12 Time Management Strategies for Your Functional Medicine Practice | Chris Kresser

12 Time Management Strategies for Your Functional Medicine Practice

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Functional Medicine practitioners are a unique breed—we are incredibly passionate about helping our patients and are unafraid to push beyond the boundaries of the conventional medical model to find solutions. We are innovative and driven.

Time management strategies
Effective time management strategies can help you run your Functional Medicine practice—without running yourself into the ground. iStock/AJ_Watt

However, sometimes our commitment to wellness goes hand in hand with being consumed by our work. If your Functional Medicine practice is just getting started, you may recognize this feeling already—a round-the-clock preoccupation with work that can quickly lead to high stress and burnout. To successfully run your practice without running yourself into the ground, you must learn how to manage your time successfully. Read on to learn time management strategies for your Functional Medicine practice that will allow you to make a big difference in the world without compromising your work–life balance and your health.

Burnout is common among healthcare professionals and entrepreneurs, but good time management can help. Check out this article for 12 ways to manage your time and increase your productivity.  #functionalmedicine #chriskresser #unconventionalmedicine

The Dangers of Work-Related Stress

Work-related stress is defined as “a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work” and is on the rise across the globe; 65 percent of American workers cite it as having a negative impact on their lives, while nearly half a million people in the United Kingdom complain of work-related stress. (1, 2) Work-related stress has significant public and personal health implications. A 2018 survey from the Korn Ferry Institute, a leadership and human performance think tank, found that 76 percent of respondents had experienced relationship turmoil and 66 percent had lost sleep due to work-related stress. (3) Stress is also linked to poor mental and physical health outcomes, including depression, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and poor blood sugar control. (4)

While work-related stress has primarily been studied in the context of employees of large companies, entrepreneurs—including those in the healthcare space—are equally susceptible to stress. The zeal with which many new entrepreneurs work on their businesses can be rewarding, but it can also set the stage for extreme stress and burnout. In fact, the extreme fatigue that often afflicts hard-charging entrepreneurs has its own name in the scientific literature—“entrepreneurial burnout.” (5)

Why You Need Effective Time Management Skills

Burnout rates are soaring in the healthcare workforce, causing leading healthcare organizations to deem it a “national crisis.” (6) Medscape’s 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report reported that 44 percent of physicians report feeling burned out. (7) For these physicians, who were employed by hospitals and other large organizations, the two most important causes of burnout reported in the survey were “too many bureaucratic tasks” and “too many hours spent at work.”

Burnout is not limited to physicians. Studies indicate that 33 percent of hospital nurses and 66 percent of other non-physician clinicians (nurse practitioners and physician assistants) report at least one symptom of burnout. (8, 9)

If you are both a healthcare provider and an entrepreneur—as are many of the individuals in the Functional Medicine field—you may be at an even higher risk for burnout by trying to balance the duties of caring for clients/patients and running a business. For the Functional Medicine practitioner, the primary causes of burnout include a heavy workload, lack of time, and uncertainty about the future of one’s business. (10)

How do you know whether you’re suffering from burnout? The key signs include: (11, 12)

  • Overwhelming exhaustion
  • Feelings of cynicism leading to detachment from one’s job
  • Reduction of personal achievement, defined as “a state of doubt of the real capabilities of the individual”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation

Burnout takes a significant toll on your health and work performance. It rewires the brain, making you less resilient to subsequent stressors, and is associated with regional brain volume reductions and altered functional connectivity of the brain. (13, 14, 15) Beyond the brain, burnout causes issues similar to work-related stress, but often on a more severe level, including anxiety and sleep loss.

Burnout robs you of your quality of life and makes it impossible for you to run your business successfully. However, as an entrepreneur and Functional Medicine practitioner, you can significantly reduce your risk of burnout by strategically managing your time. The time management strategies that follow can help you prevent or reverse burnout, so you can fulfill your highest purpose at work while eliminating activities that eat up your valuable time and wear on your spirit.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung

If you’re running your own medical practice, clear planning will help you manage your time—and your stress. That’s why I include comprehensive productivity training in the ADAPT Practitioner Training Program.

The ADAPT Practitioner Training Program offers end-to-end Functional Medicine training for practitioners. We focus on the Functional and ancestral approach, teaching you how to address the root causes of illness so you can prevent or reverse chronic disease for your patients, instead of simply managing their symptoms.

