is like the horizon: it always remains at a distance and keeps moving away as you walk.

Seeking perfection can create paralysis and impair productivity. Procrastination is a device that would-be perfectionists use to defer action. “Good enough” should be the guiding principle and the path to successive iterations towards an ideal goal. Waiting to launch until a perfect product is achieved can, in today’s world of rapid change, be the path to failure.

A hidden cost of perfectionism is that it’s much harder to delegate. Insisting on perfection from subordinates who may not be able to achieve these standards, can be very demotivating. People will just clam up when asked to reach performance standards that are beyond them.


“Doctor Mike” gives you some excellent advice in this snappy, funny video.

One reply on “5 things you didn’t know about being a productive doctor”

  1. K.Nirmal kumar on

    Dear Dr
    This is an excellent initiative to the Medical community. While in today’s information explosion and access to the same, Self motivated individuals will be benefited with your experience and expertise, I wonder India need medically educated social workers who can steer the patients with informed decisions!! Most , so called social workers at Hospital s are just getting the financial status and categorize Can pay, have insurance etc etc. Also emotional black mailing is rampant to squeeze each and everyone. Well to cut short , is it possible to include Health care professionals who are not formally qualified or else have a plan at a later date if that need can be planted !! or at least some blog posts to energize!!
    with best wishes

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