Using Google’s ‘secret sauce’ to bring order to the chaos
I’ve always been good at prioritizing tasks, but after starting a software company, I learned some things that made me more efficient. One growth hack that engineers use when building software is the power of focus. Believe it or not, multitasking while writing lines of code doesn’t work very well, and it doesn’t work for you either. Cal Newport mentions this in his book, “Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World.”
The distracted clinic
Years ago, there were distractions, but they are now at an all-time high with various notifications on your phone, Slack/Microsoft Teams notifications, emails, texts and app notifications. Years ago, you received your messages via mail, and one would probably check it once per day. However, in today’s world, some people check their email over 50 times daily.
Many people say they are great at multitasking, but I challenge you to apply focus. Every quarter, I’ll sit down and write out a few significant objectives I want to accomplish over the next 90 days, and I make a list of things that must be true for each objective to be complete or a success. That is a concept many will refer to as O.K.R.s (Objectives with Key Results). This was one of Google’s secret sauces to get things done when they used the consultant John Doerr, who wrote “Measure What Matters.” Of course, these are more important things that require time to get done, and it’s tempting to create a list of 10 items, but I challenge you to focus on 1-3 of these a quarter.
As your weeks go on, other issues will pop up — some of them you’ll have to handle immediately, and others you can add to a to-do list, but I prefer to add them to my backlog. In software, these could be bugs, tasks or feature requests; in your office, it could be a new hire, compliance changes, records requests, PI reports, a new vendor, social media videos, etc. I have an ideas list, which I use in an I.C.E. format (Impact, Competency and Ease of Completion). My top score ideas will also make it onto my backlog, and some of these will turn into O.K.R.s in the future.
Weekly sprints and focus days
In our software business, we plan our “sprint” every other week, but in my personal life and for your practice, you should plan your weekly sprint. First, you will look at your upcoming week, your O.K.R.s and your backlog of items, hopefully prioritized from highest to lowest. Then you will create your “sprint” or your to-do list for the week.
In the beginning you’ll likely have too many things left on your list when the week is over. Over time, you’ll better estimate how much it requires to build a new process or accomplish a task. In the software world, we try to get a Minimal Viable Product, otherwise known as an M.V.P., out to our users for immediate feedback, because we need to iterate until it’s good enough. In your practice, if you have unfinished tasks, they will never produce for you, which is why a finished job is always best.
Each week, I’ll have a couple of focus days, where I work on my big tasks, and I’ll get more done on those days. Then I’ll have my buffer days or shovel days; those were my patient days when I was actively in practice. I didn’t make those my focus days because patients could get added to the schedule and run over on their time.
On those days, I would try to accomplish one or two things that didn’t require intense focus for hours, like an O.K.R. item, but they still had to get done. These could be reports, employee reviews, phone calls, etc. I ensured I finished all my SOAPs and didn’t want to finish the day with more items to add to my list. I only check my email a couple of times a day because anything urgent warrants a phone call, text or Slack.
On my focus days, I would schedule back-to-back time blocks, turn off my Slack messenger and phone and not check my email. I gathered everything I needed to work on the task, and I would work on that item for 50 minutes and then follow it up with a break. You would be amazed at how productive you could be if you worked without distractions for 50 minutes, followed by a short break, then another 50-minute session. Some of the issues I had to work on required other people’s input, such as a clunky process in our office. I remember our new-patient intake process to start the care process could have been smoother.
I had a smooth process, but some team members needed to own their parts of the process rather than retraining repeatedly. So, I gathered all the people involved in the process, and we mapped out every step. We eliminated unnecessary steps, added steps and automated everything we could. Getting their fingerprints on the process allowed them to own the process, and we stopped having bottlenecks or missed steps whenever we had an influx of new patients.
Personal productivity and mindset
By being more productive in our business, I could schedule time for the gym, family and working with my boys on baseball. By scheduling what is important to me first, I have always been able to fit things into my week.
Unfortunately, that resulted in no time to watch sports or follow TV shows regularly, but I knew that going into this. If that was important to me I could have scheduled it, but I have chosen to spend that free time with my family, and if that meant family movie night, I made time for that.
To start my days, I recommend the Miracle Morning routine. It follows the S.A.V.E.R.S. routine: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading and Scribing. I do my scribing or writing on Sunday when planning my week. I read a bit in the evening, but I typically combine my workouts in the morning with an audiobook, course or podcast. Silence, affirmations and visualization only take a couple of minutes in the morning, but going through that routine rewires your brain so you can handle the day’s tasks.
If you are in the right mindset, your confidence will affect how you handle your tasks, O.K.R.s and problems that require a solution. As a result, you won’t be overwhelmed and you will chip away at your weekly to-do list.
This stuff isn’t “sexy,” but everyone I know who executes regularly follows a similar routine, so why reinvent the wheel? These ideas are not my own, either; I borrowed some from Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach. I.C.E. is a concept for score ideas; O.K.R.s is a book and Google’s secret weapon for getting things done, and from the SCRUM and Agile process that is commonplace in the software world. So, if you feel overwhelmed, pick one thing from this article and apply it to your life.
NAOTA HASHIMOTO, DC, is the co-founder of TrackStat, a patient tracking software that makes it easy for admin people to attract and convert new patients while ensuring your existing patients stay in your practice. It offers new ways to retain patients and also offers ways for staff to communicate and schedule patients while providing you all the metrics of success. To learn more, go to trackstat.org.