Getting more work done in 5 hours than others do in 12: Why some CEOs question traditional 'time management'

The ability to use one's time effectively and productively is valued in many professions. But are traditional expectations regarding time management outdated in contemporary corporate culture?

According to Saud Juman, founder and CEO of Policy Medical, a web-based software solutions provider for policies and procedures, the answer is yes. Furthermore, he suggests these dated expectations contribute to dangerously elevated levels of burnout and job dissatisfaction.

Healthcare workers are especially susceptible to such effects. A three-year study from Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association found physician work-life balance is worsening. The latest numbers show 54 percent of U.S. physicians felt burned out in 2014, up from 45 percent in 2011.

This may be partially due to the fact that jobs in medicine are often characterized by long hours and lack of sleep. Many clinicians, especially nurses and hospitalists, work more than 12-hour shifts, often without adequate time for sleep and restoration. This miscalculation of clinicians' energy stores can be as dangerous for patients as it is for workers themselves.

At the same time, the nature of healthcare jobs is not easily conducive to taking stock of one's energy compared to time. When patients' lives depend on nurses and physicians being on call and ready to go at any given moment, energy can be worn thin. But there are steps clinicians and hospital leaders can take to ensure all workers get adequate breaks and rest without disrupting workflow. In doing so, workers can practice energy management, an emerging concept that is distinct from time management.

The best and worst things for energy management

Energy management may seem novel, but the research behind it is more than 60 years old. According to research conducted by William Dement, MD, PhD, and Nathaniel Kleitman, PhD, in the 1950s, people's cycles of alertness during the day are similar to that of sleep, the New York Times reported. When we sleep, we move through cycles of light to deep sleep every 90 minutes. During the day, we transform from a state of alertness into one of physiological fatigue every 90 minutes as well. Taking a short break from work every 90 minutes — even just five to 10 minutes of quiet and relaxation — can help restore energy and alertness. 

Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, founded the company based on this idea — that spending time resting and restoring energy is essential for productivity. Resting is not symptomatic of laziness or slacking off and should not be demonized by leadership, but rather encouraged.

"The enemy isn't stress in your life," Mr. Schwartz said at the 2012 VHA Leadership Conference in Denver, Becker's Hospital Review previously reported. "Stress is the only means we can expand our capacity and grow stronger. The enemy is the absence of intermittent recovery. If you challenge a muscle, and then you recover, that's when it grows," said Mr. Schwartz.

The first step to empowering workers to practice effective energy management may be having a sit-down conversation with the executive leadership team to talk about change. Human resources can include wellness and energy tips in its employee manuals to help workers stay focused, present and healthy while they're treating patients, Mr. Juman suggests.

Mr. Juman says people can preserve their stores of energy by taking simple measures like staying hydrated and getting enough rest. Another highly effective strategy may be counterintuitive to some — taking frequent breaks.

A designated "silent relaxation" room in the hospital can serve as a comfortable place for these short breaks. Mr. Juman suggests designing the room with softer lighting and comfortable furniture — not the sterile looking furniture of a patient room — and signs to remind people to respect their colleagues' quiet time. "Just finding five minutes to sit in quiet and disconnect will be impactful," says Mr. Juman. "The new rhythm throughout the day will allow [clinicians] to make fewer errors and have better bedside manner."

Energy is not an unlimited resource for humans. Rather, we have a finite amount each day that must be protected and nurtured, according to Mr. Juman. There are many contributors to poor energy management practices among professionals in all industries, some of which are self-inflicted, while others are the product of high expectations from leadership.

Multitasking is one of the most common ways people deplete their energy. Mr. Juman argues a habit of multitasking can be hugely detrimental to any worker's performance. Indeed, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found multitasking with electronic media led to a more significant decrease in IQ than smoking marijuana or losing a night's sleep.

Frequent interruptions that constantly shift an individual's attention from one task to another can also take a toll on one's store of energy. In an era of digital connectivity where we regularly engage with computers, tablets and smartphones — often concurrently — it is easy to get sucked into a ceaseless series of distractions. However, the inability to concentrate on the task at hand and the perceived need to address numerous interruptions at once can be exhausting and negatively impact work performance.

Mr. Juman, though a rare example, said he made the choice to significantly limit interruptions by narrowing down the ways people can contact him. He no longer syncs his email account to his iPhone and he only uses a select few apps. He also doesn't get pop-up notifications or a ring if he receives a text message — he can only see a new text if he deliberately checks. If people want to reach him, their best option is to call.

The new philosophy

It is not necessarily about how long people work, but how much energy they are able to channel into their work during a certain stretch of time. Energy management techniques vary based on personality types and the demands of some jobs. Each person must discover their own strategies for eliminating distractions to conserve their energy and focus their attention on the present task. For instance, Mr. Juman says since he got his company off the ground, he no longer works eight or 10-hour days. "I get more work done in five hours than many people can in 12," he says.

Professional athletes are a prime example of energy management practices, according to Mr. Juman, who used to be a competitive kick boxer. 

"Athletes truly understand the concept of work and rest," says Mr. Juman. When he was training as a high-performance athlete, Mr. Juman varied the intensity of his training sessions to ensure he gave his body enough rest. For instance, months before a kickboxing competition or fight, he would train to reach his peak performance level. But in the weeks leading up to the fight, he would take it easy to prevent injuries and let his body rejuvenate. "Why shouldn't we do the same in the business world?"

Individual employees and leaders must be aware of the difference between energy management and time management. Otherwise, people will operate at a frantic pace and below their potential. "It's unfair to throw millions of people into this state," says Mr. Juman. "We're supposed to be happy, fulfilled and energized. We spend one-third or more of our lives at work. It should be more about learning about ourselves and being of service to others."

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