Fighting time as a telehealth worker

Fighting time as a telehealth worker

“How do we avoid feeling overwhelmed by our own daily lives?” Use these five tips from a telehealth worker to improve how you work with time, not against it!

My husband frequently tells me that time is his greatest enemy. 

This is often in response to my teasing, because he has a notorious reputation for being at least 30 minutes late to any social event. He will tell me, with a slightly exasperated laugh, that if time would just cooperate more, he wouldn’t have such a problem. Usually, my response is playfully rolling my eyes while I text our friends, family, or whoever else we’re meeting that we are almost on our way. 

However, in the last couple of years, time has felt… Well, not so much like a friend. Of course, I’m sure the pandemic is a culprit, and I wouldn’t doubt it has something to do with my recent realization that my 20s are coming to an end. But despite being at my most successful, I’ve been feeling like I’m suspended in a constant state of stress. I don’t have time to be fully committed at what I’m doing and pursue other areas I’d like to grow. 

Thankfully, I am not alone. 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the results of their 2020 Stress in America survey were unprecedented. The survey illustrated how the usual stressors (such as political conflict and economic declines) were extremely exacerbated by COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, a 2015 poll by Gallup Analytics found that 48% of Americans felt they didn’t have enough time in the day to do what they wanted. 

Untreated, we steep ourselves into stress and stress hormone byproducts, which, in large amounts, can contribute to a continued feeling of low energy and/or depression. This pulls us into a cycle of not having the energy to do what we need to, getting stressed over it, and then getting so tired from the stress that we’re back to having no energy the next day. 

So how do we combat this? How do we avoid feeling overwhelmed by our own daily lives? 

I’ve worked in the medical industry for the last four years. Currently, I work as a benefits coordinator for a large insurance company, receiving prescriptions for medical equipment, coordinating the delivery of them, and pouring over chart notes from telehealth and office visits to confirm requirements for insurance coverage are met. When I first arrived on this team, we were about a month behind on prescriptions needing to be processed. 

We all felt overwhelmed. 

I’m happy to say, however, that through managing our time as efficiently as possible as a team, we’re nearly caught up. It’s given us satisfaction every day to see our workload go down, to watch our inboxes get closer and closer to a manageable number, even empty — at least for a few minutes. 

If you’re feeling overworked or like there just aren’t enough hours in the day, here are five tips that I personally implement in my daily work routine to fight against stress and work with time!

Tip #1: Beware the Dangers of Multitasking 

I once considered my greatest strength as a worker to be my ability in multitasking. I would go so far as to say I considered myself a “Multi-Tasking Queen.” But, as we learn in Netflix’s The Crown, the life of a monarch is weighed down heavily with its own burdens. Over the years, I’ve discovered that attempting to multi-task may actually be one of my biggest personal downfalls, and that the crown I gave myself was actually all an illusion. 

You see, multitasking is actually fighting against human nature. An article in TIME magazine states that only 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. Everyone else trying to multitask is unaware that they’re actually faking it. We are not working on multiple things at once. Instead, we’re working on several things individually for very short amounts of time — rapid mono-tasking. The constant switching of going from one task to another means you’re never giving 100% of your attention to anything you’re doing. Mistakes become more likely, and this process of never focusing on one thing for too long re-trains your brain, causing impairments in our ability to handle or perform simple tasks. 

This reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend and former manager, who saw that I was struggling with burnout from trying to multitask. 

Phone a Friend

I was working at a durable medical equipment company with similar duties as my current job. Specifically, I was a one-human department that handled every hospital discharge, oxygen, VA, and hospice order from Seaside, OR to Mount Hood. I was the top performer as far as order count went. 

It was overwhelming, but I loved it. 

I loved the impact I made on patients, caregivers, and discharge planners. I loved the fast pace and being able to stand up from my desk at 5PM on a Friday knowing that I’d survived it all. 

Eventually, though, the multitasking got to me. I was at my most unhealthy, because I never had time or energy to make dinner after work, let alone actually use my gym membership. I was more tense and irritable in my interactions both at home and at work. I was making clerical errors left and right on my orders, and though they seemed small, for someone working in the healthcare industry, the repercussions of those errors reverberated much further than just my desk. 

It wasn’t until my manager pulled me aside and told me that I needed to take a break from the workload. It was a lecture, but a kind one. He gave me some breathing exercises to try when I was overwhelmed and made sure to reiterate that if I ever needed help, I just had to ask him, and he would make sure I was supported. That conversation gave me the breathing room I needed, and I could finally focus on one thing at a time versus three or four. 

Now, at my current job, I have the absolute pleasure of working with a team of eight coordinators and telehealth experts, rather than a one-person department, so I’m constantly surrounded by people who are encouraging and very willing to help before I even know to ask.

Tip #2: Make a Plan

telehealth, time management

Planning was always something I struggled with, especially as a kid. When it came to homework and group projects, “winging it” was my go-to strategy. Back then it was a little easier. As adults, however, we find ourselves spinning more and more plates. 

Fortunately, there are tons of resources on how to stay organized and save time. 

As a full-time student and full-time worker, getting a consistent weekly plan has been the easiest foundation for organization. I know ahead of time that Sundays are for time spent with friends, and Saturdays are reserved for finishing up any schoolwork I didn’t get done throughout the week, since my online classes require all work to be turned in by Sunday night. Work takes up my time Monday through Friday, 8AM to 5PM. However, in the event that I need time off for things like telehealth and doctor’s visits, I know that Mondays are always the easiest to schedule off.

While at work, I like to schedule on an hourly basis. Every day, when looking at my reports, I section them out by what type of referrals I’m looking at. Organizing my life in small chunks like this allows me to stay focused on one specific task at a time, while also giving me room to make changes as needed. 

