10 Tips for an Outrageously Productive Mentoring Relationship (& traps to avoid!)

Last updated April 23, 2019. Posted February 26, 2019 in Development, Teaching. This post contains affiliate links.

Track goals, tasks, progress & time

There is little doubt that mentorship is incredibly beneficial to both the mentor and mentee.123

However, in order to succeed, the relationship between mentor and mentee must be effective. Both mentor and mentee must be invested in the relationship as a meaningful process, and believe that they can both contribute and benefit from it.4

In addition, academic departments need to recognize and acknowledge the benefits of mentoring and ensure that there is adequate support in place. This can range from having formal structured mentorship programs to having informal programs within a supportive culture. It seems intuitive that successful mentoring relationships, although not dependent entirely on an existing mentoring culture, can definitely benefit from it.

The roles and expectations for both mentor and mentee need to be clear. The mentor role may include teaching and advising, as well as providing support and encouragement to the mentee. The mentee’s role will include setting clear goals and objectives, accepting responsibility for career development, and being receptive to feedback.

Topics for discussion will be varied and can include anything from career planning and promotion issues to research and scholarly productivity, time management, and work-life balance. Planning meetings takes some time and thought.

In this article, we have identified some tips that we feel will help mentors and mentees frame their relationship and enhance the likelihood that it will be successful.

Editorial Note: Drs Anna Karwowska and Eric Benchimol contributed this guest post. The Productive Physician is grateful for their willingness to share their expertise in this area. Connect with Dr Benchimol on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Download a copy of this post as a pdf to refer to when you are next having a mentoring meeting.
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Go to the full page to download a copy of this post as a pdf to refer to when you are next having a mentoring meeting. You’ll also receive updates from this site with productivity tips and suggested readings.

The Relationship

The rules of engagement need to be clear

The mentee and mentor need to be clear around their responsibilities to each other and to the mentoring relationship.

Both parties need to understand that the mentoring relationship takes thought, time and commitment. Whether simply discussed or formally outlined in a mentoring reference guide, having these expectations explicitly stated will help set the tone for the relationship.

Mentoring: Dr Anna KarwowskaThe expectations should include:

Mentee Responsibilities

  • Ensure confidentiality
  • Make and keep appointments
  • Set clear goals / objectives
  • Define needs and identify barriers to accomplishing goals
  • Actively engage in seeking assistance
  • Be receptive to feedback
  • Accept responsibility for career development
  • Be respectful and appreciative
  • Provide constructive feedback to the mentor about the relationship

Mentoring: Dr Eric Benchimol

Mentor Responsibilities

  • Listen
  • Create a safe environment
  • Ensure confidentiality
  • Be respectful, approachable and non-judgmental
  • Be a sounding board for frustrations
  • Provide encouragement
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Advocate for mentee when needed (time, resources)
  • Provide coaching in leadership skills
  • Assist in focusing goals
  • Assist with identifying strategies to develop/improve skills in a particular area
  • Provide networking opportunities
  • Assist with the navigation of bureaucracies in the Department, Faculty, Region

The mentee needs to set clear and realistic goals

As a mentee, you should ask yourself the list of important questions below. You don’t need to have the answers – in fact you probably won’t have the answers to many of the questions. However, asking them will give you structure within which you can frame your mentoring needs.

  • What do you, the mentee, want out of the mentor-mentee relationship?
  • What are your academic and clinical job descriptions?
  • What are your short term, intermediate and long term goals? (3-5 year plan)
  • What infrastructure do you have, and what do you need?
  • What is your anticipated career timeline?Mentoring: The mentee needs to set clear and realistic goals
  • If promotion is planned, have you reviewed Academic Promotions policy and promotion requirements with your mentor?
  • What is the quality of your CV?
  • Have you created and reviewed your academic portfolio and teaching dossier with your mentor?
  • What academic accomplishments have occurred since your last meeting with your mentor?
  • What additional skills might you need to acquire to achieve your goals?
  • Can your mentor facilitate/provide guidance to expert resources?
  • What are the opportunities to develop and access a network regionally, nationally and internationally?
  • What advocacy do you need from your mentor in the fields of resource requirements, either personally or professionally?
  • Are there individuals in your department/division/field of practice that could be role models for you?
  • How are your time management skills?
  • What is your ideal professional-personal life balance?
  • Are you delegating what you can in order to improve your productivity and avoid burning out?
  • What do you value most?
  • What is your overall happiness/satisfaction? What can be done to improve it?
  • Do you effectively balance clinical, research, administrative and teaching responsibilities?
  • What tasks should you take on (or drop) to further your career goals?
  • What tasks should you take on (or drop) to further your “enjoyment” or satisfaction with your job and personal life?
  • Have you developed a research portfolio?
  • How can you improve your teaching skills?
  • Have you accessed and made use of career development opportunities?
  • Have you gained recognition for your accomplishments?

The Mentorship Meeting

Meetings should be regular and booked ahead

Mentors and mentees should book meetings well in advance, and respect each other’s time. Consider planning meetings away from regular clinics and offices to avoid interruptions. As each meeting comes to an end, the mentee and mentor should look forward to the next meeting.

CalendarIdeally, planning ahead in this way, and purposefully booking meetings at a mutually agreeable time makes it more likely that the meetings will occur.

It is important to allow adequate time for the meeting respecting both the time commitments of the mentor, but also the needs of the mentee. Both should have a good idea of what needs to be accomplished between meetings and what may be discussed at the next meeting.

The mentee needs to come prepared to each meeting

Coming prepared to each meeting ensures that the time of the mentor and mentee will be used most effectively and efficiently. Coming prepared means knowing what you want to talk about, and what you need from your mentor.

The mentor should be flexible enough to play the role you need. They could be passive or active in being a sounding board or providing advice, but the expectations should be clear.

Consider a slide-set or summary documents. These could be provided to the mentor before the meeting, presented during the meeting, or both. Summary documents will allow the mentor to review goals, and understand mentee’s progress, successes, failures, and barriers encountered since the last meeting.

The list of topics to discuss at a mentorship meeting can be long, and it is important to prioritize, keep track of what needs follow up, and monitor new issues that should be addressed.

Straus and Sackett developed a great mentorship checklist that can guide the discussion. These authors found that checklists are helpful in reminding mentors to review all aspects of their mentee’s academic life including helping them reflect on the balance between their work and personal life. The mentor and mentee can reflect on strategies to improve balance within the lists on an as-needed basis.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Coming prepared to each meeting ensures that the time … will be used most effectively and efficiently. {This} means knowing what you want to talk about, and what you need from your mentor. – 10 Tips for an Outrageously Productive Mentoring Relationship” quote=”Coming prepared to each meeting ensures that the time of the mentor and mentee will be used most effectively and efficiently. Coming prepared means knowing what you want to talk about, and what you need from your mentor.” theme=”style3″]

Mentorship Checklists

Mentorship ChecklistAdapted from “Mentorship in Academic Medicine”. Sharon E Straus, David L. Sackett; Wiley Blackwell 2014 (Chapter 3 and Chapter 4.1)5

  1. check in/ assess for any urgent issues
  2. review
    1. administration
    2. clinical (inpatient, outpatient, on call)
    3. research
    4. teaching
    5. work-life balance
    6. career guidance
  3. assist/advise: give advice and set specific goals (including timelines)
  4. consider opportunities/collaboration
  5. advocate (identify areas of need)
  6. wrap up: schedule next meeting; clarify expectations (“homework”) for mentee and mentor

Within the context of the checklist above, Straus and Sackett suggest that the mentee will need to set some priorities. Here are some questions they suggest to guide the process:

  • What are you currently doing that you want to quit?
  • What have you been asked to do that you should or want to decline?
  • What are not doing that you should or want to start doing?
  • What are you currently doing that you want to continue doing?

Editorial Note: Another strategy to decide which parts of your work to prioritise is to write a personal mission statement. You will clarify your values and your statement will act as a guide to decision-making. 

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Between Meetings

Using your mentor to say no

This is arguably one of the most valuable things that a mentor can coach a mentee to do.

Saying NoAcademic physicians are frequently pulled in multiple directions. They are regularly asked to sit on committees, go to meetings, give presentations, collaborate on projects, and teach trainees. It is a fine art to be able to balance your goals with the needs of patients, administration, students, and other health care providers, while maintaining your academic productivity.

It is vital to learn to feel empowered to (politely) decline offers from well-meaning colleagues and leaders in our institutions when these offers don’t fit with our own vision for our career. The mentee needs to be very aware of the implications of any decision they make. Time is, after all, finite.

We suggest that mentees should use their mentors to learn how to evaluate what is important and useful. This way, the mentee can decline what is interesting but not valuable to the mentee’s goals.

Junior mentees should discuss all offers, requests and opportunities with their mentor (via email or a quick phone call) and ask whether s/he should accept or decline. If the mentee feels too intimidated to say no to a superior who requests they participate in an activity, s/he may consider using the phrase:

“While I greatly appreciate the offer and I’m very interested in participating, I ran this by my mentor who suggested that I decline.”

This places the onus on the mentor, who is usually senior enough to resist the pressures of the superior making the request.

The mentor should advocate for the mentee and help protect her/his time to ensure her/his success.

Expanding your network and collaborations

The era of the independent academic physician, working in isolation of others to see patients and conduct academic activities is long passed. We need collaborative colleagues and multidisciplinary teams to succeed.

One of the roles of the mentor is to expand the professional network of the mentee. The mentor should be expected to make introductions to potential collaborators outside of the mentee’s network, which is typically limited when s/he is at a junior phase in his/her career. It is possible that a single mentor may not have the ability to introduce the mentee to people outside of their own discipline. In that case, a multi-disciplinary mentorship committee may be useful.

Similarly, non-researcher academic clinicians benefit from expansion of their professional network. Scientific and medical conferences represent an excellent opportunity to expand the mentee’s network through introductions by the mentor. However, even email introductions can sometimes bear fruitful collaborations.

