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Issue: 32 - Aug 15, 2011
How to become the Master Blaster of Efficiency
By: Dr. Phil Zeltzman
Dr. Phil Zeltzman
"I feel like I haven't accomplished anything today"
"I haven't done anything this week end"
"I didn't see time go by"
Do you ever feel that way? These feelings are often a sign that you need a better time management system. If you have never read the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey, one of the most life-altering chapters is the one explaining how to focus on the important things in life. If you have read the “7 habits,” then hopefully this is a useful review.
Covey suggests organizing tasks into 4 "Quadrants," based on their importance or urgency.
There are:
* non important, non urgent tasks (Quadrant 4);
* non important, urgent tasks (Quadrant 3);
* important, non urgent tasks (Quadrant 2);
* and important, urgent tasks (Quadrant 1).
This system may seem simple, but it is very powerful.
The chart below will help you learn where common tasks belong, and it will allow you to add your own commitments.
Non urgent
Crying baby
Oven on fire
Some phone calls
My health; exercise
Save and invest
Plan, ponder, strategize
Reading, resting, vacation
Profound conversation
(Grand) kids
Retirement planning
Learning, CE, training
Medical charts
Surgery reports
Eating healthy
Non important
Some phone calls
Snail mail, email
Some meetings
Most TV shows
Useless tasks
Some phone calls
Junk mail and email
Non important, non urgent tasks (Quadrant 4) include easy, sometimes pleasant things like gossipping, playing Solitaire, useless phone calls and emails and text messages. They use up time but won’t help you reach your important goals in life.
Interestingly, chatting or commenting about last night's TV shows around the water cooler or the coffee machine is what many people do to start their day.
Meanwhile, efficient people work on their to-do list and avoid living in Quadrant 4 at all cost. Realistically, if something is not important and not urgent, why bother with it?
Non important, urgent tasks (Quadrant 3) include some phone calls, some meetings and appointments, some emails. But remember, they are not important, so they should be minimized, if not eliminated, by anyone seeking to become highly effective. Sadly, we can easily get caught up in Quadrant 3.
We have been conditioned to pick up the phone when it rings, although we rarely know how important or urgent it is. And now it's become worse for those who live with a "smart" phone attached to their waist. When we finally have 10 or 15 minutes between appointments, how often do we feel happy when we look back at how we spent this precious time? More often than not, the "in between" time turns into a complete waste of time taking care of trivial tasks.
Important, urgent tasks belong to Quadrant 1.  These include crises (the oven on fire); pressing situations (a crying baby); final deadlines. In a clinic setting, they include medical emergencies (a GDV, a HBC...). Clearly, you cannot neglect Quadrant 1 tasks, let alone predict if and when they will occur. Although... you can plan for them, since Murphy's Law says they will occur. Quadrant 1 tasks are perfectly acceptable, as long as your entire day is not ruled by them.
Some quadrant 1 activities are even mandatory, such as paying bills. Other deadlines are usually known in advance, so they can be planned for. In fact, the more you eliminate "non important" activities from your day, the more time you will have to work to meet important deadlines. They may not seem urgent at first, but if you neglect them, they will become more and more pressing.
Important, non urgent tasks (Quadrant 2) are the only ones that truly have a profound, long-standing meaning. Yet they tend to be neglected because not taking care of them does not have any immediate, drastic, negative consequences. For a practice owner or hospital administrator, this includes:
* brain-storming
* strategizing
* coordinating your next "Biggest Loser" weight loss campaign.
* working on renovating the waiting room.
* finding ways to promote your dentistry service.
You certainly don't have to be a practice owner or a hospital administrator to work in Quadrant 2. An associate, a technician, a receptionist, a stay-at-home Mum, also should live in Quadrant 2 as much as possible. Learning, pampering oneself, visiting a physician, sleeping enough, exercising are also activities that never feel urgent and are therefore easily "forgotten." Need more examples?
* Reading journals
* Learning a new skill
* Having a meaningful conversation
* Spending time with your (grand) kids
* Reading ImproMed's e-newsletter
* Planning your retirement
* Staff training
* Returning clients' phone calls
* Taking a vacation
* Writing up medical records
* Attending CE meetings
* Staff meetings
* Eating healthy
* Doing "call-backs" 1-3-7-10 days after surgery
* Learning how to invest
Again, the challenge is to strive to eliminate “non important” tasks and to minimize Quadrant 1 tasks (important and urgent) by resisting temptation and interruptions, by planning and anticipating. Planning, by the way, is a classic Quadrant 2 task.
We have included a blank chart below so you can start organizing your life to become more efficient.
When you succeed at working and living mostly in Quadrant 2, then you officially become the King of Time Management, the Queen of Self Mastery, the Master Blaster of Efficiency.
Phil Zeltzman
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon near Allentown, PA. His website is  He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together (”
Non urgent
Non important