As much as you want to try and plan everything, life sometimes has a way of taking matters into its own hands. 

Tip #3: Be Willing to Adapt

Watching our healthcare systems adapt to the challenges of the pandemic has been stressful, yes, but also incredibly inspiring in how, even amongst the chaos, every health worker has used their time as effectively as possible for themselves and their patients. I’ve seen physicians and medical business owners who only used telehealth visits as their last resort to now praising it as the pathway forward. I’ve seen caregivers, who already have such heavy workloads, take on even more responsibility for the sake of providing their patients the best care.

Adaptability is considered one of the most overlooked and yet most-demanded skills in the work industry. According to a study, 63% of CEOs report that they are unable to find employees who can adapt to the requirements of their business and industry, and only 15% of job seekers list adaptability despite it being considered a crucial quality by hiring managers. 

As someone who used to work for two major telecommunication companies, and this even applies to working in the health industry, things are changing constantly – policies, procedures, technology, etc. 

Even now, working in the telehealth and healthcare industry, it seems like everyday is providing new challenges. Now, this is going to sound like an easy one, but it’s important to understand the systems you’re working with and what shortcuts you can use to stay efficient in both quality and time spent. For example, though every order and prescription is different, I’ve found that having a key set of phrases and terms to work from helps process orders faster. Predictive technology has been a life-saver for remembering what criteria I need, and how to best communicate that to physicians and patients. Orders that normally would have taken me over 10 minutes and a short essay written to the doctor are now being completed in half the amount of time. 

Being flexible to change and understanding how to use your tools to adjust to these changes can help manage your time and stress levels. As great as having a plan is… Sometimes life likes to take those carefully-laid plans, rip them up, and then let the scraps flutter in the wind. In those moments, it’s easy to give in to the panic. 

Instead, do as my former manager told me: take a breath. Take a few breaths. Count to 10. And then start over. Review your available tools. Make a new plan, and get back into the fight. 

If even that seems a little too chaotic for you, when making your plans and schedules, make sure you have a Plan B.

Tip #4: Eliminate Distractions 

As a Millenial, pulling completely away from technology often sounds like a death sentence. I’m pretty sure the last time I went a whole day without using technology was on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere… That was about three years ago. 

Getting distracted by technology is often what throws my plans through a loop. Even while writing this, I had planned a 30 minutes break. I wanted to watch some TikToks as a way to de-compress my mind… And then, suddenly, I looked up at the time, and it had been an hour! 

The same thing happens when I get a text message at work. Sometimes it’s as important as a reminder for a telehealth visit I have scheduled, or something as simple as a friend sharing a meme. I check the message and respond as needed, but then… I get distracted. I see I got an email, or a Facebook notification, which turns into me looking through all of my emails, or scrolling further down my Facebook feed. What I had planned as a quick glance at a message suddenly turned into 5-7 minutes of screen time away from my work. 

Beyond the time we spend distracted, there’s also the time that it takes you to get re-focused. The Tech Portal reports that it takes at least 23 minutes to get back into your work. So, even scrolling through Facebook for 2-3 minutes can actually end up taking almost half an hour from your work schedule.

Some people suggest completely turning off all of your devices that can cause a distraction. If this sounds like something you could do, I am jealous! However, this may not be a very realistic option for many, including people who need to stay readily available for their children and loved ones, or for workers who simply don’t do well without music playing in the background. 

To make sure that I am staying off my phone during work hours, I set up my bluetooth stereo in my office to play some music. I usually turn on something that’s easy to melt into the background, like lo-fi hip hop, or a podcast, and then I put my phone in the next room. This way, I don’t have to sit in complete silence, but I don’t have the temptation or ability to take a quick peek at my phone every couple of minutes. Plus, if I get an important message on my phone, it’ll still come through the speaker. 

Eliminating distractions is always going to be dependent on your own lifestyle and tolerance. Don’t be afraid to do a little trial-and-error. Start with keeping your phone a couple of feet away, maybe across the room, and adjust accordingly.

Tip #5: Treat Yo’Self 

self-care, healthcare workers, telehealth

There’s not many instances I would take advice from Parks and Recreation’s Tom Haverford (played by Aziz Ansari). However, there is one exception: TREAT. YO. SELF.

It’s one day of the year that two characters, Ansari’s Haverford and Retta’s Donna Meagle, set aside time to completely devote to themselves, whether it’s eating delicious cupcakes, going to the spa, or buying fancy, leather furniture. It’s a time to live selfishly and as decadently as you so choose. 

I have a long list of why I love my boss, but one shining moment in particular is when I was first hired on. While going over our PTO policy, she told me, “You can use your PTO how you want, but I’m just giving some advice… Don’t hoard it. Please take time off to take care of yourself. Go travel somewhere, do fun things. Don’t just use it for doctor’s appointments or whatever. This job is hard, and you need to be able to step away from it sometimes.” 

This meant a lot to someone like me, who has a history of feeling extremely guilty and anxious when calling out for work, even when I’ve been legitimately too ill to get out of bed. I think in today’s society, we’ve all learned to expect a lot out of ourselves professionally, and we’ve learned to prioritize so many other things besides our own selves. 

Treating yourself is a form of self-care. And self-care is important, because you and your health are just as much a priority as your work. 

Of course, self-care isn’t just exclusive to buying material things. Sometimes, this just means taking a moment to yourself, taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally, not just physically. 

There will be times when you’re burnt out, when you’re not going to be able to try and multi-task to make it go quicker. You won’t have the energy to plan, organize or adapt. You’ll find yourself unable to stop getting distracted from your work. And so I say, when all else fails, step away. Do something fun. Take care of yourself. 

And then come back re-energized, ready to kick butt and take names. After all, time may be an enemy to a lot of us, but who says it has to win? 


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