Part of expanding your professional network is becoming known as an expert in the field through presentations at medical and scientific conferences. An established mentor may be willing to pass on some invitations to speak at local or national conferences to junior colleagues or mentees in the same field. The mentee should express his/her willingness to accept such opportunities if they arise.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘While I greatly appreciate the offer and I’m very interested in participating, I ran this by my mentor who suggested that I decline.’ – 10 Tips for an Outrageously Productive Mentoring Relationship” quote=”‘While I greatly appreciate the offer and I’m very interested in participating, I ran this by my mentor who suggested that I decline.'” theme=”style3″]

When It’s Over: How to end the mentorship relationship

All mentoring relationships will change over time, and many/most will evolve to the point where it is time for the mentee to move on to a different mentor. The expectation from the outset should be that the mentoring relationship will be finite, and will evolve into more of a relationship between colleagues. Commonly, the mentor/mentee may feel that another pairing may be more beneficial in terms of a better “fit” of expertise.

Separation can be initiated by either or both mentor/mentee and the change can happen at any time in the relationship. The mentor/mentee should be able to discuss this directly, and it could be reasonable for mentees to ask the mentor to stay on as an informal mentor.

When It’s REALLY Over: The toxic relationship

Failed mentoring relationships occur when there is a mismatch between mentor and mentee. This can happen for many reasons: personality mismatch, lack of commitment, lack of availability, or conflict of interest (either real or perceived). Although this will be difficult, these relationships must be ended.

In addition, although the overarching principle remains that the mentor-mentee relationship is confidential, there may be times when the wellness of either party is placed at risk. Potential situations that break professional boundaries may include:

  • Any unprofessional conduct
  • Any perception of harassment
  • Any concern for personal safety of the mentor or mentee (for example due to mental health issues)
  • Any concern for patient safety

Both the mentor and mentee should feel empowered to seek guidance and/or intervention from trusted colleagues and/or their leadership.

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Special note: Mentoring for women in academic medicine

There remains a big gender gap in the ranks of academic medicine.6

Good mentorship is one way in which women can be supported in reaching their academic goals. Mentoring around work-life balance is often one of the first things that comes to mind, as many women juggle the role of caregiver with their role as academic physician.

However, women may face other challenges that their male counterparts may never encounter. Women may be perceived as less productive due to parental leaves, may be offered fewer opportunities for leadership positions, and may be more poorly compensated compared to their male peers.

Mentoring in the (post) #MeToo EraStrong mentorship (from women mentors primarily, but also from men!) can facilitate women being able to advocate for themselves in these areas.

Mentoring in the (post) #MeToo Era

Recent literature has raised the issue of mentoring in the #MeToo era and the challenges this can bring.78

There is concern that the #MeToo movement is “creating a culture of fear” among male academics. It is not acceptable that men refuse to mentor women and it is particularly important that both men and women should feel safe in the mentoring relationship.

A mentorship committee may be an acceptable way of mediating any real or perceived risk to both men and women, and may allow for a diverse group of mentors to provide unique perspectives to the mentee. However, even one-on-one mixed gender mentorship relationships can be highly successful, as long as professional and personal boundaries are not crossed.

While institutional guidelines are helpful in setting out the rules, respect between mentor and mentee are the key to a happy relationship.

Special note: Mentoring of the non-academic physician

While this article focused on the academic physician, the principles apply to mentoring of non-academic physicians as well.

The goals of physicians the world over are shared: excellent patient care, a comfortable financial situation, a fulfilling life, and good work-life balance. Senior physicians should impart their wisdom to junior physicians in order to help them understand the ways they have achieved these goals, and the pitfalls they learned about along the way.


Finding “the right mentor” can have a profound impact on many aspects of an academic physician’s career.

“The right mentor” will have very different meanings to almost everyone, may change with time, and may involve a mentorship committee. However, finding “the right mentor” is not enough – the mentee must make the most out of the relationship, and must be prepared for the regular meetings.

For any mentoring relationship to be successful, even when the personality mix is right, the mentor and mentee must both be invested in the belief that it is valuable. Successful mentoring takes time, commitment and planning. The bulk of the work will fall to the mentee, but then the bulk of the tangible rewards will also fall to the mentee.

It’s worth it!

Mentoring - It's Worth It!


Do you have a mentor (or mentee)? Have you had good experiences in a mentoring relationship? What are some key strategies you employed? Let us know in the comments!

  1.  Straus, S. and Sackett, D. (2013). Mentorship in Academic Medicine. 1st ed. BMJ Books, pp.25-49. []
  2.  Ludwig, S. and Stein, R. (2008). Anatomy of Mentoring. The Journal of Pediatrics, 152(2), pp.151-152.e1. []
  3.  Ramani, S., Gruppen, L. and Kachur, E. (2006). Twelve tips for developing effective mentors. Medical Teacher, 28(5), pp.404-408. []
  4. Sambunjak, D., Straus, S. and Marusic, A. (2009). A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research on the Meaning and Characteristics of Mentoring in Academic Medicine. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 25(1), pp.72-78. []
  5. Straus, S. and Sackett, D. (2013). Mentorship in Academic Medicine. 1st ed. BMJ Books, pp.25-49.  []
  6. Pope, J. (2018). Mentoring women in medicine: a personal perspective. The Lancet, 391(10120), pp.520-521. []
  7. Soklaridis, S., Zahn, C., Kuper, A., Gillis, D., Taylor, V. and Whitehead, C. (2018). Men’s Fear of Mentoring in the #MeToo Era — What’s at Stake for Academic Medicine?. New England Journal of Medicine, 379(23), pp.2270-2274. []
  8. Holroyd-Leduc, J. and Straus, S. (2018). #MeToo and the medical profession. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 190(33), pp.E972-E973. []

The Weekly Review: Conquer your Overwhelm in an hour each week!

Last updated April 3, 2019. Posted September 24, 2018 in Development, Featured. This post contains affiliate links.

Track goals, tasks, progress & time

Do you perform a weekly review?

A weekly review might be the single best way to get clear on your commitments. You can identify your ‘open loops’ and get them into a trusted task management system. This leaves you with a clear mind and no more of those nagging doubts that you’ve forgotten something.

So, if it is this effective, why don’t more people devote a small amount of time each week to reviewing their progress?

In this post, I will detail the process I use and the traps into which I’ve fallen while consolidating this habit.

Do you feel overwhelmed by your obligations? Perhaps there are so many things in your head that you can’t focus on getting them done?

As someone dedicated to personal productivity, you should consider a new strategy: a weekly review might just change your life.

What is a weekly review?

A weekly review is a meeting you schedule with yourself to audit your commitments, projects and appointments. You can then capture and prioritise any outstanding tasks in todo list system.

You will need a reliable system for capturing the unresolved responsibilities in each area of your life. A system that will allow you to relax with family or friends (rather than worrying about something you might have forgotten). You can ‘switch off’ and trust everything will be where it needs to be.

Many people use a checklist or flowchart to enable their weekly review. Having a template or guide to walk you through your reviews will ensure you don’t miss any of your areas of focus.

Download a pdf weekly review checklist to use as a guide.
I’ll also include an Evernote weekly review template if you prefer.
You can also have a pdf copy of this post for later reading.
Go to the full page to download a pdf weekly review checklist to use as a guide.
I’ll also include an Evernote weekly review template if you prefer.
You can also have a pdf copy of this post for later reading.

Many systems for achieving goals recommend regular progress reviews, including the 12 Week Year system and The 4 Disciplines of Execution. You might consider incorporating your progress review within a broader weekly review.

I first started using a weekly review as part of my practice of Getting Things Done (GTD)® (Amazon). Although I have added to and adapted my process over time, I still primarily think of it in way GTD® describes.

To provide you with context, here is a YouTube clip of David Allen, the creator of GTD®, discussing the weekly review. I note that it is some years old now, so he mentions some technology that will seem anachronistic. It’s the message that is useful to keep in mind.

Why is a weekly review important?

If you’re like me, you will have a dozen different projects on the go at any one time.

Maybe you’re working on a research study, or perhaps you’re renovating your home. Or you might be doing both at once, as well as reporting to a boss, supervising others and having a large number of regular reports to create.

As a physician, I am continually creating lists of tasks related to patient care, as well as ‘things that need to be checked’ after a specific date. I also have a personal life, mortgage, extended family and social obligations.

With all of these commitments we’ve made running around in our heads, is it any wonder we feel overwhelmed? Reviewing your commitments means you spend the time and mental energy to corral all of that information and organise it in such a way that nothing is lost or forgotten and you know what you need to do next.

Free your mind and create space for deep work: it is likely to have enormous benefits for your productivity.

It has for mine.

Who should develop a weekly review habit?


Getting Things Done for Teens

If you are an adult in this busy world, you will have more projects and commitments than you should manage just using your brain. If you’re a teen studying high school, you will have assignments and studies to organise. (Not to mention your social life and a list of extra-curricular activities as well.)

(In fact, David Allen and his colleagues Mike Williams and Mark Wallace have recently released a new version of his productivity guide, specifically written with teenagers in mind: Getting Things Done for Teens (Amazon).)

Almost everyone can benefit from a weekly appointment with themselves, dedicated explicitly to thinking through their commitments and making sure that nothing is falling into the cracks.

How I do my weekly review

I schedule my review in my calendar, for 90 minutes every Thursday at 4 p.m. This is long enough that I can cover all of my various sources of open loops.

Because I started doing this a few years ago, some of my headings might not be up-to-date with GTD® if Allen has changed the language. I know what they mean though, and that’s what matters.

Download a weekly review checklist to follow along with as you read.
You can also copy my Evernote weekly review template if you use Evernote.
Go to the full page to download a pdf weekly review checklist to use as a guide.
I’ll also include an Evernote weekly review template if you prefer.
You can also have a pdf copy of this post for later reading.

