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Take Back Your Desk with Speed-Reading Time Management Tips


Keeping up with emails, the newspaper, and medical journals is a full-time job in itself. Here's how to master getting the information that you actually need.

Practice Management, Career Development, Leadership, Reading

Every day we have tons of reading to keep up with; it may be emails, the newspaper, or medical journals. It seems that even if we did nothing but read, we would still have enough material for a full-time job. How do you keep up with it all and still do the tasks that need to get accomplished on a daily basis?

I'm going to share with you a few tips that I have learned along the way. If you start applying them in your life now, I bet you will get a lot more reading done — and accomplish it in much less time.

First, let's address your inbox. The most beneficial tool ever invented when tackling an overabundance of emails is the delete key. Most of the time you can get all you need to know from the subject line or first few sentences. If there is nothing you need to respond to urgently, just delete the email and move on. However, if you do need to respond, do it right away so that you don’t have to keep coming back to that e-mail later. Only handle each e-mail once. Every time you come back to it, that is more time you are wasting each day.

Second, if you have a staff member or an administrator who consistently sends you a large number of emails, it may be time to train them on how to use email effectively. As I mentioned above, a good subject line should give you the gist of the entire email. If there is an action you need to take, it should be stated up front. All the related details can follow that. Also, teach them to problem-solve so that you aren’t having to micromanage each aspect of everyone else’s job.

The other thing I recommend is reading selectively. If you have, like I do, a few different medical journals that come to your office or home every month they tend to pile up. You keep thinking that you are going to read them someday but as the stack gets taller than your children, it becomes less and less likely.

The technique I found most helpful for tackling this problem is skimming the table of contents for each journal. If there is an article that you find interesting just rip it out and place it in a file folder. Keep the file folder with you in your car. You can reclaim lost hours waiting to pick up the kids, for your oil change to get finished, or while stuck at a traffic light. These are perfect times to scan through your folder of articles. Throw away the rest of the articles that you don't want to read. There's no sense keeping piles of them around.

Lastly developed a system for reading. Set aside specific times each day, even if it is only for 30 minutes. If that's all you can spare, just dedicate that time to read. Use this time for keeping up on your journals, reviewing textbooks, or learning a new skill. This is not time to catch up on Sports Illustrated or Cosmo. Use this 30 minutes a day to start developing good reading habits. Catch up on the latest developments in your specialty or read something that will contribute to your personal growth.

Sure, you can practice speed-reading. It is a helpful tool for skimming through large amounts of information and gleaning the important points. However, you can also speed up your reading by cutting out all the clutter and extraneous “reading material” that you come across each day. Use these tips to speed up your reading and create more time for you to enjoy other activities.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice