From housewives to salespeople to CEOs, time management is an important, and sometimes critical, component of every day. Because there are only so many waking hours in a day, making the best use of every minute can spell the difference between accomplishment and squandering time. Time is a resource that cannot be replaced. For people in the workplace to be effective they have to make the most efficient use of time. There has to be priorities and a system in place to guide them in how they allocate every minute.
As important as managing time is to the success of an employee, department or organization, managing one’s career, and having a roadmap in place, is just as crucial to success. Career success has to include a regular increase in knowledge and skills so that the perceived value of an employee is recognized upon evaluation. This professional development is achieved through coursework, conference attendance, association participation, degree and credential attainment, workshops and informal learning.
These initiatives allow an employee to remain competitive in their profession and maintain an edge in the workplace. Time management is a component of professional development and becomes more crucial when trying to balance training, after-work classes and a full-time job. Problem solving, decision making and ethics all combine with time management to further career progression and advance a person’s career success.
Among many other things, the English philosopher, Francis Bacon, is known for his quote; “knowledge is power.” Knowledge can be a powerful stimulant for career development.
Budgeting is a reality in every department of every hospital. Changes that were a part of the Affordable Care Act brought both new costs and thinner margins to hospitals. A form of trickle-down economics meant that everybody got to share in the new realities of health care in the modern age. Watching the bottom line while taking steps to trim costs and operate efficiently are a concern for CE departments and their counterparts. While controlling costs is a good thing in the macro sense, it can be challenging at the department level where resources can be tested.
In 1964, the Rolling Stones first sang “Time is on my Side.” That might be true in the life of a rock star, but in the metric-focused workplace, time is at a premium. With tightening hospital budgets, every ounce of efficiency has to be squeezed out of every employee. Making the most of work hours is a big topic for employers. Any modifications, to behavior, that optimize the time spent on the job can increase productivity and minimize non-productive periods.
“Improvements in technology have led society to become so fast-paced that it’s easy for small details to slip through the cracks. Along those lines, the rise of social media — that is, the ever-present connection with our family and friends — has created around-the-clock distractions for us,” says author and speaker Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed.
“It’s become common to see people interrupting their tasks-at-hand to check Facebook or text messages. All this gets in the way of task achievement, interferes with our attention-to-detail, and slows down our progress,” he says.
Bobinski is the author of “Workplace Training,” “Creating Passion-Driven Teams,” “Living Toad Free” and “The Really Simple Way to Hire, Train, and Retain Great Employees.” He is also the president of Leadership Development Inc.
He says that time management cannot be addressed with a cookie-cutter approach. In an article for Management Issues, Bobinski characterized time management as being “like an ink blot: every person views it differently.”
That approach can also hold true for the field or profession that the employee works in. The HTM profession finds technicians being pulled in several directions throughout the day. Some pre-planning often helps make the most efficient use of time.
“In our profession, you really have to be a master of multi-tasking, you also have to be supremely flexible in the understanding that you may not get to everything you had anticipated that day. I probably couldn’t tell you the last time my day went completely as planned,” says Jennifer DeFrancesco, DHA, MS, CCE, CHTM, Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 10 chief biomedical engineer.
She says that in general, to best manage her time she tries to plan ahead and not wait until the last minute on tasks as something else will inevitably come up.
“This involves being scheduled and purposeful and trying to get ahead of anything that may come your way,” DeFrancesco says.
In addition to pre-planning, prioritization is an important tool, according to Benjamin Lewis, director of Clinical Engineering GA/FL for Adept Health Inc.
“Time management for technicians and engineers is a challenging aspect of our business. Healthcare Technology Management in a large facility is always busy. Prioritizing work appropriately is the first step in time management. Patient and staff safety issues take the highest priority, followed by business impact items that interrupt work flow, and then comes non-distinct items like IV pumps and SCDs. Training staff to recognize priority and change gears accordingly will allow your operation to flow more smoothly. Prioritization levels should also be built into your CMMS,” Lewis says.
“I recall going through time management concepts with my technicians. Most didn’t like to do PMs (planned or preventive) maintenance. Subsequently, they would push off doing them until the last week of the month. That meant pushing aside all their CM (Corrective Maintenance) so they could get their PMs done and meet their completion requirements,” says Al Gresch, vice president of client success for Mainspring Healthcare Solutions in Boston.
“This has the potential to reduce the quality of the PMs being done because they are rushed and increase turnaround time on the repairs that are sitting,” Gresch says.