Get Clear

Start by gathering all the pieces of paper that have accumulated during the week. Receipts, ATM statements, notes and memos all tend to find their way into my inbox, wallet and briefcase.

Make sure to check and empty your physical inbox(es) if you have one, and add the paper to the pile you’ve created.

The next job is to process that paper until there’s nothing left. Examine the item and decide what it means. If you need to keep it (e.g. a receipt for taxation purposes), then file it in appropriate storage. If you won’t need it you have a rubbish bin for a reason.

Once you have completed the paper audit, you should have an empty inbox, wallet and briefcase. Now it’s time to move onto to your digital inboxes.

Achieve Inbox Zero

When Merlin Mann coined the phrase Inbox Zero over a decade ago, he was talking about inboxes for your email addresses. Since that time the internet has exploded with all sorts of useful web applications, and they almost all come with an inbox.

The first step is to audit your inboxes. Ascertain which of the services you rely upon have an inbox, and add them to a list. Each week you will process your inboxes to zero.

I usually start with email, but also include my Evernote inbox (where I’ve often clipped or emailed notes to store during the week). I have several email inboxes and so deal with each in turn. My Evernote is set up with a folder structure already, thus moving the notes to the relevant folders is pretty easy.

If you use a digital to-do list as I do, it will also have an inbox of sorts where tasks that I haven’t assigned to projects or appropriately tagged will reside. I review my Todoist inbox for such tasks and make sure I move them to where they belong.

Finally, your work might involve file-sharing in some form, and you would include your inbox in those services in this step as well.

Empty your Head

This step involves scanning your mind for any new ideas, tasks, projects or commitments. Anything at all that has come up during the week, or that is niggling in your brain at the time.

Some people would call this a ‘mind sweep’ or a ‘brain dump’. There are useful strategies to help you complete one. I reached out to my friend Zachary Sexton, author at zacharysexton.com and the host of Able Business Radio. He permitted me to embed his guided mind sweep below.

Here is the episode, click the play symbol to listen.

Able Business Radio 17[File could not be embedded on the AMP version of this page. Please go to Zack’s page if you wish to listen.]

If you’re a doctor, some specific steps are needed. Review your clinic lists, endorse any outstanding results, and correct and sign your letters. Make a note of any actions that pop into your head while you’re doing these tasks: sometimes you’ll remember something important that has slipped through your system.

Once you’ve gotten clear, it’s time to get current.

Get Current

This part is heavily influenced by the GTD® weekly review. I use a lot of the terminology from that book and based my system mainly on the structure it suggests.

Review Next Action Lists

I use Todoist for managing tasks and projects. I have sections dedicated to work and personal life and have many projects in each section.

Getting Things Done

During your weekly review, review your progress on every one of your projects. Ask yourself: Is this moving forward? What is the next action? What have I completed this week? Is there anything I can check off? Is there any task on which I keep procrastinating? If so, does it need to stay in my system or can it be delegated to someone else or discarded altogether?

David Allen defines next actions as follows:

The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing toward completion.1

Make sure to identify completed tasks and the next logical step for each project in your task manager, and then move onto the next project.

By the end of this process, you should have a sense of the status of each of your projects, and an explicit next action item to do when the time is right.

Review your Calendar

Your calendar can be a rich source of unresolved issues or projects. Look through your appointments over the last week and identify any meetings, conference calls or other activities that might have generated a new task.

Quickly consider each meeting. Did you agree to send information to someone? Did you accept a new project or task? If you did, transfer that information into your task list or manager.

Once you’ve reviewed your calendar for the past week, have a look forward for a few weeks and see what is on your horizons. Upcoming deadlines should be obvious and might remind you of an obligation you accepted but have not yet actioned.

Again, transfer identified tasks into your task management app or todo list.

Review ‘Waiting For’ list

David Allen recommends having a place where you keep tasks that are waiting on someone else. In this way, they won’t be on your list given you can’t take action on them, but they also don’t fall off your lists altogether.

If you are keeping a ‘Waiting For’ list, review it and consider whether you need to remind the other party they haven’t finished their part. If you have received the information or the task is now back for you to complete, you should remove it from your Waiting For list and return it to your active task list.

Review relevant checklists

Some people have checklists for tasks they frequently repeat, including their weekly review.

Run through the checklist and make sure you’ve completed each necessary task. It should only take a minute.

Review your Projects, Goals and Desired Outcomes

Some projects will become less relevant or important over time, or you might decide not to complete them at all. Reviewing your projects each week can help you clarify on which you want to focus. Something you had planned to do might not be needed any longer.

Remove completed or redundant projects from your lists so that your system provides clarity rather than confusion.

If you are working toward a big goal of some sort, or perhaps if you’re using the 12 Week Year system and are tracking your metrics in a spreadsheet, this is the time to review that data as well. In our interview about the concept of the “academic athlete“, Drs Eric Benchimol & Richard Keijzer both mentioned they track their Pomodoro segments completed each week as part of their review.

Are you making progress on those big goals? Do you need to do better next week than this one? Are you hitting your 85% target for tactic completion?

Get in touch with the ‘why’ behind each goal and review how you’re succeeding and where you’re failing to make progress. You might want to review your personal mission statement and reconnect with your values. This process should provide a big boost to your motivation for each of those goals for the coming week.

Get Creative

What ideas have you had this week? If you track them in a digital file in Evernote or a notebook you carry with you, have a look and see what your subconscious surfaced for you to consider.

Sometimes the best ideas are waiting for you to rediscover, right there in the note you wrote to yourself so you wouldn’t forget.

This is also an opportunity to brainstorm. What could you do to develop your career or life that you haven’t yet considered?

If you keep a Someday/Maybe list (also from GTD®), a bucket list or vision board, is there anything you want to move to an active project and start taking action on? Given you have just reviewed your active projects, you will have a good idea of how much time and headspace you have for something new and exciting!

Weekly Review FAQs:

How long should a weekly review take?

As a rule of thumb, sixty minutes will be enough for many people. I schedule a ninety-minute block to allow enough time, but this is something that might vary depending on the seasons of work or life.

There are no rules for how long a weekly review must take. It’s entirely up to you and your commitments. I find that completing my review leads to increased productivity and overall improvement in my time management, despite the time commitment it requires.

My suggestion is to start with sixty minutes and adjust as you proceed.

What should I include in my weekly review?

Most people have a variety of obligations and commitments encompassing their work, personal, spiritual, family and social lives.

If you’re trying to get your head as clear as possible, it might be helpful to clarify your commitments in each of those areas such that you finish with an all-encompassing overview of where you are expending your time and energy.

I’ve outlined my approach above. Again, it might take some experimenting to find the best system that works for you.

What is the best day to complete my review?

Many people conduct their weekly review on a Sunday afternoon. They feel this prepares them for their week by providing clarity on their outstanding tasks and projects and allowing them some time to set their goals for the coming week.

Others prefer to review at the end of their working week so that they can enter their weekend with a clear mind. They can trust that their work will be in a ready state for when they go back to work, and they have accounted for all of their projects.

It might depend on your obligations as to when you conduct your review. I have a young family and find that a weekend review isn’t ideal. I also have a clinic on Friday afternoon second weekly, which means that Friday afternoon doesn’t work for me. Thus, Thursday afternoon is when I schedule my review.

That might change as my commitments change, but it works for my current mix of work and family life.

Which productivity tools should I use for my weekly review?

The minimum set of tools you will need includes:

  • your calendar
  • your inbox (either physical or digital)
  • notepad and pen, or digital equivalent
  • your to-do list or digital task manager

Beyond those, it depends only on what tools you use in your day-to-day work and life.

My toolkit is:

  • Gmail (digital)
  • Evernote (digital)
  • Todoist (digital)
  • Google Calendar (digital)
  • Clinic lists & patient task list (paper – for privacy/security purposes)
  • Mindmap of my areas of focus (digital)
A checklist of steps in a weekly review could help as you embed this new habit. Download mine to use as a guide.
You can also have an Evernote weekly review template if you prefer, and a pdf copy of this post to read later.
A checklist of steps in a weekly review could help as you embed this new habit. Go to the full page to download mine to use as a guide.
You can also have an Evernote weekly review template if you prefer, and a pdf copy of this post to read later.

How does a weekly review help with:


Imagine your poor brain trying to keep all of the random thoughts about all of your different commitments clear and retrieve them when necessary. David Allen calls these thoughts ‘open loops’ and defines them as follows:

Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an “open loop,” which will be pulling on your attention if it’s not appropriately managed.

Now, imagine sorting through all of those open loops, deciding on their meaning and storing them in an appropriate system. This is what the weekly review is for, and it should lead to a sense of clarity and peace you might find unfamiliar if you’re used to the overwhelm created by hundreds of open loops fighting for your attention!


One of the primary reasons people struggle to prioritise is that they can’t see the wood for the trees. They are so mired in all of their open loops that they don’t know what things look like from a higher level.

When you make the time to get that perspective, you can see where you’ve been and where you’re going. Your priorities are clear, and the tasks you need to complete are laid out like a pathway. You can make active decisions about what to prioritise rather than only dealing with the emergencies that arise when you lose perspective.

Get in touch with your motivations as part of your weekly review, and you will feel more connected to your goals and be far more likely to achieve them.


Do you ever feel like you want to make progress on a project, but you don’t know where to start? What might it be like to know exactly what your next step is for all of your outstanding projects, such that whenever you have time to work on something you don’t even need to think what to do?

Your weekly review can provide that level of clarity. By defining the next action for each of your projects, you will know what to do, and you are less likely to fall prey to procrastination or distraction.


I hope that by now it is clear how useful a weekly review can be, and how I approach my reviews.

A weekly review is another meeting in your schedule and, for some people, it can feel like ‘just another thing they have to do’. Implementing a weekly review has made the rest my week so much easier. I wouldn’t trade that ninety minutes for anything.

By clarifying your commitments and getting clear on what you need to do next for each of your projects, you can face the whirlwind of your daily life with confidence. You will achieve more and feel calmer while doing it.

