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Keys to Time Management

Andrew Roark, DVM, MSc Cleveland Park Animal Hospital Greenville, South Carolina

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Keys to Time Management

This article is part of the ongoing column 12 Steps to Success.

“Those who manage their time well create order and organization in their home and work environments and honor their commitments consistently. Effective time managers also report a significantly increased sense of well-being, decreased stress levels, and increased satisfaction from ‘feeling in charge’ of one’s life. They also experience having more time to do the things ‘that really matter’—exercise, time with friends and family, time for self-care and relaxation—and a greater sense of energy and interest in the world around them.”—Jennifer Brandt, PhD, MSW, LISW-S

Life in veterinary practice is hectic. We are treating patients, running diagnostics, greeting clients and patients walking in the office, and answering the telephone, all at the same time.

Working efficiently is extremely important; however, efficiency and time management are distinctly different skills.

Working efficiently is extremely important; however, efficiency and time management are distinctly different skills. In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey suggests that we should focus on being effective (getting the most important things done) rather than attempting to be efficient (getting more done). This is the essence of time management.1

Related Article: 12 Steps to Success: Active Listening

Urgency & Importance

Every task can be classified by its urgency and importance. Urgent tasks, according to Covey, are those that appear to require our immediate attention, with an emphasis on “appear,” because tasks that demand our attention often lack real importance (eg, responding to text messages, checking email, answering phone calls that could be taken later).

Important tasks are those that contribute significantly to our goals and objectives and lead to satisfaction from excellent veterinary care, happy clients and patients, and good work/life balance, including leaving work at a reasonable hour.

 UrgentNot Urgent
 Emergency MedicinePrevention & Education
 Pressing ProblemsRelationship Building
Not ImportantIIIIV
 Most Text MessagesInternet Browsing
 Some EmailFacebook
 Clinic DramaTelevision

Quadrant I (Urgent and important): Urgent tasks that are important and need to be addressed immediately, such as emergencies and crisis situations.

Quadrant II (Important but not urgent): Important tasks that do not have a clear deadline but are often vital to long-term success and happiness; however, they tend to be ignored because they lack urgency. Activities in this quadrant produce the greatest satisfaction, Covey says, because they allow us to invest in relationships, health, meaningful activities, and long-term goals.

Quadrant III (Urgent but not important): Tasks that are not important to us, but appear to need our immediate attention, such as texts, email messages, or clinic drama.

Quadrant IV (Not urgent or important): Time-wasting activities that are not meaningful or pressing, such as browsing the Internet, looking at Facebook, and watching television.

The key to time management is to focus our energy on being effective rather than efficient so that we can accomplish the activities that will ultimately bring satisfaction.

Action Steps

By working ahead, planning, and investing more time in Quadrant II, we can decrease the number of crises we are forced to tackle and decrease our time in Quadrant I.

Where will we find the extra time to spend in Quadrant II?

Covey focuses on shifting time from Quadrants III and IV for optimal time management. First, take a close look at Quadrant III and identify the events and activities there, then decide whether those tasks are really important but not urgent, and address them efficiently at a more convenient time. Although  it would seem easiest to cut out activities in Quadrant IV (because we all waste some time during our daily routines), leaving time to relax and unwind is important.

The key to time management is to focus our energy on being effective rather than efficient so that we can accomplish the activities that will ultimately bring satisfaction.

Only You Have the Power to Prioritize

Jennifer Brandt, PhD, MSW, LISW-S, is director of veterinary student services at The Ohio State University and a senior trainer for the Bayer Institute for Healthcare Communication Faculty Development Program. She has lectured worldwide about time management and offers this advice for veterinary team members:

You should accept full responsibility for managing your own time and recognize that you are the only one with the power to manage your priorities. Setting limits, learning how to say No, and scheduling time for fun activities are all within your power. It’s tempting to blame others, and it’s true that others can be roadblocks or distractions, but they aren’t accountable for the way you choose to respond to demands on your time.

You have a choice. Learn to say Yes, when you mean it and offer your time without resentment; or, if you find it difficult to say No, learn to say, “Let me think about that and get back with you” and follow up with a timely No.

Are there consequences to saying No? Yes, particularly when people are accustomed to you agreeing to every request. However, there are also consequences to saying Yes but being unable to keep your commitments and/or feeling constantly under duress. Life isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. It’s important to pace ourselves accordingly.

12 Steps to Success


1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey SR—New York: Free Press, 1990.

Suggested Reading
Time Management Matrix. SMALE Consulting Ltd;; accessed April 2013.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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