The Difference between “Busyness” and “Productivity”: Are you confusing the two? by Sue Kay

As an Office Manager of a medical practice, you are responsible for many things:

  • Overseeing the day-to-day operations of the practice;
  • Coordinating physician schedules;
  • Recruiting, hiring, training and managing front-desk staff;
  • Recruiting, hiring, training and managing billing staff;
  • Billing, collections, credentialing, contract negotiations;
  • Managing practice finances;
  • Marketing the practice; and
  • The all-important “any and all other duties as assigned.”Whew! With that many responsibilities, your days can be very “busy.” Some of you even describe your practices that way as in, “we have a very busy 4-doctor Ob/Gyn practice.” But is “busy” always good? Perhaps not.

Many consultants that I talk to and work with think of “busy” as a negative term (and state of being) that should be avoided. They describe busy as

  • Frantic;
  • Rushed;
  • Overwhelmed;
  • Reactive;
  • Feeling distressed;
  • A state in which you are constantly doing something but you never seem to get anything accomplished.

Whereas, “productive” is a positive word and typically means that you are:

  • Calm;
  • Focused;
  • Engaged;
  • In Control;
  • Proactive;
  • Making progress on mission-critical tasks and projects.

Truth be known, I have my fair share of “busy” days as opposed to “productive” days. One of my goals over the past few months has been to become more consistently productive, and I’ve been reading books and articles on the topic. Listed below are the three things that I have learned (and implemented) that I have found to have the most positive impact on my daily productivity. Perhaps they’ll give you food for thought as well.

1. Match your energy level and focus to the task – We all have different times of the day when we feel more focused and alert. For me, that’s first thing in the morning. I can get more accomplished first thing in the morning than I can at any other time of the day. I have started blocking off from 7 am (the time I typically get to the office) to 10 am for priorities, projects, writing etc. For example, it’s 7:20 am as I write this article. I don’t schedule my first meeting until 10 am or later. My staff knows this time is sacred and that I’m only to be interrupted in any emergency (i.e. The building had better be on fire!).  The result? I’m getting so much more accomplished and I head into my day with my priorities already complete; so, my day is calmer and I feel more in control.

On the other hand, a friend of mine here at the office finds that she is a late afternoon person. She has now started blocking off from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm to focus on mission critical tasks and projects. By doing so, she, too, is getting more accomplished and she also heads into each day feeling more in control.

What is your most alert and focused time of day? Try rearranging your schedule so that you are working on practice-critical tasks during that period of the day. Stay consistent and watch your productivity soar.

2. Trim down your daily to-do list – if you’re like me, your daily to-do list sometimes runs for pages and pages. I’ve often said that my Franklin Planner doesn’t have enough lines in the “To Be Done” section for each day. I’m now rethinking that statement. I’ve become fascinated with how other people plan and prioritize their day – especially other managers, division heads and CEOs; so, I’ve been reading books and articles on the topic, and I’ve uncovered an interesting similarity among those I would consider very successful. Their daily to-do list is actually very small.

It includes their 2-3 top priorities for the day; the 2 or 3 things they should do that will have the most positive impact on their organizations. Many of them write them down on a small piece of paper or a 3 x 5 index card and carry them with them all day. The result? By focusing on only 2-3 mission-critical tasks each day (and not worrying about the smaller, less-important tasks), they are getting all of the important things done and their organizations are thriving.

If you could only do one thing today that would have the most impact on your practice, what would it be? Do that one thing before you do anything else.

3. Technology is not always efficient! With cell phones, Blackberries, texting, callforwarding, email, and instant messaging, it should be much easier to be productive – right? WRONG. Oftentimes, this access is a distraction that can have a negative impact on your productivity – especially if you are trying to stay focused on a mission-critical task.

I will admit that I can sometimes be addicted to email. I’ll check it from my phone when I’m away from the office or I’ll dial in at night just to “check “it. I’m trying to break those habits and to use email as a tool to help me accomplish important tasks as opposed to a distraction from those tasks.

Now, when I get to the office first thing in the morning and make my list of 2-3 priorities that I need to focus on, I don’t even open my email. I use the time I have blocked off for the priorities of the day and wait to check email until 10 am. Guess what? Nothing has suffered; no one has felt ignored; and, I’m getting a lot more done than before. How many times per day do you check your email? Are you too connected to your office through technology? Try putting some parameters around those areas. Focus on your one mission-critical task BEFORE you check email, check voicemail or answer the phone.

As I mentioned, I’m fascinated by how other people plan and schedule their day/priorities. If you have a tip or suggestions, we’d love to hear about it. Email us at and we’ll share them with readers in upcoming newsletters. (I promise I won’t read your email until after 10 AM!)

© 2010 Efficiency in Practice

Sue Kay, Senior Consultant at InHealth, is the editor of Efficiency in Practice, the free eNewsletter for medical practice managers who want to save time, money and reduce risk. For more information and to access your FREE report, The 8 Things You MUST Know About CMS’ RAC Program, visit or check out our blog at

This article can be reprinted freely online, as long as the entire article and this resource box are included.

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