Time Management Hack – Turn off those notifications.


My attention wandered.  Again!  I’m having alot of difficulty getting this blog post written.  Every time I get my thoughts organized and get into the groove of writing, something pulls my attention away.  Hey, look!  A new Facebook notification, a new email, a to-do list reminder… it’s no wonder nothing is getting done.

Facebook notifications done

I’m pretty sureI’m not alone here.  A quick review of the relevant literature reveals that this is not just a common problem, but an epidemic among knowledge workers.  I suspect this may be even harder for those of us who are in workplaces with constant human interactions to also distract us.

Just how often do we get distracted?

According to business research firm Basex, interruptions cost the US economy more than $650 billion per year.  Jonathan Spira, the chief analyst at Basex, recently compiled an update of research based on surveys and interviews with professionals and office workers.  They reported that 28% of their time was spent on interruptions and ‘getting back on task’ after the disruption of their attention.

OK, so we get distracted alot.  So what?

Research has shown that interruptions can increase task performance time.  This is primarily because it takes time to get back into the flow of the interrupted task.  Recent research by Microsoft reveals just how much notifications can disrupt your workflow.  By tracking all of the computer activity of 27 users over a 2 week period, they quantified how much work was accomplished on primary tasks and the impact of interruptions on the time it took to perform them.  They found that participants spent an average of 10 minutes on switches caused by notifications.  Strangely, workers typically not only visited the notifying application, but also several others before getting back to work.

What was the impact?

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The workers took, on average, took a total of 15 minutes to return their attention to their primary task.  This is bad enough, but consider also that 27% of interruptions resulted in more than two hours of time lost before resumption of the primary task.  Combined with a variety of other research that indicates that multi-tasking increases the amount of time to complete tasks, the evidence is clear.  Those notifications aren’t just a way to make you more aware of the incoming information.  They are a mechanism that invariably pulls you off task and makes getting things done more difficult.

What to do?  Turn notifications off!

Email, Facebook and Twitter aren’t meant to be instantaneous forms of communication.  By clustering your interaction with these communication forms, you can create blocks of focused time where you can get more accomplished.  This is a simple, but valuable time management strategy. Your distracting friends can always text you if they need something right now.  Maybe we’ll need to turn that off next.


Iqbal S, Horvitz E. Disruption and Recovery of Computing Tasks: Field Study, Analysis and Directions. CHI 2007.

Mark G, et al. No task left behind?: examining the nature of fragmented work.  CHI 2005, 321 – 330.

Spira J. The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity.  Basex. 2005.

Violently execute!


I have found that coming up with strategies, setting goals and knowing what to do is often not the problem facing us.  Its finding the time and energy to get these things done!  General George Patton said:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week”.

I’ll take that further and say that a mediocre plan that is executed is better than a perfect plan written on a piece of paper in a desk drawer. What plans do you need to execute on?  Get violent with them!

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”  Steven Covey.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Time Management Tech Tip: GMail

Google Apps Important

Gmail provides one of the most useful ways I have found to prevent being overwhelmed by your inbox.  A few years ago, our practice switched from Outlook to Google Apps.  This is Gmail for business.  While I had enjoyed a Gmail account for personal use, our switch to Google Apps allowed me to use what has become one of my favorite email hacks.  Controlling the flow of information and how I process it is one of the best ways I have found to manage my time.

With a setting easily accessible the preferences menu, you can tell Gmail to utilize an algorithm to decide whether a message is ‘important’ or ‘not important’.  If you have any trouble, check out this help link.  This has been invaluable, because I typically will leave anything Gmail doesn’t think is ‘important’ until later, then spend just a few minutes at the end of the day and delete it all in one fell swoop.  Clustering tasks like this together is one way to improve your time management and avoid distraction.

How does Gmail decide what is important?

1)  Who you email

2)   Which messages you open

3)   What keywords are common in messages you open

4)   Which messages you reply to

5)   Which messages you star, archive or delete

Gmail takes a little while to figure out your preferences, but after a few months, I found that I almost never had a message I cared to open slide past the ‘important and unread’ inbox.  It also reacts to your tweaks, you can mark that annoying co-worker who directly emails you all the time as unimportant and after a few times, they stay unimportant until you change your mind.  Just to be safe, though, I make it a practice to scan the ‘unimportant emails’ at the end of the day and delete them.  This 30-second email hygiene task helps when I need to search for an email later.


“Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit, which repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex” Norman Vincent Peale

The Power of Positive Thinking

Jobs Applied: Focus

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do” Steve Jobs


One of the major strategic shifts that Steve Jobs made upon returning to the failing Apple in 1997 was to sharpen the focus on the company on creating just a few products… but pouring all of their energy into making those products fantastic.  That’s why even today Apple, arguably the number 1 computer company in the world, only has 46 products.  Only 13 of those are in their core hardware business (the rest are software or accessory products -I found that tidbit here).  Spend a few minutes browsing the Dell website and you can see how remarkable this is.