The ADAPT Practitioner Training Program also teaches you how to run your business—how to onboard new patients, keep records, structure your practice, and set up operations. We offer a complete framework for applying a Functional Medicine and ancestral health perspective to your business so you can build an effective, streamlined practice that better serves you and your patients. Find out more about the ADAPT Practitioner Training Program.

Prepare Yourself for Productivity

Before implementing strategies to streamline your Functional Medicine practice, there are three steps you must practice daily to create a strong foundation for successful time management:

  1. Clear your mind
  2. Eliminate distractions
  3. Plan and prioritize

Let’s talk about each of these practices in turn.

Step 1: Clear Your Mind

A clear mind is a prerequisite for productive work. Adopting a consistent meditation or mindfulness practice is a crucial step toward clearing your mind and preparing you for a productive workday.

Scientific research corroborates the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for enhancing productivity. Workplace mindfulness interventions improve employee focus, attention, and behavior while also reducing the attentional deficits caused by multitasking. (16, 17) These effects may be due to the more efficient allocation of cognitive resources induced by meditation.

If you are new to mindfulness and meditation, I recommend starting by reading the books Buddha in Blue Jeans and Meditation for Beginners. A meditation practice isn’t a time-consuming burden, as you’ll soon see, because its benefits are worth the investment. In fact, just a single episode of mindfulness meditation significantly improves attention in novice meditators. (18) If cognitive benefits can be realized from just one meditation session, imagine the cumulative benefits that can be achieved with consistent practice.

Step 2: Eliminate Distractions

Once you’ve cleared your mind, you need to prevent it from becoming cluttered with distractions. Research indicates that distraction “rewires” our brains, interrupting the flow of our work. (19) Today, cell phones and social media apps are two of the primary distractions we face over a workday. According to a survey by Asurion, a company that insures technological devices, the average American checks their phone a whopping 80 times a day! (20) This bad habit has untold adverse effects not only on individual productivity but on the work productivity of our society as a whole.

Enhance your productivity by proactively eliminating distractions from your workspace, including your cell phone and access to social media apps. Unless you are an on-call healthcare professional, I recommend leaving your phone in another room while you work, as the mere presence of a phone can be distracting. (21)

For more advanced distraction-eliminating tactics, I recommend reading Digital Minimalism, a comprehensive guide for combatting “screen addiction” and freeing up your time. You may also wish to try RescueTime, which tracks your time spent on various apps, showing you exactly how you spend your time. Also, if you must keep your phone with you, it likely has a “do not disturb” function that allows only vital (emergency) notifications that you can select, while all others—including non-urgent texts and emails, as well as breaking news—are silenced.

Step 3: Plan and Prioritize

While our society prides itself on being busy, busyness that doesn’t get you closer to your goals is unproductive. I learned to eliminate unproductive busyness from my own life by establishing a clear purpose, vision, and goals that will help you successfully plan and prioritize your work:

  • Your purpose: This is the 30,000-foot view of your purpose in life and your career. It should be something that excites you and makes you ready to seize the day.
  • Your vision: Your vision represents the actions you plan to take to bring your purpose to fruition.
  • Your goals: Defining specific goals is crucial for turning your vision into reality.

Once you’ve planned out your purpose, vision, and goals, prioritize one task at a time; while people like to think that they can multitask, multitasking is a myth and actually detracts from our overall productivity.

Last but not least, eliminate the non-essentials in your work and life. Stop trying to “do it all” and instead focus on getting the things done that are most important to you. You can learn more about how to shift your focus to the “essentials” in Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism.

Streamline Your Practice

Step 4: Determine Your Most Productive Work Habits and Work Style

Everyone has certain times of the day when they feel most energetic, motivated, and creative; take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms by matching your daily activities with these energetic peaks. For example, I do much of my content creation work in the early morning hours because that is when I feel the sharpest. I save tasks that require less intense focus, such as responding to emails, for later in the afternoon.

Determining your most productive work habits also requires determining your ideal time of day for exercise because, as I’ll discuss shortly, a consistent exercise routine is critical for optimal productivity.

