Managing Multiple Priorities, Projects and Deadlines in a Busy Medical Provider Setting

June 21, 2015 | Featured Articles

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No matter what your role or position in your medical provider setting, demands on your time have never been greater and will only increase in the future as reporting requirements, payment methodologies, and delivery of care models continue to evolve. Below are several methods you can use to gain more control over your time, tasks, and priorities. Learning to manage stress caused by the multiple demands on your time will allow you to run your day, instead of your day running you!

Always start with ‘Why’?

When thinking about how you’ll approach a new project or task, always ask ‘Why?’ before you begin. Asking ‘Why?’ allows us to question the necessity of a project, how it fits in with the organization’s core values, and to prioritize the project based on its value and desired outcome.

On an individual level, understanding ‘Why?’ prompts the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in our brains. The RAS works with the visual parts of our brain to filter out information from external sources and focus the brain on one particular fact, detail, or thought, getting us interested and motivated in the task at hand. Over time, as the RAS is repeatedly activated and reconditioned, new neural patterns are created, fostering creativity.

For these reasons, it is vital when starting a project that all members of a team understand the ‘Why?’ and will actively support and participate in the assigned tasks, and foster creativity.

Set SMART Goals

There are five characteristics of effective SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Specific. By defining your goals in the SMART format, you are setting transparent expectations for yourself and members of your team. Every goal you set must meet each of these guidelines: 

Prioritize Tasks

There are a number of techniques available to prioritize tasks. Below are three common techniques: Paired Comparison, Deadline/Payoff, and Eisenhower Quadrants. Once you determine which works best, use it consistently to prioritize and manage all your projects and tasks in order to meet deadlines.

  1. Paired Comparison: a process for simplifying decisions or judgments that involves comparing options or entities in pairs and judging which element of the pair is preferred or has the greater amount of some other measurable property. The process is popular because paired comparisons are easy for people to make. The questions can be presented as pictorial scales, with numbers assigned to qualitative judgments to represent strength of opinion. Among other applications, paired comparison is used as a method for assessing preferences, assigning probabilities, voting, and ranking decision options. This method is popular for group decisions as it easily incorporates individual preferences into a group whole.
  1. Deadline/Payoff: Prioritize tasks based on a weighted score of how close the deadline is with the payoff of the task.

Task Description


+ Payoff

= Weighted Score


Medical Emergency


+ 5

= 10


Self-Audit EMR Charts


+ 5

= 6


Give Performance Appraisal


+ 4

= 7




+ 4

= 5


Hold Unimportant Meeting


+ 1

= 2


  1. Eisenhower Quadrants: used by President Eisenhower and popularized by Stephen Covey, tasks are evaluated using the criteria Important/Not Important and Urgent/Not Urgent, and then placed in according quadrants in a Matrix. Tasks are then handled based on their Quadrant:
    1. Important/Urgent quadrants are done immediately and personally (e.g., crises, deadlines, problems)
    2. Important/Not Urgent quadrants get an end date and are done personally (e.g.,. relationships, planning, recreation)
    3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrants are delegated (e.g., interruptions, meetings, activities)
    4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrants are dropped (e.g., time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia)

“What is important is seldom urgent,” Dwight D. Eisenhower liked to say, “and what is urgent is seldom important.” 

If you consistently struggle to complete tasks, keep a time log for a couple weeks to identify time wasters. Most likely these are activities from the Not Important/Not Urgent Quadrant that are easy to fall prey to, such as TV, Social Media, etc. If the interruptions are from the Important/Urgent Quadrant, focus on Important/Non Urgent Quadrant activities that will reduce emergencies in the future.


The greatest time-saver for most people is creative and effective delegation. To achieve results through delegation, you must think through your decision, consider possible training needs, clearly define the task/project for the people you delegate to, continue to supply resources and support, allow for maximum flexibility, and follow up. Proper delegation and teamwork is crucial to the success of the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH), as the team provides care based on the needs of the patient by fulfilling their assigned roles. Staff must be properly trained and feel empowered to be able to meet and exceed expectations.

Stay Organized

There are a number of electronic calendar software applications (e.g., Microsoft Outlook, Google, Priority Matrix which utilizes Eisenhower Quadrants, etc.) that you can use that are also compatible with a smartphone to keep you organized and on task. The key is to find one you are comfortable with and then commit to use it in the following manner:

  • Plan for the week, not by the day. Always start Monday morning by dedicating time to plan your weekly schedule. If your calendar has the capability, organize activities by color coding them by project/category to give you a better visual layout of how you will spend your time.
  • Block off all times in your calendar using estimated times. Include personal activities breaks or you will never get to them. Treat these blocked off times as if it were a meeting with your most important client: you!
  • As the day and week progress, adjust your calendar accordingly. The calendar is simply a tool/method to help you achieve your goals, it is not an end in itself.

Quick Tip: Treat all email as if it were a piece of physical paper which means there are only 5 things you can do with it: Toss it, Refer it, Act on it, File it, or Read it Later. Set up folders in your email and then file or act upon emails in your inbox according to these 5 action steps.

Manage Stress

Proper time management will go a long way to help you feel in control of your day. However, no matter how much you plan, interruptions and emergencies do happen and can lead to stressful situations.

Here are eight easy steps for day-to-day stress reduction:

  1. Schedule leisure time and commit to it (schedule planned breaks throughout your day)
  2. Find ways to laugh
  3. Consciously slow down when you’re not working
  4. Change negative self-talk to positive
  5. Continually search for a change of scenery (this can be as simple as taking a walk)
  6. Rethink what you eat
  7. Exercise and fresh air
  8. Consistently focus on what you can control

Better Time Management = Better Patient Care

Delivering quality care to your patients while fulfilling the many needs of a medical provider setting has never been more time consuming. As you plan each week, use the methods outlined in the article to stay in control of your day:

  1. Start with ‘Why?’
  2. Set SMART Goals
  3. Prioritize Tasks
  4. Delegate
  5. Stay Organized
  6. Manage Stress

When you’re in control of your day, you are able to increase productivity and decrease stress. This translates into better care for your patients and a better work environment for your colleagues. Remember: Run your day or your day will run you!