What’s not to like?



Do you perform a weekly review? How has it helped you? Let me know in the comments!

  1. All quotes from Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. Penguin Books. Kindle Edition. []

Create a Personal Mission Statement for the Life YOU Want

Last updated July 10, 2019. Posted February 23, 2017 in Development, Featured. This post contains affiliate links.

Track goals, tasks, progress & time

What is all the fuss about creating your personal mission statement??

This guide will help you to understand:

  • What a personal mission statement is
  • Why having a mission statement can be so valuable
  • How to write a personal mission statement
  • What to do with your mission statement once you’re done

It is the synthesis of my findings after researching this topic and developing my own mission.

I hope you will find it useful as you pursue your lifelong self-improvement journey.

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

Your mission statement is like a roadmap for where you want to go and how you want to get there.

It can guide you in your daily decision making, by giving you a set of principles or core values that can help you decide:

  • what you want to do or accomplish
  • how you want to act
  • where you want to be
  • what you will prioritise
  • how you will set your goals

You have to make sure that you allocate your resources in a way that is consistent with your priorities. You have to make sure that your own measures of success are aligned with your most important concern. And you have to make sure that you’re thinking about all these in the right time frame—overcome the natural tendency to focus on the short term at the expense of the long term.((How Will You Measure Your Life? by James Allworth, Karen Dillon, Clayton Christensen))

Want a worksheet to help you create your Mission Statement? Download one today for free.
I’ll even throw in a copy of this post to download for future reference.
Want a worksheet to help you create your own Mission Statement? Go to the full version of this page to download one today for free.
I’ll even throw in a copy of this post to download for future reference.

When you create your mission statement, you identify your most important values and beliefs, and consider how they interact with your long-term goals. As a result, you can realign your daily priorities and maintain a sense of purpose.

Stephen Covey - Mission Statement


Why should you have a Mission Statement?

Developing your mission statement can be one of the most rewarding, satisfying, illuminating and challenging processes you can go through.

At the end of the process, you will have reflected long and hard on core values and why you hold them. Consequently, you will achieve clarity on what you want to be, do and achieve, and how the outcome will look.

There is as much value in the act of creating or refreshing your mission statement as in having one.

Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs. ((The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey))

Once you’re finished, you will have a set of guiding principles that reflect your personal values; a statement of purpose to counter your greatest doubts.

You will have developed a strategic plan that will help with decision making: it becomes much easier to say “no” when you know what you want to achieve and how you want to be. It can also inspire you to stay motivated!

Listen to Stephen R. Covey discuss the value of having a Mission Statement in the clip below:

How to write a Personal Mission Statement

Creating your mission statement could take weeks or months. This process of self discovery requires introspection, reflection, review and revision. Considering you are trying to capture your purpose in life, it isn’t surprising that it might take multiple rewrites to get to the end product.

There are many resources available that can show you how to begin. A great starting point is Stephen Covey’s famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Roles and goals give structure and organized direction to your personal mission. If you don’t yet have a personal mission statement, it’s a good place to begin.1

In starting my period of reflection and creation, however, I relied heavily on the book A Personal Mission Statement: Your Road Map to Happiness by Michal Stawicki. Stawicki is a personal development blogger I highly recommend. You can read more of his writings at expandbeyondyourself.com.

In his book, Stawicki notes that his ‘recipe for making a mission statement is: examine yourself to the verge of insanity; use imagination; write everything down’.

Examine Yourself

Stawicki lists 27 different areas you should consider when assessing yourself, with examples including:

Identify the most important roles you perform or want to perform in the future

What is the meaning of your everyday work?

What do you consider your greatest failure? ((A Personal Mission Statement: Your Road Map to Happiness by Michal Stawicki))

I can report from my self-assessment that often these thoughts will provoke other topics or themes, and therefore I wouldn’t consider Stawicki’s list definitive. Feel free to follow flights of fancy but make sure to keep good notes!

Another way to get some inspiration in this part of the process is to try using the mission statement generator at Franklin Covey. This simple web form will walk you through considering your passions, skills and talents. It will also guide you through a visioning process, whereby you answer simple questions that might reveal profound truths. Furthermore, they also provide several mission statement examples, including material from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and anonymous entries as well. Get inspired here.

Once you have spent time considering your values, personal goals, talents, passions, strengths, limitations and regrets, you will be able to move on to the next stage in Stawicki’s recipe.

You might need a worksheet to help you in creating a mission statement. Go to the full version of this page to download one now!
You might need a worksheet to help you in creating a mission statement. Download one now!


Use Your Imagination

When you’re capturing the purpose of your life, employ creativity and be aspirational.

Stawicki suggests a visualisation process for this part of his recipe and provides several prompts:

Imagine you only have six months to live. How would it change your actions?

Visualise the end of your present career. What contributions, what achievements will you want to have made in your field?

Visualise how your life will be in five, ten and twenty years from now, if you don’t make any significant decisions for all those years. Do you want your life to look like this?2

Among the many other imaginative tasks he sets, Stawicki finishes by asking you to write your own eulogy. If anything is going to provoke you to consider what you will achieve in life, it is likely to be writing out the words you would like people to use to describe you and your contribution to their lives!

Write Everything Down

The raw material that you generate in following the above process could come to pages of brainstorming notes, scribbles and diagrams. Some might come up with charts, or include images from magazines like when creating a vision board. Whatever materials you generate you will need to capture them in their entirety.

I know that I often forget real moments of insight when listening to a podcast when driving, for example. I always wish I had captured the thought somehow so that it wasn’t lost forever.

This process of self-appraisal and imagining will generate all kinds of thoughts, but they are easily forgotten unless recorded in a rough draft.

Chiselling your Mission Statement out of the Raw Material

The final step in Stawicki’s book is to take the ideas, thoughts, regrets and goals that you have identified and work through them. This process is about considering and selecting the precious few that best represent your character and values (in the most succinct way).

You could consider each one using headings as guidance, ensuring that each item addresses an important theme or facet of your life. The Franklin Covey web app mentioned above uses the following headings:

I am at my best when…

I will try to prevent…

I will enjoy my work by finding employment where I can…

I will find enjoyment in my personal life through…

I will find opportunities to use my natural talents and gifts such as…

I can do anything I set my mind to. I will…

My life’s journey is…

I will be a person who is…

My most important future contribution to others will be…

I will stop procrastinating and start working on…

I will strive to incorporate the following attributes into my life…

I will constantly renew myself by focusing on the four dimensions of my life… ((http://msb.franklincovey.com/))

Stawicki provides a list of the areas of his life that he wanted specifically to address:

  • Love
  • Children
  • Wife
  • Gratitude
  • Failure
  • Achievement
  • Wealth
  • Giving
  • Motivation
  • Following my friends’ examples
  • Being present – focus on Now
  • Self-examination
  • Language
  • Persistence

Ultimately this is your mission statement, and the themes and domains that you choose to specify are yours. The important step is to take the raw material you have generated in self-appraisal and imaginative tasks and work until you have refined, combined or excised your way to a cohesive statement that reflects your innermost beliefs.


Traps to Avoid

Make your mission statement personal

The critical element of the term ‘personal mission statement’ is personal. This is your mission, so don’t adopt ideas or set goals that aren’t truly yours.

There can be a tendency to write what we think should be in a mission statement rather than what ought to be in our mission statement. You will struggle to adopt your statement as your own and live by its ideals if you include things you think should be there rather than those that belong.

Don’t fall into the trap of writing your mission statement to suit someone else. It is designed for your use.

Use specific language

Another trap is to use language that is non-specific or wishy-washy jargon. The video below of Dan Heath discussing company mission statements captures this trap perfectly:

When I am teaching my medical students about presentation techniques that allow them to effectively and efficiently handover clinical information to their peers or seniors, I always recommend they start using definite terms like ‘I will…’ and ‘I want…’ as soon as possible. I reason that the sooner they sound like they know what they are talking about the sooner others will take them seriously. They are then more likely to involve them in the day-to-day learning opportunities they need.

When asked questions like ‘You’re the intern in the ED, and this patient comes in – what investigations would you like and why?’ medical students will often respond with answers like “well, you could order a chest x-ray??”. They sound far more ready for their role as an intern if they say something like “I will perform a chest x-ray to confirm my suspicion of pneumonia”.

Similarly, the use of concrete (and concise) language will make your mission statement far more inspiring and meaningful. By starting your sentences with the word “I” you both personalise your statements and take ownership of the content.

I will be a loving partner and parent

I value ongoing personal development

I will ensure my good health by eating well and taking regular exercise

Last chance… Download a mission statement worksheet to help you create your own!
You can also have a copy of this post for later reading.
Last chance…
Go to the full version of this page to download a worksheet to help you create your own!
You can also have a copy of this post for later reading.



Although creating your Mission Statement isn’t all that hard, sometimes we all need some inspiration to get started.

Here are some examples that might help get your creative juices flowing.

Example Personal Mission Statement


Personal Mission Statement Example


Example Mission Statement


Examples for Students

For my medical colleagues, there are a few publications listed in Pubmed that are relevant.

In Personal mission statement: An analysis of medical students’ and general practitioners’ reflections on personal beliefs, values and goals in life the authors examined medical student submissions of their mission statements.3

Some examples from their paper include:

I will become a responsible, relevant (and) trustworthy doctor. I will put my patients first rather than myself.

To train myself every day to be the best husband, father, son and a [sic] doctor to all those who place their trust in me.

I will study hard, keep learning and growing in order to become a person who can contribute to the society and live a life of dedication.

I will live as a happy and successful person… live a happy, healthy and enjoyable life…

The authors of Promise of Professionalism: Personal Mission Statements Among a National Cohort of Medical Students provide further examples of medical student mission statements.4 They include:

Let me listen to the best of my abilities, so that I can better understand my patients.

May I be a reservoir for your concern and pain, and may my training and humanity interpret and understand your need.