Just as DeFrancesco explained, pre-planning has an important place in the HTM field as a catalyst for getting the best results when time must be allocated efficiently. Gresch agrees with this concept and has applied it to PM completion.
“The better approach was to plan ahead.
This approach also gave them greater ability to locate items and get to equipment that might be in use before the month was out,” he adds.
Gresch says that “time is like money; either you manage it or it manages you.”
“When I’m helping individuals improve time management, I begin with Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’” says Jason Crawford, president of Block Imaging Parts and Service in Holt, Michigan.
As a good starting point, Crawford cites Covey’s habit 3, to “put first things first.”
“Most people spend their time working on urgent and important activities. Getting control of our lives involves spending time on non-urgent, but important things. It took me years to discover that most of the urgency in my life was ultimately self-inflicted,” Crawford says.
“I was leading a team in such a way that the problems always ended up back on my desk. Leadership involves empowering others. Everyone in an organization, regardless of their position on the org chart, has the ability to empower others to be successful,” he adds.
Gresch says of the HTM profession, “unfortunately, in our industry, we tend to do way too much firefighting and use that as an excuse to not employ good time management practices.” He agrees with Crawford that Stephen Covey nails the time management conundrum. He also cites Covey’s book as a source of guidance in this area.
“In it, the section on time management goes over the four quadrants of things where we spend our time; Quadrant 1: those things that are both urgent and important (the fires), Quadrant 2: those that are important but not urgent (strategic and developmental initiatives); Quadrant 3: those that are urgent but not important (phone calls, emails, meetings); and Quadrant 4: those that are neither important or urgent (checking Facebook or Twitter or anything else that doesn’t provide real value to our day),” Gresch says.
DeFrancesco says that it is really important to set some work-life boundaries for yourself as well.
“After working myself into burnout at one point, I created standard ‘rules’ for my time; I leave work by 5:30 p.m. if there isn’t an emergency issue or something due tomorrow that isn’t complete. Also, I – in general – do not review emails after 7 p.m. or before 6 a.m. as I receive and triage emergency calls if something requires immediate attention during these hours,” she says.
She explains that these rules make it possible to greatly reduce the time she was spending at work and on work during her personal time by establishing a stop time.
“These boundaries may look different for each person based upon their responsibilities and organization, but it is definitely worth thinking through,” DeFrancesco says. “There are many unknowns in our field, and in health care, so it is important to be as prepared as possible, as diligent as possible and as flexible as possible.”
During those hours you are on the job, Boblinski suggests setting short goals during the work day to accomplish more.
“To improve one’s time management, which is really action-management, because what we’re really doing is managing our actions in the time we’re given – everyone gets 24 hours each day – we must become purposed and disciplined to ignore the lure of social media distractions. To aid in this effort, establishing a ‘by when’ for each task we have helps. I’ve seen several research papers that found, if we set deadlines, we are likely to accomplish much more than if we don’t,” he says.
Taking ownership of career advancement and direction is up to every employee. There are a number of ways to achieve this and many require some time investment, or some conceptual thinking, to achieve results. The intrinsic value in putting these concepts into action is that they can benefit the employee and the employer.
“AAMI has developed a great number of resources in this area, including the Career Planning Handbook, Leadership Development Guide, Core Competencies Handbook, and HTM Levels Guide. In addition, AAMI has developed a mentorship program to pair people up with a well established HTM professional,” Gresch says. “There are likely resources available from your employer in this area. One can also seek out a mentor who is a leader in your own organization. I have several books I’ve read over the years, but my favorites are written by John C. Maxwell, such as ‘Developing the Leader Within You’ and ‘Developing the Leaders Around You.’”
When thinking about professional development, the emphasis is most often put on what can be added to a résumé in terms of training and education. There is another element, that may be overlooked, in the successful development of an individual or department. At an MD Expo last year, Crawford presented a class titled: “Moving Your Team from Conflict to Trust.”
“One of the most significant factors slowing organizations down today is unhealthy conflict (and yes, there is a healthy form of conflict),” Crawford says.
“When a team does not have the trust necessary to resolve conflicts, they fester. Individuals spend more and more of their day trying to work around their co-workers, or spend their days working to protect themselves. Contrast that with teams that have high trust,” he says.
“In high-trust environments, people can quickly and easily share what they think. They can throw out ideas without concern for who gets the credit. High-trust teams see the best in each other, and that inspires each individual to bring their personal best to the workplace,” Crawford adds.
DeFrancesco says that the emphasis for putting one’s career path on track is to be concise about creating a set of goals and making certain that they conform to the goals set by the organization.
