With all of today’s technology and modern conveniences, it is perhaps paradoxical that so many people feel pressed for time. But in fact, we are living in an era of “time famine,” characterized by a feeling that there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Therapists are perhaps particularly prone to time famine, given their tendency to wear multiple hats and be on-call for after-hours emergencies. In addition, the emotional intensity of our work makes us more susceptible to burnout. So how do we make the most of the time we have and avoid feeling overwhelmed? Being aware of these productivity traps (and hacks) is a start.

TRAP #1:

Treating everything as though it’s equally important


Sort tasks into different categories based on your values, goals, and resources. For example:

Determine when you are at your most productive and efficient, and schedule your most challenging tasks accordingly.

Start with “high-leverage activities” that give you the most return on your investment. The “return” in this case could be time-savings, new sources of income, or simply personal fulfillment.

Fast-forward to the end of the day. Think about what tasks, if completed, will give you the most sense of accomplishment at the end of the work day.

TRAP #2:

Feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day


Make a time diary

Keeping a log of how you spend your time, either in a time-tracking app or your online calendar.  Then, look for trends that you can then use for better time management. For example:

How do things like sleep and diet affect productivity?

Are the tasks that take up the majority of your time also the most important, or are you getting distracted by minutiae?

What are your “time sucks,” the activities that take up a significant amount of your day but provide little to no reward?

How do you use “time confetti,” the 5-15 minute chunks of free time sprinkled throughout your day?

Do you build in time buffers to account for contingencies like traffic, illness, and technological problems?

TRAP #3:

Feeling “too busy for ______” (fill in the blank with social time, leisure activities, etc.)


Create a realistic “time budget,” including breaks to recharge

Although it may seem counterintuitive, scheduling regular breaks throughout the day can actually increase your productivity. Moreover, these breaks don’t have to be lengthy or elaborate to be beneficial. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Take a couple of minutes to stretch at your desk

Take a quick walk outside

Listen to music

Take a power nap

Call a friend or chat with a coworker

TRAP #4:



Focus on one thing at a time

With so many things vying for our attention, it is tempting to try and multitask. Research shows, however, that multitasking actually inhibits productivity. Instead, try focusing on one thing at a time, using the following strategies:

Time blocking/chunking– Divide your work day into discrete blocks designated for clinical work, collaboration with colleagues, creative, and administrative tasks.

Eliminate distractions– Research shows that even a temporary shift in attention (stopping to answer a text, e.g.) significantly increases task completion time. Switch your phone to silent, turn off notifications, or turn it off completely.

Set and maintain boundaries– Avoid the temptation to check email after work or see clients outside of office hours. Establish routines and rituals to signal the transition from one activity to the next.

TRAP #5:

Lack of energy


Instead of managing time, manage energy

You can’t create more hours in the day, but you can do things to maximize your energy. In addition to the basics of nutrition, exercise, and sleep, you can try the following:

Pay attention to your body’s natural “ultradian rhythms,” 90-120 minute cycles in which our bodies move from high energy to depletion. You know you are at the end of an ultradian cycle when you feel restless, tired, and unfocused. Instead of trying to “power through” these lulls, use them as signals to rest and recharge.

Look for productivity “sweet spots,” activities that feel effortless, energizing, or inspiring. These tasks tend to be self-sustaining as opposed to depleting.

Delegate as many “low leverage” tasks as possible. For example, many therapists use billing services to circumvent the often time-consuming task of dealing with insurance companies and delinquent accounts.


In many ways, how busy we are has become a measure of success in our society, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “The Busy Olympics.” But busyness does not always equate to productivity; in fact, sometimes it can be the opposite. In addition, in today’s attention economy, it can be a constant challenge to stay focused on the task at hand. Being honest with yourself about your personal productivity traps is the first step towards better time management and work-life balance.

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