To remember who I am, to hear my own voice, to not lose part of who I am…

May I never forget, no matter how frustrated I may be at the time, that each patient is someone’s mother/father, sister/brother, son/daughter.

I hope these examples serve to inspire you as you create your own.

Now that I have my Personal Mission Statement, what do I do next?

Your personal mission statement is not a certificate of accomplishment to be put into the drawer. It is supposed to be your lens, starting point, the source of focus. Use it. ((A Personal Mission Statement: Your Road Map to Happiness by Michal Stawicki))

There is no point in spending all of the time and mental or emotional energy required to develop a mission statement only to discard it and go on with life as before. Hopefully, you wouldn’t want to!

Once you have invested in creating, refining and revising your mission it is important to keep it at the front of your mind. Stawicki suggests many ways to keep reminding yourself of the content of your personal mission statement:

Read it every day. Or even better – read it several times a day. Create a ritual for it.

Meditate upon it. Take a comfortable position. Clear your mind. Breathe deeply. Let it be just you and the words of the mission statement inside your head.

Listen to it. Record your personal mission statement and listen to it any time and any place you want.

Visualize it. This is especially important if you included some future aspirations or desired changes in the mission statement.

Create a vision board. Add some headlines with the words of your mission statement.

Make a mind movie. Make a movie and add the recording of your personal mission statement as a track or add music dear to your heart. ((A Personal Mission Statement: Your Road Map to Happiness by Michal Stawicki))

You created it: Now use it!

Again, this is your mission statement, so how you use it is entirely up to you. One good idea would be to review it as part of a morning ritual upon rising in the morning. Further, you could develop a short series of affirmations based on the values you describe.

When you next sit down to set short term goals you can do so with a clear vision. Your roadmap can also help you to reassess your long term goals. You could use your statement as a guide for review and accountability, as part of a personal development plan for continuous improvement.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to keep your mission statement in your mind, so that you can draw upon it daily for guidance.

Finally, don’t hesitate to amend or adjust your mission statement in the months or years ahead. It isn’t a static document but should grow with you and change over time, just as you do.


Developing a mission statement for your life can be a rewarding experience that offers insights into what you value in life and therefore provides guidance for the day-to-day decisions we all face.

Although it might not be a short exercise, you could find that it is the best possible investment of your time.


Do you have a mission statement? Have you seen examples that are particularly meaningful? Let us all know in the comments.

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey []
  2. A Personal Mission Statement: Your Road Map to Happiness by Michal Stawicki []
  3. Chew et al. Malays Fam Physician. 2014; 9(2): 26–33 []
  4. Rabow et al. Ann Fam Med. 2009 Jul; 7(4): 336–342 []

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Ready for a Conference

Last updated April 23, 2019. Posted October 24, 2016 in Development. This post contains affiliate links.

Track goals, tasks, progress & time

Whether you’re a battle-hardened conference warrior with decades of conference attendances under your belt or attending a conference for the first time, The Productive Physician guide to getting ready for a conference has you covered.

Our step-by-step guide will walk you through preparing to attend academic conferences. We cover planning, executing and following up afterwards so that you can get the most out of the conference experience.

We have a downloadable ‘attending a conference checklist’ as well as packing guides, technology suggestions and networking tips.

Let’s get started!

Planning to attend a conference

There are myriad things to consider when getting ready to attend a conference, and sometimes your daily whirlwind will keep you too busy for conference planning.

You need a tried and trusted plan for preparing for your conference that you can rely on to think of things for you so that you won’t forget a thing.

This guide to getting ready for a conference will take you 29 minutes to read from start to finish!
Download a pdf version to read whenever you like, for free.
I’ll also throw in a conference preparation checklist so you know you’re set.
Finally, you can also have the conference packing list that I use.
This guide to getting ready for a conference will take you 29 minutes to read from start to finish! Go to the full version of this page to download a pdf version to read whenever you like, for free.
I’ll also throw in a conference preparation checklist so you know you’re set.
Finally, you can also have the conference packing list that I use.

Let’s walk through all the things you need to consider in the planning period before you travel.

Booking your Conference

You probably have some idea already of what conferences are relevant in your field. It pays to keep track of the conferences you might decide to attend and sign-up for notifications when they announce registration.

Early BirdThis way, you can ensure that you get access to ‘Early Bird’ rates. These are lower rates that the conference promoters offer to help them get some confirmations on the books well in advance of the meeting. Nothing worries a conference company like low numbers of registrants! And why not save hundreds of dollars?

I have subscriptions with the major Respiratory and Sleep Medicine professional bodies both in Australia and internationally. Whenever they announce they are opening their meeting for registration I am aware of the relevant dates, can make a decision about my attendance, and get the lowest registration rate available. Even if you decide not to attend, the early notice is well worth it just in case you do.

Another advantage of booking early is that many conferences run pre-conference courses on specific topics which often have limited availability. These sessions tend to fill up early. Small group meetings and discussions throughout the conference might also sell out. The sooner you are aware that registration has opened the better.

Members rates

The final consideration is that many professional conferences offer a lower price for members. If you aren’t a member, check the member’s price and the cost of membership. If there is only a small difference and the other benefits of membership are of interest, sign up as a member and take the lower conference rate.

Let’s say that the member’s rate for the conference is $100 less than the non-members rate, and that annual membership is $150. In effect, you will be getting a year of membership for $50 only. You will also get to enjoy the other benefits of membership at lower total cost.

Booking your Accommodation

After registering for the conference you need to consider whether you can fit in some time for relaxation and/or sightseeing before or after the meeting. Your workplace might have guidelines on what is acceptable in this regard and it would be good for you to consider these before committing.

If you can find a day or so either side of the conference and it’s being held in a city or country you haven’t been to before, it would be well worth deciding whether you can make the most of the trip and see the sights.

Once you decide on the dates you will need accommodation, it is helpful to book early. Hotels like to have registrations on their books just as much as conference companies, and they often offer reduced rates the earlier you book.

I often book through Booking.com but there are lots of ways to find great prices. A word of warning, however, is that I recently had a very poor experience with an early booking I had made being cancelled three months later by the hotel. This left me with no confirmed accommodation only weeks before my conference. Thankfully, Booking.com agreed to refund the difference on the more expensive reservation I had to make.

Deciding on location

A major consideration when booking your stay is whether you want to be at conference accommodation, or at privately booked accommodation close to the conference venue. Another alternative is to choose the place you’d most like to stay within the city you’re visiting and then arrange to travel from your accommodation to the meeting each day.

My strong preference after trying all three of those options is to book my own accommodation close to the venue. The benefit of being able to go back to the hotel during the day if you forget something, can’t find a session you’re interested in or just need to catch a nap is too great.

Convention centres aren’t always in prime inner-city locations so this will mean that you won’t be as close to the action if you are planning a heavy social or sightseeing component to your stay. You could stay in the middle of the city and then move to accommodation local to the convention centre once the meeting starts. I usually don’t have a lot of free time either side of the meetings so just book local to the venue and then travel for my sightseeing.

In these days of Uber and Lyft, getting around is much easier than ever before, and many convention cities have excellent public transportation options as well.


It would be nice if this wasn’t an issue, but many convention centres are situated outside populous areas of town and might require walking around or getting public transport to and from. If you don’t know the city you might not aware of any safety issues that a local would understand. You might also be carrying electronic items such as laptops or tablets.

You should always remove your conference lanyard or any other identification that marks you as a visitor, and place them out of sight in a bag or under a shirt. Walking around with an obvious sign around your neck that you’re attending a conference and might be carrying valuables is a good way to attract attention.

Your accommodation might be able to inform you about any areas of town that aren’t safe to visit, and this can also be researched before your trip or even at the time of booking your hotel.

Booking your Travel

Conference TravelJust as for registration and accommodation bookings, there is money to be saved by booking your travel as early as possible. There are many price comparison options available to help you find cheap flights. Unfortunately, the options flying from my home country of Australia are far more limited!

I often use Skyscanner and they allow you to save a search for specific dates and with certain criteria and then email you when there is a price change available. Another good option is Google Flights. Google recently announced an update that suggests they can tell you when prices are likely to change based on historical trends. This could obviously be useful if you are wondering whether prices are likely to hold or change in coming days.

Of course, there might be better options in your region and I’d love to hear about those sites in the comments!

If you’re travelling within your own country you might not need to fly. You can gain similar price advantages by booking train or bus travel early, although the discounts are usually far less than those offered for flights.

Travel Insurance

If you’re travelling – especially abroad – and don’t have any health coverage you could be in for a massive shock if you do need medical attention. Horror stories abound of uninsured travellers having accidents in the US and being faced with enormous bills.

Many airlines will offer travel insurance as an extra during the booking process for your flight, assuming you are travelling by air. Other alternatives include going through a travel agent or even your credit card provider will often offer travel insurance.

Even if you don’t have an illness or injury, you could have lost luggage or unexpected delays that prevent your planned return to work on time. Travel insurance is a necessary part of travelling to a conference.

International travel considerations

Given that many of the best conferences occur in the US or Europe, many times you will be flying internationally. You need to consider whether there are any visa or other requirements for entry to avoid being prevented from boarding the plane!

If you’re travelling to the US, you will certainly need to check what the rules are from your country of origin. If you live in a country listed in the Visa Waiver Program you can apply for an ESTA which grants entry for up to 90 days. Your ESTA is valid for two years after approval unless your passport expires in that period (whichever is shorter).((For up-to-date information about ESTA check the website – https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/))

For European travel, many EU countries participate in the Schengen Area and you might need a Schengen Visa (depending on your country of origin). US travellers can find information about the Schengen Area at the US Department of State. Australian travellers can check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for information on what you need to arrange.

If you are travelling to another country, you will need to check the specific visa requirements and apply well in advance of your travel. It would be awful to be ready to go and then find you can’t get the required paperwork completed in time!