Step 5: Identify Your “Unique Ability”

In so many areas of our lives, we’re urged to focus on how to improve our weaknesses, rather than capitalize on our strengths. But according to business coach Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, this classic but stale approach is shortchanging us, causing us to overlook something vital. Why not flip this mindset?

Putting your “unique ability” to work—prioritizing the activity that you love to do and do best—can help you achieve extraordinary results in your business and your life. (22) Essentially, your unique ability, your strength, is what you should be spending most of your time on. Dan Sullivan outlines four qualities that can help you determine which activities are or are not your unique ability:

  1. Superior skill: Any skill that comes naturally to you, that you do extraordinarily well, and that gets you recognition is likely one of your unique abilities.
  2. Passion: Do you jump out of bed each morning in excitement at the thought of working on a particular activity? Is this activity something you enjoyed doing even before you were paid for it? If so, it’s likely one of your unique abilities. Recognize how special and valuable it is.
  3. Energy: Any activity that is one of your unique abilities gives you energy as you perform it, rather than sapping you of your energy.
  4. Never-ending improvement: Are you always seeking ways to improve your performance of a particular skill, despite how exceptional you may already be at it? If you answered yes, that’s a dead giveaway that you’ve found your unique ability.

After going through Dan’s Strategic Coach program, I learned that my unique ability is content development. Once I began organizing my work life so that I could focus on my unique ability, my business naturally began to grow by leaps and bounds.

Focusing on the activities you love and excel at is key for learning how to manage your time and maximize your performance. However, focusing on your unique ability requires that you respectfully hand off other tasks outside your unique ability to employees, independent contractors, and other people who are better suited to those tasks. As soon as you are financially able, bring on new members of your staff who can help you carry out your non-unique ability tasks; this will help you create a self-managing and self-multiplying business.

Step 6: Embrace Automation and Delegation

As a go-getting Functional Medicine practitioner, especially one trying to cut costs, you may have the mindset of “I can do it all!” However, if you want to launch a successful practice without falling prey to burnout, the truth is that you can’t do it all. As mentioned above, embracing your unique ability and successfully growing your business requires that you let go of other tasks that eat up your time. This is where automation and delegation come in. 

Automation involves creating a system, usually with technology, that can be set up once and subsequently run without direct input. Automation is perfect for tasks that you must do more than once, or that happen for more than one person, such as emailing new patient intake forms. By determining what aspects of your workload can be automated, you can save huge amounts of time, which frees you up for your most important activities.

If a task can’t be automated, but it still takes up valuable time, delegate. Delegation involves entrusting a duty or responsibility to another person, typically one less senior than oneself. The inability to delegate is a significant contributor to burnout in entrepreneurs. To determine which tasks you can delegate, ask yourself, “Do I really need to be doing this, or could it be done faster, better, or cheaper by someone else?” Delegation takes time, financial resources, and preparation on your part, but in the end, it saves you valuable time and allows you to focus on your purpose, vision, and goals.

In addition to automation and delegation, establishing a clear communication policy with clients/patients and staff and tracking all electronic communication through an electronic health records (EHR) system can further increase your efficiency and decrease the amount of time you must spend doing busywork.

Step 7: Batching and Scheduling

Alongside automation and delegation, two of the best strategies you can use to streamline your practice are batching and scheduling.

Batching refers to the process of grouping similar tasks together. Examples of batching include doing all of your intense work over the hours during the day when your energy is highest, running all of your errands once a week rather than scattered over several days, and only checking email two to three times a day, rather than whenever a new email comes in.

Checking email less frequently is one of my favorite batching practices. Research has even found that checking email less often reduces stress, and we all know that keeping stress in check is essential for productivity. (23)

Become a strategic scheduler by grouping your appointments with people into specific chunks of time, rather than scattered throughout the day. You can also schedule time to respond to emails and social media posts, as well as return non-urgent phone calls, thus saving yourself valuable time and preventing distractions.

Step 8: Get Feedback and Insight

Entrepreneurism can be a lonely journey unless you make a concerted effort to connect with other like-minded people. Connecting with other entrepreneurs, whether or not they work in your field, is incredibly helpful for getting feedback and insight and for accelerating your growth process.

