Early Career
  • How to Make the Shift From Busy to Productive

    Author(s): By Thomas Davis, CRNA, MAE, Lt. Col (ret)

    Let’s agree that we’re all hard working; however, at the end of the day, what do we have to show for it?


    This high-tech 21st century requires that we move faster and process information more rapidly than during any other historic period. The price of stock at Plated, Uber or Amazon attests to the speed read race pace at which we move. Let’s agree that we’re all hard working; however, at the end of the day, what do we have to show for it? All or many of us may grimly discover that we’ve spent the day as busy as a pile of fire ants and as productive as a heap of sawdust. Busy may appear beautiful, but Productive is Queen Bee for a day.

    Are you busy or productive?

    Busy people …

    • Say they have a mission
    • Appear to focus on action
    • Say yes a lot
    • Are easily distracted

    Productive people…

    • Have a written mission and a defined goal
    • Develop a plan and put it into action
    • Say yes as much as possible and always follow through
    • Limit the distractions and commit to achieving results.

    How to make the shift

    Written mission, defined goal  First, commit to itAfter agreeing to a proposal, identify and clarify the intended outcome. For either a long or short-term goal, focus on the published department mission while defining the outcome of the project. No matter what leadership style you opt to use, if you know where you’re headed, and if you keep an eye on the ball, at the end of the day you should have brought all your small tasks to closure and made the projected progress on your long-range projects.

    Plan, action Whether you’re organizing a one-hour meeting or restructuring an entire department, all tasks require a strategic plan with a timeline. Use markers to indicate progress, and then follow your plan. Build clock blocks with specific times for different activities and allow some empty time periods for inserting priority projects. Don’t forget to create time for a needed stretch break, taking a quick jog up the back staircase, eating a healthful power lunch. Start the day by doing a last-minute “block check.”  End the day by reviewing the results.

    Say yes, follow through It’s easy to say yes. In fact, very often it’s easier. “Yes!” means that you have the time and the resources to complete the task or project, or that you can and will get them. To begin an assignment, declutter. Start with a clean desk and an empty waste can. Clear your schedule and the schedules of those you wish to utilize. Be certain that you, or you and the team, are up to the task and if you say yes, mean it. To be fair and honest, if you cannot say yes and follow through, just say no, “…but thank you for asking!”

    Limit distractions, get results In other words, focus. Having the personnel, the tangible resources, scheduled daily clock blocks, and a decluttered mind and work area sets stage for focusing on high production. Now, do one more thing. Put your phone away. Take care of your texts and emails prior to starting the first clock block then turn it off. Turn off the ring-tone. Turn off the alerts. Turn away all the would-be hijackers and tune in to your timeline. Position yourself to see planned results.

    Earn and establish your professional reputation based on what you’ve accomplished, not on how busy you managed to be. To avoid being a top that stays upright by spinning in one place or a whirling dervish that dashes and darts through the day creating more problems than resolutions, design a focused work environment with a plan for action on every project. Thoughtfully use your integrity and talent to follow through so you can finish the day with planned results and a sigh of satisfaction.

    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.