If you’re travelling internationally you need to check you have a passport and that it covers the period of your travel and doesn’t expire. Many countries will require you to have a certain amount of time after your intended travel covered by the validity period of your passport as well.

In other words, make sure your passport will be valid for at least as long as your destination country requires it to remain so after your intended stay. Many of the resources listed above provide more information on this requirement of entry.


Conference MoneyWhen one travelled internationally in days past it was critical to take cash or traveller’s cheques, but the rise of ATMs worldwide means this is far less of an issue nowadays. Despite this, I have recently had the issue of my credit card not being accepted in a taxi for fare from the airport to my accommodation. They had credit card facilities but the charge didn’t go through.

I wasn’t carrying cash and so I needed the taxi driver to take me to a nearby ATM to withdraw cash to pay my fare and tip. This was a little awkward and I would love to avoid this in future by having a small amount of currency upon arrival at my destination.

Getting the most from the venue

Some will choose to arrive at their destination and then ‘wing it’ when it comes to sightseeing and getting the feel for the city they are visiting. Others will prefer to have some idea of major things they’d like to do when they arrive. It will often be helpful to do a little bit of research before you go in order to avoid missing out.

I like to read a little bit about the place I will be visiting, and try to get an idea of events happening when I am in town. Sometimes there are specific festivals or sporting events that it would be fantastic to experience while you can, and they will often sell out in advance.

This has happened to me once when I travelled to San Francisco and didn’t think to check the baseball schedule. Some of my colleagues had a great time watching the San Francisco Giants while I stayed in my hotel room ruing my disorganisation!


If you did manage to get a day or so either side of the conference, you will probably want to go to a museum or gallery or take in the sights in some way. There are downloadable guides available from many of the companies that book accommodation or travel in major cities. Booking.com offers me a ‘city guide’ every time I book a stay with them and this is often a helpful way to find out what the ‘must see’ venues are.

Another useful trick is to just use Google to get started. Use the search strings below and replace [destination], [month] and [year] to suit. Try some variations on these search strings and see what you find!

events [destination] [month] [year]    (eg. events los angeles october 2016)

things to do in [destination] [month] [year]

concerts [destination] [month] [year]

sport [destination] [month] [year]

gallery [destination] [month] [year]

Arrange Leave Cover

Whether you work for yourself or in a government institution, you will almost certainly need to make some form of arrangements for cover while you are away. This might be a matter of completing a leave form and submitting it to your Department Head or arranging someone to look after your patients in a private hospital.

It will help everyone if you get started with this well in advance of the conference.

Preparing to travel

When the time gets close for you to travel to the conference, a different phase of getting ready kicks in. This is the time where you need to pack all of the documents, electronics and other travel requirements to enable you to enjoy the conference as much as possible.

And, this is the time when you really need that list.

Packing List

After using the same packing list for the last six or seven conferences I’ve attended, I have become quite confident that it meets my needs and I won’t forget anything vital. I feel relaxed that I have everything I need but not more than that when I get in the taxi to start my trip.

Of course, most of the places you will travel will have shops. You could always buy anything important if absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, if you can come up with a list and learn to trust it, a lot of the potential stress of last minute preparations can be reduced and you can simply enjoy the fact you’re about to leave!

Download the exact packing list I use to get ready for conference travel.
Feel free to modify it to suit your specific needs!
Download the exact packing list I use to get ready for conference travel.
Feel free to modify it to suit your specific needs!

The benefits of having a packing list you know and trust are similar to those you can derive from any system that you have refined and learned to trust over many iterations.

I will be writing about systems in other posts but the short version is that developing a robust system for approaching a task can allow you to reduce the cognitive effort required to complete the task. In other words, if you have a system you trust you can apply the system without worrying about the fine details as you know you will complete the task, just as you have before.


Man in suitMost conferences will publish some form of guideline as to what to wear, with the default often being business casual. It is important to consider what your peers might expect, and this is especially true if you are hoping to network and impress new contacts. Beachwear might not cut it if your targeted contacts are all wearing suits!

You must also consider whether you are attending any meetings during or either side of the conference itself, or any conference social engagements such as welcome dinners.

Finally, it is important to check the usual weather conditions for the time of year at the destination. You might need to pack specific items like hats, swimming gear and so on for Summer or warm coats and boots for Winter.

You can check the usual weather by searching Google. Try the following:

weather [destination] [month]    (eg. weather los angeles october)

If you are Delivering a Presentation

While you might consider business casual for regular conference attendance, erring on the more formal side of course, if you are giving a presentation you should consider whether you need to step it up a notch.

A presentation in this setting is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your expertise in your area and your performance under the spotlight. I would recommend dressing formally for such an occasion unless you are absolutely certain that the dress standard doesn’t call for that.

When I travel to a conference and know I have a poster or oral presentation to give, I always wear a suit. For days where I don’t have formal commitments I might wear shirt and pants. Just know that first impressions do count.

A pressed suit will send a message that you are professional and experienced, and you can always remove your jacket after your presentation if you really feel over-dressed.

Travel Documents

I like to carry a copy of my documents with me when I travel, although this is probably less important now with online storage and ubiquitous Wi-Fi. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t see how it hurts to have a physical copy of important papers just in case.

I always print copies of the following:

  • Conference registration receipt
  • Accommodation reservation receipt
  • Travel Insurance receipt
  • Airline receipt and itinerary

Depending on the nature of the conference or my social plans I might also print copies of tickets for events or concerts, or schedules for meetings during the conference.

EvernoteOf course, storing these documents in an easily accessible online storage is also critical. I set up a notebook (folder) in my Evernote for each conference I attend, and everything that refers to that conference trip will be stored in it.

By everything, I mean that every email I send or receive, every booking or reservation, every useful piece of information about the venue. It all goes in that Evernote notebook.

The critical step is then to make that notebook an ‘offline notebook’ before you travel. This means that if you have Evernote installed on your phone/laptop/tablet (and you should), those devices will download and store all the note information included saved pdfs. In other words, you will have offline access to all documents in pdf form or within the note text itself, even without a data connection or access to Wi-Fi.

Health and Personal Hygiene

If you regularly take any medication you will need to take it with you on your trip. I prefer to take a supply for at least one week longer than the scheduled trip just in case of any unexpected delays in travel.

Depending on the nature of the medication, it might be a good idea to have a letter from your family doctor detailing which medications you are travelling with and what they are for. This is good practice anyway, but some medications might not be available in some locations so it is important that you can explain why you are carrying it.

For those of you with sleep apnoea, of course, you might need to travel with your mandibular advancement device or CPAP machine. I would be wary of having those in checked luggage due to concerns about possible damage.

Finally, I often try to get my haircut just before leaving to make life as easy as possible while travelling. Additionally, clipping finger and toenails before you travel might mean you don’t need to carry clippers with you.

Carry on Luggage

There are many ways to approach deciding what to carry on and what to place in checked luggage. I tend to follow some simple rules:

  • Will I need/want it during the flight (or any stopovers)?
  • Is it valuable or expensive?
  • Could it be damaged or broken if treated carelessly by baggage handlers?

If I answer yes to any of those questions I tend to carry it in my backpack and keep it with me in-flight.

In addition to my laptop, noise-cancelling headphones, medications and a large bottle of water (purchased after clearing all security screenings of course), I like to carry a spare pair of socks as well as a toothbrush, toothpaste and comb. For longer trips or those with connecting flights, I carry an extra t-shirt and pair of underwear. Even if you don’t have access to an airport lounge, you can always bathe yourself in a bathroom, brush your teeth and hair, reapply deodorant and change your underwear and shirt.

The psychological benefits of refreshing yourself after one flight and before the next can’t be understated. Sometimes all it takes is a clean shirt and pair of socks to give you a much-needed boost.

I use a Red Oxx Sky Train for my carry-on luggage (as well as day-to-day at home as well) and have had mine for three years. It fits an incredible amount of gear in a size that fits the carry-on sizing frames at airports, and I have never been challenged by staff. It is incredibly well-made and I recommend it to anyone who travels frequently.

Electrical Items

You will almost certainly be travelling with an array of electrical items such as a smartphone, laptop, tablet, camera and/or camcorder. You will need to bring whatever cables or charging packs they require to keep them going while you’re away.

For many items, it might only be a micro-USB lead that is needed but remember to pack anything you might need or you risk your device running out of juice at the most inconvenient time.

Conference PowerFor international travel, you might also need to consider whether a power socket adapter is necessary. I carry at least two adapters as I carry more than two devices and know they will need charging overnight. I have recently started taking a 4-socket powerboard with me as it can be frustrating to need to constantly monitor which devices are most in need of a charge.

For information about what kind of power socket adapter you might need you can check the International Electrotechnical Commission. You will find voltages and socket types, with images included for easy reference.

A USB power pack will often be incredibly useful and should be considered a standard part of any travellers kit. They now come in large capacities and often have fast-charging capabilities as well. And they are becoming far cheaper than ever before.

Finally, I now take a standard ethernet network cable with me on most trips. Sometimes Wi-Fi just isn’t up to scratch for video calling or other data-intensive requirements.

Managing Jet Lag

Jet Lag is the worst. I tend to try to get at least a day before the conference that I can use to adjust to the local timezone but, of course, that isn’t enough to truly adjust. Thus, I try to start moving my clock before I travel.

There are several calculators online that provide advice about when to start changing your body clock and by how much. See how you go with Jet Lag Rooster, the Re-Timer calculator and the British Airways advisor.

You can get advice about jet lag and how to adjust your internal clock from the National Sleep Foundation website. The Sleep Health Foundation and CDC also provide excellent general advice.

Disclaimer: Although I am a sleep physician, these suggestions should NOT be considered specific advice. You should always get your own medical advice rather than rely on some guy on the internet.

Mobile Phone

You almost certainly will carry your phone with you while travelling, but you should consider in advance what the implications are for calling, messaging and data while away. This is particularly applicable if your travel is international.