“The cornerstone of professional development is the personal development plan (PDP). This PDP takes your personal goals, aligns them with organizational goals and creates a mechanism to set a timeframe to achieve these goals and track them,” she says. “As much as it may sound cliché, it is really the most effective way to operationalize and implement training in alignment with the department and the organization’s goals that I’ve used to date.”
DeFrancesco says that, in this way, professional development is a marriage between an individual’s goals and interests and their intersection with the organization’s needs. She adds that there is a wide range of ways that one can achieve goals including formal training, degrees and certification as well as on the job training or webinars.
A consistent theme is the usefulness of reading books that provide insights into personal development, team building and leadership.
“As the old adage goes; ‘In five years, you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you spend time with,’ ” Crawford points out.
“I encourage everyone in my organization to read. We promote books to co-workers, offer lunches to highlight communication skills and team building insights that others might benefit from. Every new team member joining Block Imaging participates in two ‘book clubs’ in their first few months,” Crawford says. “The first is ‘Leadership and Self-Deception’ by the Arbringer Institute. An awesome way for teams of any size to understand how we build trust on a team. The next is ‘5 Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni. His books highlight the need for healthy cultures at work, and how to get there.”
The goal setting aspect, that DeFrancesco mentioned, can be achieved through a very scientific and methodical method that makes goal-setting effective and life changing. Bobinski breaks down this approach by using an acronym that puts the elements of effective goal-setting into an easy-to-understand and memorize plan. It is the SMART goal formula.
“Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Creating specific time factors is the most neglected component of SMART Goals. To improve time management, it helps to identify a ‘by when,’” Bobinski says.
To ensure every goal is SMART, we can ask several fundamental questions:
“Starting each action with a verb – the action required – is key. So many people write general phrases, such as, ‘end of month reports.’ The problem? It lacks a verb. What action is required? ‘Write’ the end of month reports? ‘Read’ them? ‘Send’ them? What? The more specific the verb, the more likely the action will be accomplished,” Bobinski adds.
“The other factor, like I said, is time-of-completion. ‘Write end-of-month reports before Thursday at noon’ creates a deadline and is a catalyst for improving our focus,” he says.
In a household budget, the formula is easy; there are expenses and there is income. The income side of the equation must be larger than the expense side and every effort must be made to ration the income so that it covers all expenses. In a health care setting, the formula is more convoluted than that. The principle is the same, but the considerations are extensive.
“We develop our budget for the department in a very methodical way by ‘reverse engineering’ my costs. First, we start with the medical equipment and health information system value that my department supports. I then calculate my total budget to be 4-5 percent of this number annually,” DeFrancesco says.
“For example, if a program supports $100 million in medical equipment, my total budget for that department should be $4 to $5 million annually including salaries, contracts, parts, glassware and vendor services as well as an estimation of the costs for our space for our department and utilities. We then use prior year benchmarks, evaluate our contracts and develop a plan within the 4-5 percent including a robust training plan for technical, professional and certification courses for the department,” DeFrancesco adds.
“Being a contributing member on your capital planning committee is one of the best ways to keep your budget in line. One of the quickest ways to take a hit on your budget is have a big ticket item land on your door step that you didn’t plan for. Follow up by meeting with all of your clinical directors during budgeting season to make sure that nothing was missed,” Lewis says.
Additionally, do a search in your CMMS system for equipment added over the past 24 months as a “triple check” to ensure you’ll have no surprises, Lewis says. If all of your facility’s clinical maintenance goes on your HTM budget, he advises using a policy that states that any non-budgeted service contracts go against the owning department’s budget until the following budget year.
“This means that you go over your budgeted equipment with each department to ensure that you have them ‘covered’ and if any expense comes to light on new equipment that you were not alerted to during the following budget year, the owning department will have to cover. Explaining this to your clinical directors will get their attention and will reduce the likelihood that you will be surprised by a department’s purchase,” Lewis adds.
“Also, communicate with your team about any one-off big ticket purchases that should be considered like test equipment, big battery purchases, or high-use tubes. Replacing batteries in your portables or IV pumps is a considerable expense that does not happen in every PM cycle but is a large enough expense that these should be considered in your maintenance budget,” Lewis says.
The compelling theme for career advancement is that the person who wants to grow in their career must make the initiative. It takes action and knowledge to get there and attention to how we use the time allocated in every workday. Being mindful of budgets and organizational concerns will show a focus aligned with employer goals as well. Setting goals, and more importantly, achieving those goals, can turn a HTM job into an HTM professional career.
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