Isaacson, in the article that spurred this Blog series, describes an annual strategy meeting Jobs would hold with his ‘top 100’ people.  He would ask them to brainstorm what 10 things they should be doing… slowly narrowing all the ideas down until he got to 10.  He’d prioritize them… and then drop the  bottom 7.  This narrowing of priorities down to 2 or 3 is a strategy theme that seems to be everywhere once you look for it.  Perhaps the most well known of these ‘no more than 3 priorities’ advocates is Jim Collins, of ‘Good to Great’ fame.

Create a ‘stop doing’ list. Work is infinite; time is finite. If you have more than three priorities, you have none … – Jim Collins

The principle of playing to our strengths and figuring out what one or two things your firm can be excellent at has been an ongoing theme in our Executive Program in Private Practice Management.   Part of focusing on your strengths is to accept that it is acceptable – perhaps even preferable to be mediocre or even suck at alot of things if you are going to be world-class at anything.   I, for example, am steadily losing my skill at manual therapy.  For the first decade of my career, it was all I thought about.  I obsessed about it, studied it, practiced it… I practically manipulated anyone who I could get to lie down on my portable manipulation table.  I did my best to put in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours.  Now I’m focusing on other things – such as learning to write better blog posts.  If I want to become a master at THIS, then I can’t spend a big chunk of my time practicing THAT.

“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” — Bill Gates

Our practices, similarly, can’t be amazing at everything.  We probably can’t be the best place for an endurance athlete to be seen and also the best place to go if you have a stroke.  We probably can’t be the women’s health mecca and also the very best at treating cervicogenic headaches.  We could certainly collect some people who have these skill sets – but we as a practice can’t be the best at everything and as the number of therapists gets larger, Cindy’s special skill set in treating elbow pain becomes more and more difficult to use as a differentiation.

“A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.” – Anonymous

The lesson the rest of the business world is trying to get across (and that was executed on by Steve Jobs) is that it is better to figure out what you are the BEST at and then use that to differentiate your practice from the others.  Everything else is a distraction and could prevent you from achieving the amazing practice you envision.

Coming up next week…. Simplify.

The greatest time management tool I ever learned came from the 19th century economist Vilfredo Pareto. The Pareto Principle states that if we devote our energy, time, and resources to the top 20% of our priorities, we’ll achieve 80% of the results we desire. Use your time log to clarify which activities are important to you. Then focus your schedule on the top 20%.”  John Maxwell.

Time management: bullet journaling for paper lovers

Fast Company
Jan 5, 2014

In this video, Ryder Carrol presents an intuitive system for time management, note-taking and to-do lists for paper lovers.  This is similar to a system I used for years with Moleskine Cahier notebooks.  Many apps now integrate this process with our phones and computers – but sometimes old school is the best school.  The most important thing is that you have a system you are comfortable with so you stick with it.

“The speed, volume of information, clutter and uncertainty of modern life lead to distractibility, impulsivity, restlessness and impatience.” Dr. Ned Hallowell.




Time Management: A barrel of monkeys

monkey guy 1400X440

One of the biggest time management challenges physical therapy practice owners face is the ongoing need to continue functioning as a clinician.  In a service industry like physical therapy, the manager is simply too valuable as a producer to allow them to disengage from the production side of the business.  This creates a particularly difficult challenge as we try to work ‘on’ our business, while still needing to work ‘in’ our business.

A timeless HBR article titled Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? first published in 1974 is perhaps one of the best articles ever written on the subject.   One key to keep day to day demands from taking over our ‘management time’ is making sure ‘the monkey stays where it belongs’.   Holding your subordinates accountable for solving their own problems is a key skill in the delegation leadership style.

barrel of monkeys

The powerful imagery in this article I have found to be extremely helpful, particularly when trying to make time to manage and lead while still living in the whirlwind of day to day clinical practice.  Picture each patient on a schedule as a monkey (no offense intended).  If you are the clinic director or owner, with several staff therapists working for you… where should most of the monkeys be?  Keeping the right balance of workload between directors and staff therapists is both important and challenging.  This is made more difficult when the director also happens to be:

1)a more experienced clinician

2)perceived by patients to be the ‘expert’

3)because of these things maintains higher visits/new patient or ‘durations’

In other words the tendency will be for the owner or director to have an easier time maintaining a full case load than a less experienced staff therapist.

In other professional fields, such as within a law firm, this tendency of the ‘senior partner’ to be more sought after is usually balanced by increasing rates.  While I have seen this work in some cash practices, it isn’t likely to be useful in a typical private practice where rates are set primarily by contractual discounts to insurance providers.

Perhaps the most useful piece of advice in this area comes from the delegation rule of thumb often attributed to John Maxwell: ‘if somebody else can do the task 80% as well as you can – you should be letting them do it’.

Over time this practice is the key to leveraging your time and energy to maximize your impact.  Don’t fall prey to the easy route of taking on the larger caseload… instead spend that time developing your staff therapists.  Work to eliminate  the real or imagined disparity between the director and and the staff therapists, with the end goal that patients prefer to see them over you.