International Roaming

Your provider should give you rates for each of calls, messages, accessing message bank and use of data. Don’t be surprised if they are far in excess of what you have at home. Plan in advance by buying a sim card for the country you’re going to be travelling to, or at least buying an international data pack from your provider.

Conference PhoneI receive a series of text messages as soon as my phone roams to an international provider upon landing at my destination. Those messages usually outline the costs for each mode listed above. It is critical that you consider this before using your phone on another network.

A relative of mine once received a ~$7000 bill from her phone company after streaming video while travelling in Russia and Finland. I warned her before she travelled to turn off her mobile data connection before leaving but she ignored my advice. She was able to argue her way out of the bill with her provider by claiming ignorance but I wouldn’t bank on that happening again!

Unless you have pre-arranged an international data pack, it is critical that you turn off your mobile data connection before boarding your flight. Most smartphones use a lot of data in the background with automatic syncing and push notifications. You could easily accrue a significant data bill just by turning on your phone upon arrival.

Turn off data before you fly.

Offline Maps

I try to do a lot of walking when I attend a conference, partially because I am trying to maintain some fitness and partially because I know that for the majority of the conference I’ll be sitting in a hall doing almost nothing. If you are going to walk around an unfamiliar city it will often pay to have a map.

Google Maps pinWith Google Maps on your smartphone, you will always have accurate local maps available to you wherever you go. However, if you don’t have a local data plan you might get into trouble. I always download a large area around the convention centre and accommodation as an ‘Offline Map’ area for Google Maps. This allows me to have a broad overview all the way down to street-level views of the city and where I am at any moment.

The downside to this approach is that you can’t search for information without data, but points of interest should be able to be searched. Driving instructions can usually be created but walking instructions – at the time of this writing – were not yet available in Google Maps in offline mode.

When you download an offline map area it will often be a large amount of data, obviously depending on how much of the city you want to have available. I suggest downloading over Wi-Fi before you leave. You can delete the offline area later to recover storage space on your device.

Starred Locations

The other preparation I try to do before leaving home is to ‘Star’ places I am likely to want to visit while in town. I think through things like restaurants local to my accommodation, places of interest, important landmarks, shops or malls I want to visit and so on. Once starred, those places will be available in your offline area so you can find your way to each without needing data.

Email Autoresponders / Out-of-Office replies

It is important for your contacts or workmates to know that you won’t be available during the period of the conference. If they get in touch via email they might expect a reply: you need to make it clear to them that they shouldn’t.

It is simple and quick to set up an email autoresponse that lasts for the duration of your travels. This helps to manage expectations about your ability to be contacted during that time. Mine include contact details for the people I have arranged to cover my practice during my time away and a specific date after which I expect to have returned and have the capacity to reply to emails.

Of course, you might choose to check your email while you are away and you might choose to respond to urgent queries as well. For the recipient that will be considered a bonus as they will have seen your autoresponse message and accepted they won’t hear back until you return. It also gives the sender the opportunity to contact someone else if their query is truly an emergency and that is usually much preferred to wondering if they will hear back from you.

Quick tip: I often have the autoresponder set to include one or two days after my return, to allow me to deal with the after-effects of travel and catch up on important issues. If you decide to turn it off early because you’re up and running that’s fine, but it might give you a short buffer if you’re not.

Video calling to Loved Ones

If you are leaving a family at home you will almost certainly wish to stay in touch while you are away. It is helpful to have worked out in advance how you will manage that.

I tend to use Skype but, of course, there are many options you could choose from depending on your preferences. Just make sure that you have any necessary credits purchased to enable you to use the system. I have Skype credit purchased and just re-activate it each time I go away.

It is important to ensure you book accommodation with good Wi-Fi strength and generous allowances. Most online booking services feature customer reviews and it is worth checking comments about Wi-Fi from recent customers. Failing good Wi-Fi where you are staying, I have video-called my family from a conference hall before but it can be awkward as you will often be in public.

Social Media

Social MediaThere are two reasons to have social media accounts optimised prior to leaving for a conference. The first is that many conferences enable audience participation by using Twitter or Facebook. The conference might even have groups set up for participants to discuss the meeting and make new contacts.

The second is that you will almost certainly meet new people and network while at the conference. Your LinkedIn profile might be one of the first things someone checks after you meet. Having it ready to present your best face is critical to optimising the yield of those meetings and leveraging your new contacts after the conference.

There are many guides to how to optimise your online profiles, so I have not gone into it in detail here. In short, make sure your profiles are current and showcase your professional achievements in a way that new contacts will be confident you are someone with whom they will want to collaborate or do business. Use a spell-checker and check your grammar. Keep it professional at all times. Ask yourself: if there’s something you wouldn’t be comfortable to tell a business contact, should it be in your online profile?

Congratulations on getting this far!
If you’re running out of steam, feel free to download a pdf version to read whenever you like.
Congratulations on getting this far!
If you’re running out of steam, feel free to download a pdf version to read whenever you like.

Presentation materials

If you happen to be delivering an oral presentation or poster at the conference, you must make sure that you take whatever you need with you to the meeting. Imagine your horror upon boarding your plane and remembering you left the poster by your front door!

Presentations using Microsoft PowerpointTM could be emailed or placed in cloud storage by your colleague or partner if you happen to forget to bring it, but I wouldn’t recommend that you leave it to chance in this way. I tend to carry a laptop which has the presentation on it, as well as a USB memory stick with another copy. Finally, I would usually email myself a copy and place one in Evernote and/or Dropbox as well. (Call me paranoid, but I rest more easily knowing there’s no way I can lose my presentation!)

Many oral presentations will benefit from introducing interactive activities for the audience to participate in and Audience Response Systems are used at conferences to engage the learners. Prepare you questions and answers in advance to ensure they can be uploaded by the Conference IT team in time for your talk.

It has become more common to place a clear plastic sleeve adjacent to an academic poster with A4 sized print-outs of the poster for interested parties to take to read later. I think this opens up the potential for future collaborations if someone takes a copy, so I consider this a useful soft-networking technique.

Attending the Conference

I hear you – thank goodness we finally got to the bit where we are attending the conference! All this getting ready stuff is fine and helpful and all that, but what about the big show?

Getting Around

If you have done some research in advance of the event you might have discovered the pros and cons of various transport options before you arrive. Many places, especially in Europe, have superb public transportation around the destinations favoured for conventions, and buying a travel pass might save you time and money.

For cities with less public transport options, you can rely on the traditional taxis or try out ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. These services will often be cheaper than taxis.

Register Early

If you followed my advice and booked accommodation close to the conference centre, you will be able to consider going through the registration process early. Many conferences have their desk open one or even two days before the event starts. You will often avoid the enormous queues of the less well prepared who try to check in on the first morning.

Do yourself a favour, find ten minutes out of your sightseeing time and go through registration the day before your meeting. It makes the first day so much more pleasant.

Planning your Sessions

If you have downloaded the advance program as a pdf and stored it in your Evernote offline notebook you have access to the schedule and can begin planning which sessions you will attend. Often it helps to plan this well before actually arriving at the meeting, but for many that won’t be possible.

Either by using the pdf in your Evernote or by looking at the hard copy given to you when you complete registration the day before the meeting starts, you can sit and look at your schedule and think through what you want to get from the meeting and how best to meet that need.

If you want to learn more about a particular disease or disease group you can select sessions that will cover that material. Some people follow a theme where they maximise their attendance at each session touching on that topic. Others will look for the sessions that appeal the most to them, either through knowledge of the speakers(s), a desire to network or for some other reason. A final possibility is to taste-test as many different types of sessions as possible.

Whatever your rationale, you will get much more from the event if you plan how you want to approach it and then execute your strategy.

Conference Culture

If you are travelling to a conference that you have previously attended, you might well have a good idea of the culture of the meeting. Are people more formal or relaxed? Do they welcome meeting new people or are they more shut-off?

Some institutions will have protocols around behaviour and dress, and sometimes those cultural norms aren’t written down anywhere. They exist nonetheless.

If you are travelling to a conference in an unfamiliar setting or with a professional group whose norms you aren’t familiar with, it can pay to ask colleagues or contacts who are more familiar with the meeting for advice.

At Each Session

Assuming you have planned your schedule, it often helps to have a notepad and pen to take notes. You could consider pre-labelling a new page for each session you plan to attend.

My preference is to take notes on my laptop so I usually start a new note in Evernote for each session or symposium. I try to do this before the session or preferably before the day has begun. This way I can copy the speakers’ names and affiliations into the note and then I don’t have to worry about who said what or whom to contact about something I found particularly interesting.

Finally, if you’re going to a medical conference you will almost certainly need to have some form of tracking in place as to which sessions you attend and for how long. You need to collect this information for Continuing Medical Education purposes.

Networking tips

Conferences have always been a great way to meet new people in your industry or strengthen existing relationships. As always, a little bit of preparation can make all the difference.

If you know who you want to meet, check when they will be speaking. Then you can introduce yourself after their session. (I prefer to wait until afterwards as they might be preoccupied before their presentation. You will also be more memorable if you tell the person something specific that you learned from their talk.)

Conference NetworkingWhen you do meet someone new, it is often helpful to ask for a business card. Although they seem almost anachronistic nowadays, most professionals will carry these to a conference. Of course, this means that you must also have a supply of cards available.

If you are bringing business cards, make sure that your contact information is accurate and up-to-date. A new contact might try once to get in touch but if they confront resistance from an incorrect email address or phone number you will lower their desire to keep trying. Just think of the potential opportunities lost to a simple typographical error!

This is also where your optimised social networking profiles can be critical: if you do share a LinkedIn address on your business card, for example, a contact might choose to check you out during downtime later in their day. If your profile is an unprofessional mess they probably won’t bother trying to reach out to you any further.

Finally, it is often extremely useful to make some notes during the meeting about who you met, something about your conversation together or the context in which you spoke. This will be incredibly important when you attempt to follow-up later.

