Early Career
  • How to Be Highly Productive Instead of Too Busy

    Author(s): By Thomas Davis, DNAP, CRNA

    Keys to transforming yourself into a highly productive person include believing in yourself and taking ownership for creating the result.


    My colleague, Eric Shepard, MD, had a strong desire to ensure that our staff was able to continue to function in the COVID environment with the least possible exposure to the deadly virus. In his research he located a scuba facemask used by the Italian military with a snorkle port that had been adapted to accept an air filter and envisioned a new adaptor to accommodate a filter that would remove 99.99 percent of the airborne virus. The apparatus had been tried in Europe but prototype adaptors had not been made in sufficient quanity. Tirelessly, he worked on developing an adaptor that would accommodate a known filter which removed the COVID virus from inhaled air. After developing a design, he consulted a local engineer and together they produced a prototype adaptor that would fit into the mask. He then coordinated with the manufacturer in Italy who eagerly welcomed the modification and produced samples. Next, Eric applied for and received approval from the FDA to use the mask in the United States under the provisions of the Emergency Use Authorization act. Eric’s creative idea at the beginning of March resulted in a new barrier to COVID by mid-April. As a result, NAPA anesthesia purchased 2,000 of the masks and distributed one to each healthcare provider in their system. Without persistent effort, a valuable concept would have died on the vine.

    Similarly, Diane Miller, CRNA, had a vision for a device resembling a toy that would make inhalation induction of anesthesia more fun for children. She, too, worked tirelessly to develop prototypes followed by testing. Based on feedback from colleagues and the reaction of children using the experimental device, she tweaked her model to make it user-friendly for the anesthetist and fun for the child. She spent months obtaining a patent, testing the device, and gaining FDA approval for marketing the gadget. Diane located a person to manufacture and package the product and investigated marketing strategies. Without the creator’s consistent and committed effort, the Pedia pediatric anesthetic device would not exist.

    In contrast to those who do achieve their goals, some people work extremely hard, are fatigued at the end of the day but have little or nothing to show for the effort.  They are busy but not necessarily productive.

    Here is the difference.

    Busy people are always in motion working on something. They want to be good at everything and continually multitask which ensures that no project gets their full attention. They frequently feel rushed, so their efforts to make what they are working on a little better often leaves the project undone, awaiting one more tweak. Busywork is ongoing and is seldom completed.

    Productive people remain focused while working with a sense of purpose. Because they have a clear concept of what they want to accomplish, they do not become distracted nor discouraged. They tend to be less frantic than their “busy” colleagues and have a relaxed concentration and optimistic interest in the task at hand. Because they are determined to achieve the desired outcome, they will not be deterred until the project is brought to closure.

    How to achieve results

    Numerous times throughout my career, I have heard a friend or colleague groan when a new device was introduced saying, “I thought of that years ago…I’d be rich if I had followed through on my idea.”  

    Transforming yourself from wants it to happen “trier” into the makes it happen “doer” requires a clear knowledge of what you plan to achieve. With the outcome in mind, you will need a commitment of time, effort, and resources in order to get the ball rolling. Applying your focus to the project requires you to narrow your perspective and remove distractions. Peter Landau, writing for the Projectmanager blog, offers several suggestions for removing distractions, including the following.

    • Develop a schedule and keep it
    • Ensure proper nutrition and sleep
    • Use physical and emotional barriers such as room dividers and relaxing music to block other activities
    • Have a clean workspace
    • Turn off your phone
    • Let others know that you are working and accept emergencies only

    Once distractions have been removed, the pathway is open to move your project forward. Keep in mind that what you are doing may affect others and, if so, it is important to get their feedback early on.

    Before you start a project, step back and review your intended outcome, resources, and personal talents. You may have the vision and the energy to push a project forward yet lack the expertise that is required to complete each individual step of the process.

    Diane was able to develop a prototype of her pediatric device but needed help from others to obtain a patent, FDA approval, production of the device and marketing. Eric was able to design the adaptor for the airway filter but needed an engineer to help produce the prototype. Stay true to your goal, seek advice where needed and persistently push your project to the next level. If you do not know the solution to removing an obstacle, find someone who does. When consulting with others, ask game changing questions and always strive for excellence. Never settle for less than best.

    Keys to transforming yourself into a highly productive person include believing in yourself and taking ownership for creating the result. Courage is needed to put achieving your vision above your fear of failure or humiliation. When you take ownership, your desire to achieve a goal will become stronger than the roadblocks that you will encounter. Anticipate setbacks and have the resiliency to convert deal breakers into deal makers. Don’t be a trier who works at things; be a doer who gets things done.

    If you still have a few more miles to travel on your personal journey from busy to productive, use the tips in this article to grease the wheels and supercharge the engine. Implement a functional schedule with measurable tasks toward a worthwhile goal and commit to it until each task is completed and the goal is achieved. Stay optimistic, resist distractions, be relentless and convert yourself from “busy trier” to “productive doer.”

    Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE, is the former Chief of the Division of Nurse Anesthesia at The Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and former Chief CRNA at (Baylor) Scott and White, Main OR in Temple, TX. Col. Davis, USAF (Ret.), is well-known throughout the Nurse Anesthesia community for his leadership in clinical anesthesia, including developing the first distance education model while on the graduate faculty at Kansas University Medical Center. Recognized for his expertise in team-building across department lines, Tom is a sought-after speaker, educator, author, and leadership trainer. Follow @procrnatom on Twitter.