AAEP Wellness Coverage: Time Management in Equine Practice

A doctor sits behind a red clock closeup.
It is essential for equine practice leaders to demonstrate time management skills that allow for a work-life balance. iStock

Dr. Amy Grice began her presentation at the 2022 AAEP Convention by defining time management as “the process of planning and controlling how much time to spend on specific activities.” Good time management enables you to complete more priorities in a block of time. It also lowers stress, improves your work-life balance and leads to greater contentment, she stated. 

Many equine practitioners struggle to have a life outside of work due to the demands of the career. Practice owners and their behaviors have a significant effect on their employees’ work-life balance since leaders model the way. Because of this, it is essential for practice leaders to demonstrate time management skills that allow for a work-life balance. “It is very difficult to achieve balance in a practice with a culture that worships a work-centered life,” she opined. 

Changing Needs for Balance

Over the course of a veterinarian’s career, they will have changing needs for balance. As a new parent, or as a daughter or son tending to an aging parent, or as a parent of a school-age child, your responsibilities will vary. You might need to take more time off from work to tend to these responsibilities. As an older person, you might want more time at work or less. As a seasoned practitioner, you might enjoy teaching the next generation, either at work or with your son’s Little League team. Being attuned to what you need for a happy life is important, she stated.

Dr. Grice relayed a story of feeling burned out during a busy breeding season, during which she offered herself a space for a choice. She could drive over the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge and fling her cell phone into the waters of the Hudson River below, and then get on the NYS Thruway and drive away and never come back. This illusion of choice helped her keep slogging through the day, but it was the death of her mother a year later that brought her up short with the reality of needing a life beyond her work, she said. With that reflection, she began to ride her horse in the morning several days a week before beginning the day’s calls. Her story illustrated her realization of her need for balance and time management. 

Time Management Matrix

Pivoting to discussing time management, Dr. Grice explained about a time when her desk and life at work were so out of control, with teetering piles of papers and tasks she needed to do, that one spring she got up at 2 a.m. and went into the office to get caught up. But managing time and tasks can be done better than that, she insisted. The speaker then explained a Matrix developed by Stephen Covey that he divided into four quadrants, each representing how your work time can be divided based on significance and urgency. The matrix squares symbolize your time, she said. The four quadrants can be considered Do (Urgent & Important), Plan (Not Urgent But Important), Delegate (Urgent but Not Important) and Eliminate (Not Urgent & Not Important). The main goal is to spend as much time as possible in Planning while spending less time in the others. According to Covey, this is the fundamental reality underlying time management, she noted.  

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantPatient/Client Emergencies
Crises at Home or at Work
Tasks with Deadlines
Pressing Problems
Completing medical records & invoices
Strategic Planning & Scheduling
Relationship Building
Goal setting
Personal/Professional Growth
Rest/Recreation
Not ImportantInterruptionsSome Phone callsSome Email/Postal MailSome Tasks at Home or WorkTime wasters (Social media, TV)Some Phone callsSome Email/Postal MailSome Tasks at Home or Work

Quadrants of Time Management

Dr. Grice stated that “Perfectionism is the enemy. ‘Good enough’ IS good enough for most tasks.” Another better way to think about time management relates back to John Townsend’s ideas, she added. By thinking in terms of the time flexibility and importance of the task, you can place it in one of the following quadrants: Must Do & Time Fixed, Must Do & Time Flexible, Important but not Must Do, and Would Be Nice, she stated. Considering the return on an activity in terms of your productivity and well-being can help you decide where to spend your time. 

Must Do & Time Fixed
Daughter’s ballet recital
Getting enough sleep
Family or Patient Emergency
Feeding the horses/dogs/kids
Must Do & Time Flexible
Dinner with Family 12x/month
Working out/Exercise
Paying Bills
Self-care
Relationships
Important But Not Must Do
Office maintenance
Upgrading Technology
Cleaning the house?
Would Be Nice
Netflix binge
Cleaning the house
Spa day or massage

A Daily/Weekly/Monthly Task List will help you remember all your pending tasks, the speaker recommended. Writing down all due dates or deadlines, and prioritizing importance, helps you to put your duties into perspective. It gives you a clear picture of which activities you should perform first and those which can be later. Having a plan to sort your tasks will help you feel more control over your time as you delegate and discard, and then get to work on the critical things, she opined. 

In summary, Dr. Grice stated: “Deciding how to spend your time is very important, because time is finite. Determining your priorities and living your life in a balanced way is up to you.” 

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