Prepare your ‘Elevator Pitch’ in advance

If you do happen to bump into someone you want to meet, it is much better to have worked out what you might want to say in advance. Imagine your embarrassment should you meet a professional hero and then not have anything useful to say.

A short sentence or two explaining who you are and why you wanted to meet them is enough. Mention a presentation they have made or a paper they published. Academics love to be asked about their work. Neil Patel has some suggestions for coming up with a good elevator pitch at Quicksprout.

Professional Behaviour

Anytime you travel for a conference there will be opportunities to socialise with fellow conference attendees. Some will be official functions of the meeting, like a welcome dinner or networking events. Others will be more random, and driven by the social connections you have and the networking you are doing at the meeting itself.

It is important to consider whether you will want to participate in these kinds of events. Firstly, informal gatherings running throughout the conference are great opportunities to network. You might find that you have more success in making new connections when everyone is feeling more relaxed. You might also bring back some great memories of meeting friends and colleagues and socialising together informally.

Of course, as with any pseudo-workplace setting, there are also potential risks to consider. Do you want to be ‘that lady’ who overindulged and had to be helped to a cab to return to your hotel early? Might you risk saying something inappropriate or even offensive in front of the new contacts you’re trying so hard to impress?

It might pay to consider what you are hoping to achieve and whether your goals will be served by attending informal events before you travel. Remember that your new business contacts might well be measuring you up, even in social settings.

After the Conference

Once the conference is over you might need to travel home and get back to work, but there are many other things you should consider doing to optimise your yield from attending.

As with any process of learning, it is very helpful to review your notes, research around the topic, look up key references from academic presentations and so on. Any time you take notes in a session you should consider which things you might want to look up later in order to build upon the new knowledge or at least to confirm it.

Just taking notes and then never looking at them again is highly unlikely to yield long-term knowledge gain.

Everyone has their own learning style, and you likely know yours. Whatever your preferred method, you should consider attending a conference as just like studying a course of attending a class: there will be study afterwards if you really want to learn the material.

Following up with new Contacts

If you gave out a bunch of business cards and collected some of your own, it will be good to reach out in some way with a personal note to the recipient. This could be trying to contact them on social media or via email.

It is much more likely that you will receive a positive response to your attempt to contact if you can remind them of your discussion at the meeting. This is where those notes you took when you met the person really enable you to make a personal connection.

If it is appropriate and your new contact has responded positively to your request for contact, why not suggest ways in which you might help them? You never know when a new contact could become a collaborator, or introduce you to someone with whom you will collaborate. Keep your mind open to the possibilities and you never know how beneficial that chance meeting might end up being!

Update your Curriculum Vitae

Your attendance at a conference demonstrates your commitment to ongoing learning and development. As such, having a list of conferences you’ve attended in recent years is often a good thing to show on your CV.

If you gave any kind of presentation you will certainly need to list this as well – generally, you might list these presentations in reverse chronological order. If you don’t make a habit of doing this upon your return it might be months or years before you remember to do so. It doesn’t hurt to strike while the iron is hot!

Thank your Colleagues for covering you

Although you will probably return the favour at some point in the future, it is still important to be polite and respectful of the fact that other people have still been working in your absence. If they have specifically covered your practice it is good form to touch base upon your return to make sure no disasters occurred while you were away.

When you call you can take the time to thank them. A little courtesy goes a long way!

Plan your next Conference!

The final step is to think through all the wonderful learning and connections you have made. Then? Start planning for another conference! Where might it take you? What new contacts could you make? What will it mean for your academic career?

Conferences are truly one of the best ‘bang for buck’ experiences you can have as a doctor, so get planning!


Has this guide encouraged you to start planning your next conference? Is there something I missed? Do you have any tips for me and other readers? Please comment below!



Featured Image by Sherc88 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Image of Lark by Daniel Pettersson [CC BY-SA 2.5 se or CC BY-SA 2.5via Wikimedia Commons
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Measure thyself…

Last updated April 23, 2019. Posted August 22, 2016 in Development. This post contains affiliate links.

Track goals, tasks, progress & time

Ok, sure. ‘Measure thyself’ is a bit of a lazy pun on Luke 4:23, but the fundamentals of any improvement process are to define the problem and measure the effects of various changes.

Want to lose weight? Weigh yourself (define the problem), then weigh yourself again after modifying your diet and increasing your exercise (measure the effects).

Want to learn a new skill? Decide how you are going to approach learning it (define). Then, commit to a regular practice that you can log each time you complete (measure).

One of the foremost leaders in the field of management, Peter Drucker, is famous for the phrase:

What gets measured gets managed

Thankfully, it’s never been easier to measure some aspects of personal productivity than in this era of smartphones, fitness trackers and spreadsheets.


When a physician is asked ‘what are the important measures of your performance?’, there could be any number of responses:

  • Medical errors
  • Length of hospital stay
  • Clinic throughput
  • Publication in peer-reviewed journals
  • Citations
  • Research projects supervised
  • Grant funding received
  • Hours in teaching
  • etc

By definition, personal productivity requires each of us to define for ourselves what we value and measure. And this comes to down to priority. Defining your priorities is fundamental to deciding what to do next, where to focus your energy and time, and how to measure your output.

Deciding your priorities can be a challenge.

You will spend a lot of your time as a physician on what other people have decided is important. It is critical that you meet the professional and personal obligations of your role, but equally critical that you define what you want to achieve in the time you do have control over.

Many productivity experts suggest the development of a mission statement which can be used to align your priorities (see also Covey for an example). The definition of your mission and values will allow you to consider all decisions about priority through a new lens.

What are the components of your work that are most important to you? How could you measure your performance in those areas? What does your position description say? How do you align your personal priorities with those of your department head? If there was any one project or task that would make your work more effective today, what would it be?


After deciding what you wish to prioritise, it is necessary to define the outcomes by which you will measure your success. These might be obvious, such as in the case of frequency of peer-reviewed publication, although they are often more nebulous and require careful consideration. Teaching efficacy is one such outcome that might be quite hard to define. It is very unlikely that your impact as a clinician educator is the one thing that makes a learner pass or fail!

You can develop metrics for many types of goal, but it is important that you carefully consider the metric and then define how you will track it.

If it is a habit that you would like to develop, you could log instances of that habit as part of a daily journaling exercise. If it is a mood or perspective shift you are trying to achieve, can you set reminders on your phone or watch to remind you to appraise your performance regularly throughout the day?

Measuring progress toward a goal makes the achievement of that goal more likely. Success comes from defining the outcome you wish to achieve and the metric by which you will measure success. Most importantly, tracking your performance against that metric over time is crucial. The act of tracking your progress keeps the goal and its metric in your mind, therefore leading to a higher likelihood you will focus your time and energy on that goal.

Measure thyself…

Finally, create some form of visual reminder of the goals you are trying to achieve and their associated metric(s). This could be a spreadsheet that you keep on your computer or phone. You could track performance using an online service. You could make it as simple as a sheet of paper stuck at your desk or a series of checkmarks placed on a calendar. The key to using these aids is that they must be seen often enough to remind you of your goals and encourage you toward their achievement.

I will be writing a lot more about measurement because it is a key principle of execution that can be leveraged to enable greater success.


Why Productivity for Physicians?

Last updated June 19, 2018. Posted August 15, 2016 in Development. This post contains affiliate links.

Track goals, tasks, progress & time

What makes a physician effective? How does a busy doctor maintain their professional and personal productivity, while advancing their chosen career? What are the skills that enable some physicians to achieve greatness in their chosen field?

As a young(-ish) physician, these questions colour my everyday practice of medicine. This blog is intended to explore the answers to these questions while documenting my personal journey from ‘good enough’ to great.

Who am I?

I am a Respiratory & Sleep Medicine Physician practising in Melbourne, Australia. I spend 60% of my week in a public hospital doing inpatient and outpatient care, quality assurance, supervision of trainees and the usual collection of meetings and miscellanea. Another 40% of my time I work as a Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Medical School, The University of Melbourne.

Until recently I also had a one-day per week private practice, but I have recently closed this in order to focus on my professional development: I am studying a Graduate Diploma of Clinical Education with a view to completing a Masters in due course.

I am also a partner to Felicity and father to two young boys.

Why Productivity?

I once worked with a Professor of Respiratory Medicine who gave me a copy of David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’. After reading that masterpiece of personal productivity I did what all good productivity geeks do: I wrote my own personal to-do manager, hosted it on my home server and used it for several years to manage all of my capturing, contexts and priorities. If I had only considered releasing it for a wider audience I might now be at the helm of a fifty-person company like Amir Salihefendic!

After my home server died I went several (ineffective) years without a formal productivity strategy. At the start of 2016, I became reinvigorated. My efficiency and organisation improved after I installed Todoist on each and every one of my devices. I was getting more done, but the question soon became: how do I know I am getting the right things done?

My Amazon Kindle reading list is now over one hundred books. It features personal development and productivity texts by the likes of Cal Newport and Charles Duhigg. There are also ‘old-school’ writings by Covey and others. I have become a podcast junkie and spend as much of my free time as possible on self-improvement strategies. Felicity has noticed my increased effectiveness, and I find I am more available to my young family when I am present with them.

What is Productivity?

Anyone can make a list and complete the tasks on the list. The truly effective know what to put on their list. I will explore how I define what I need to get done, prioritise my tasks and manage my calendar.

As part of this project, I will review books and podcasts that add to my own understanding of effectiveness. I will examine strategies in the spheres of clinical practice, teaching and research. Finally, I also will discuss my personal use of apps and technological aids to productivity.

Why Productivity for Physicians?

I am one.

As a physician managing the competing priorities of a profession, family and ongoing personal development, I am acutely aware of the difficulties we face. Artisans from many professions can claim to be busy, but I plan to write what I know. Of course, most productivity and effectiveness advice will be also relevant to those practising other trades.


I hope you will find this website useful as you strive to optimise your own professional and personal performance!

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