Timely Literature: Two Books That Helped Me Better Manage My Time

Jennifer Frank, MD


December 10, 2021

My time management — an essential element of work-life balance — leans more toward the aspirational than the realistic. This is why I am often late at worst and just on time at best. My natural optimism bleeds over into my planning, and as a result, I mentally construct a schedule that leaves no room for red lights or long lines. At the close of another week during which I neither got to exercise regularly nor get my required 8 hours of sleep, I'm reflecting on how to make this week — another busy one — flow better.

I have two approaches that I've taken based on books I've read. The first is The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, who argues that, among many other things, the time you think something takes and the amount of time you actually need to devote to doing it may be exponentially off.

When asked to do one more thing (or many more things), I will try to channel Ferriss' approach and challenge the notion that my schedule is truly full. After all, if a typical 40-hour work week can be slimmed down to just 4 hours, then I can probably find a few minutes to fold the laundry. His principles are sound in that many of our time constraints are arbitrary and based on a construct and not on reality. For example, most of my office visits are 20 or 40 minutes long, depending on the reason for the visit. Some visits take 3 minutes and some 55, but a part of my brain is usually trying to fit the visit into a predetermined time slot, even though so often the reasons why the visit may run long or short are not evident until the visit commences.

This book challenges me to challenge myself and critically examine why it takes me so long to get things done, such as documenting office visit notes (from which I am often distracted by reading email) or cleaning the house (from which I am distracted by Facebook or a good read). The fallacy of the 4-hour work week, of course, is that we need to have significant control over our own time; as a working mom/physician, I am frequently at the mercy of other's demands on my time.

The second book is Margin by Dr Richard Swenson, who argues that there is always going to be extra stuff crowding our days. The solution, he suggests, is to create margin in your mental space, calendar, and bank account that strategically maintains a reserve so that unanticipated demands don't leave you overdrawn — financially or otherwise. This is the white space in your calendar that you purposely leave unbooked or the lunch hour that you don't use to schedule another meeting.

In our current culture, even with the indelible imprint left on our lives by COVID-19, the concept of margin is much more challenging to embrace. In a time when we seek maximum productivity in everything — from our clinic schedules, to our clinical services, to our exercise routines — consciously choosing to allow extra space feels, well, unproductive.

These two books espouse different approaches to the challenge that we all face to make more time for the things that are most important to us; both books also acknowledgement that if left unattended, our schedules will quickly become full, eventually overflowing with obligations that are not of our choosing. My personal takeaway from these books is to challenge myself to be efficient, not by cramming in more activities but by being extremely selective in what gets a place in my calendar. Second is to remember that I am finite, my time is finite, and my energy is finite; although 100% of my time and energy may be required on any given day, giving it all away should never be my plan.

How do you balance being efficient with being overly taxed? Are there any books you've read that have helped you get a handle on time management?


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About Dr Jennifer Frank
Jennifer Frank has the unbelievable privilege of being a family physician, physician leader, wife, and mother in Northeast Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves to be busy and enjoys many different things. In her spare time (ha!), she enjoys reading suspense and murder mysteries as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own murder mysteries and loves being outdoors.
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