If you don’t have a readily available network, consider joining a mastermind group—a peer-to-peer mentoring organization with regularly scheduled meetings (in person or online) that allow members to benefit from the combined intelligence and accrued experience of the participants involved. Members may work in similar fields or represent a variety of professions.

Research indicates that the non-hierarchical professional mentorship model offered by mastermind groups is useful, feasible, and valuable for those looking to advance their careers. (24) While some mastermind groups require members to pay a fee to participate, there are also zero-cost options out there. If you can’t find a zero-cost option, consider starting your own group.

Don’t Forget to Move, Rest, and Play

Step 9: Move Your Body

As I alluded to earlier, physical activity is essential for your productivity and, of course, for your overall health. No matter how busy my schedule gets with work and other obligations, I always make a concerted effort to fit in exercise and non-exercise movement.

If you read the news, then you’re probably well aware that excessive sitting is bad for your health; however, you may not be as familiar with its adverse effects on productivity. Sedentary behavior, including the long hours you spend sitting at work, causes changes in brain structure and may adversely impact cognitive function. (25, 26) Conversely, people who spend time each day working at a standing desk, rather than sitting, exhibit greater task engagement and alertness at work. (27)

In addition to trying a standing desk—you can learn more about how to create a standing desk workspace here—take walking breaks throughout the day. Scientists have found that breaking up prolonged sitting with moderate-intensity walking improves attention and executive function. (28)

Step 10: Rest and Rejuvenate

Many of us pay lip service to the importance of “work–life balance,” but few of us actually achieve it, especially those of us who are entrepreneurs. However, the importance of rest and downtime for optimal productivity cannot be overstated. Rest and downtime restore attention and motivation, are critical for memory formation, allow us to assimilate information, and encourage creativity and productivity. Therefore, rest and downtime ultimately help us accomplish more.

When your body is resting, a neural network called the “default mode network” turns on. It is active during wakeful rest states such as daydreaming and mind wandering and is characterized by its introspective, self-referential features. Research suggests that the default mode network is involved in the generation of creative ideas, which may explain why some of your best business ideas arise while washing the dishes or taking a shower. (29) You can flip on your default mode network and reap the benefits of periodic daydreaming by enjoying leisure time and rest breaks during the day.

Deep, restorative sleep is essential for productivity. Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on short-term memory and complex task performance and leads to reduced productivity in the workplace. (30) Conversely, adequate sleep recharges your brain, preparing you for a focused, productive day. To learn more about how you can optimize your sleep, read my article “8 Tips for Beating Insomnia and Improving Your Sleep.”

Other strategies for helping your body rest and rejuvenate are to engage in a favorite hobby, do a digital detox, or go on a personal retreat or vacation. Hobbies awaken your creativity and give you a fresh perspective, relieving job stress and helping you come up with new ideas when you’re back at work. (31) A digital detox, or a period of time in which you abstain from using most (if not all) technology and social media, also provides a valuable “reset” for the mind and spirit. Last but not least, vacations and personal retreats are well-established ways to fit in valuable relaxation time. (32, 33)

Step 11: Play and Have Fun

Society tells us that work and productivity are more valuable than leisure and play and that play is just a “childish” behavior we should eventually outgrow. However, this line of thinking is patently incorrect, according to a growing body of research on the science of play. Play is essential for our well-being; it keeps our minds and brain flexible, helps us adapt to a changing world, and relieves stress.

Play isn’t limited to games and sports; based on your unique interests and “play history,” play could involve creating art or music, playing with your dog, or enjoying the outdoors (which carries additional health benefits). Schedule play into your life as you do exercise, sleep, and work obligations.

Step 12: Take a Collaborative Approach to Enhance Your Productivity

One of the greatest strains on Functional Medicine practitioners is their desire to provide comprehensive support for patients, despite the significant (and often unrealistic) time investment this entails. Fortunately, a collaborative approach to healthcare can resolve this issue.

In a collaborative practice model, physicians work side by side with allied health care providers, such as nutritionists and health coaches, to provide a comprehensive level of care for patients. This model can be further strengthened by combining it with Functional Medicine, a patient-centered form of healthcare that places special importance on disease prevention, the biochemical individuality of patients, and addressing the root causes of disease, rather than just managing symptoms. A collaborative, Functional Medicine approach can make a real difference in patients’ lives while enhancing your work satisfaction and productivity.