Top Ten Efficiency Secrets of The White Coat Investor

low cost 401kPersonally, I’ve been in awe of The White Coat Investor‘s uncanny ability to be ever-present online while continuing to expand his reach via not only an amazing blog, but also a podcast and Youtube channel while producing both a top-notch financial course and putting on an outstanding conference.

Sure, his team of “Dahle’s Angels” that help with various tasks that go into the various aspects of his online presence are a huge help, but he still manages to respond personally to so many comments, emails, Tweets, etc…

I’ve always wondered how he does it. Today, he shares the secrets to his success. As is standard for these Saturday Selections, this post originally appeared on The White Coat Investor.

 


 

I’m no efficiency expert. Not by a long shot. Yet I have somehow convinced many of you that I am super-efficient, am incredibly productive, and have a large amount of bandwidth.

Believe it or not, I have been asked multiple times to share my secrets. I’m not sure I have any, but I’ll share what I know and do and hopefully, the comments section will be where the real action is. You all know I love lists, so let’s make a list. We’ll call it the…

 

Top Ten Efficiency Secrets of The White Coat Investor

 

Now, before we get into this too far, I want to point something out. We’re talking about economic efficiency here. Obviously, there is more to life than economics and a ruthlessly economical life may not be worth living. My life is far from being perfectly efficient and there are other purposes to living and even your career than simply maximizing the economic benefit from it. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

 

# 1 Kill Your TV

 

Okay, maybe that is a little extreme. But television is a gigantic time suck for the vast majority of our population. I can count the number of hours of TV I watched last Fall on two hands. I think there were 8 episodes of The Walking Dead and I watched parts of a few college football games.

There is a good chance if you simply unplug the TV that your productiveness will go up dramatically. This also includes using the internet or a gaming console like TV. This is where I’m guilty.

It is amazing how much time you can kill surfing back and forth between your ten favorite websites seeing if there is something new. In fact, you should probably just close your computer right now and go do something else instead of reading the rest of this post.

 

# 2 Some Time Is More Productive Than Other Time

 

This is a very important concept to understand. Benjamin Franklin said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” The Army says “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.”

set for life insuranceWhat these quotes are hinting at is the fact that some of your hours are much more productive than others. In my case, I’m twice as productive in the morning as in the afternoon, and my productivity drops to perhaps 10% in the evening. And after midnight? Forget it.

Somebody better be deathly ill or terribly injured if I’m going to be doing anything worthwhile. While there are some true night owls, I suspect most of us have noticed this trend in our lives.

So what to do about it? Move the more fun stuff that you don’t need much motivation or life energy to do into the afternoons and put the really fun (or wasteful) stuff in the evenings. Then cut the evening short and go to bed so your morning is longer and your evening is shorter. Yup, you’re adulting now.

My kids think staying up all night must be awesome. As an emergency physician, I’ve stayed up all night I don’t know how many times in my life. Certainly, it is in the hundreds. More than an entire year’s worth of all-nighters. Not only is doing so a cardiac risk factor, but I don’t get much done at night nor the entire next day. Working nights is incredibly non-productive.

 

Seward Harbor

fishing can be productive if the fish cooperate

 

 

# 3 Eliminate Financial Chores

 

I do very few financial chores. I don’t do any research on individual stocks or mutual funds. We only look at our spending once a month and at our investments even more rarely. We don’t go meet with a financial advisor. All our bills are on auto-payment.

I even pay my taxes online with a credit card now. All this time savings can be used to do something more productive.

 

 

# 4 Marry the Right Person (and be the right person)

 

My wife is amazing. People tell me that all the time. Nobody ever tells my wife that I’m amazing, of course. At any rate, she’s a very productive person and she has very high expectations for me. We push each other to be healthy, productive, contributing members of the family and our community.

Get this one thing right in life and you can screw up a lot of other stuff and still end up being productive and happy.

 

# 5 Focus on Family Efficiency, Not Personal Efficiency

 

Remember that we’re discussing economic efficiency here and that life isn’t all about maximizing economic efficiency. But if you’re looking for ways to maximize the economic efficiency (time and money) of your household, I think there is an important point that has to be made. There are a lot of things that need to be done to run a household, I’m sure your list looks a lot like mine:
lucidity locums

  • Earn money
  • Buy food
  • Care for young children
  • Run older children to activities
  • Supervise homework
  • Repair the house
  • Prepare the meals
  • Laundry
  • Run errands
  • Clean
  • Yardwork
  • Financial chores

 

The list goes on and on and on. However, if you (or your partner) is a high-earner, chances are that maximum economic efficiency is not found by having your partner also be a high-earner. High-earning professional jobs tend to take up a lot of time and life energy that cannot be dedicated to the other tasks on the list.

That’s not to say that those pursuits are not worthwhile, for personal development and societal enrichment. But strictly from a household economic perspective, it’s not an efficient set-up.

My wife and I realized this relatively early in our career. It didn’t make much sense for both of us to have a career in a traditional sense. So I focused on medical school and residency and attending duties and she filled a support role with a major focus on raising kids and running a household.

Actually, I probably ought to reverse that statement. She filled the primary role of raising kids and running a household and I filled a support role in making sure we had the money to keep food on the table. But either way you look at it, it is amazing how much you can accomplish when someone else is taking care of huge sectors of what you want and need done in your life.

 

 

The converse is also true. As my practice has become less demanding on me over the years she has been able to branch out into her other interests. The fact that I, like most other physicians and other high-income professionals, earn gobs of money basically eliminates financial concerns from her life.

Imagine what you could do with your life if someone just handed you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars each month without you ever having to manage a traditional career or “go to work?”

All of a sudden you can run a church organization, direct a soccer league, coach two teams, teach a refereeing class, take up a new sport, raise four kids, organize a family reunion, plan vacations, serve on community boards, go help out an aunt, work in the side business, and volunteer in the schools like my wife does.

Obviously, the converse of this is also true. Having two stay-at-home parents is also not particularly efficient. While you might have the cleanest house on the block, it’s eventually going to get foreclosed on.

I don’t know exactly what the maximally efficient combination is for a couple. Perhaps it is one partner working 3/4 time and one working 1/4 time. It is probably different for everyone.

But the chances of it being two people working full-time, paying huge amounts of taxes (including two sets of Social Security and Medicare taxes for little additional benefit), and having to hire out child care, house cleaning, yard maintenance, food preparation, financial advisory services etc seems low to me.

Every couple needs to work out a fair division of labor and that combination will be different for everyone, but it’s worth at least considering efficiency when making those decisions.

 

# 6 Let It Go

 

Life is short. You cannot do everything. Figure out what your priorities are and throw the rest out. Learn to say no and don’t feel guilty about it. When WCI ramped up, I dropped a couple of hobbies and a volunteer job. I can always go back to them, but I had to decide where to use my limited bandwidth.

Sometimes our house is really messy. I mean REALLY messy. We just decide sometimes that keeping it clean isn’t our priority. It’s not the end of the world. It turns out you can clean toilets every other week (or every other month) and nothing really bad happens.

Our driveway faces South. If we don’t shovel it, it will melt off a few days after the storm anyway. There is really no point in shoveling after March 1st. If you just came home from a trip and you’re going on a similar one in two weeks, that stuff can sit in a pile in the garage (or even stay in the car) until then rather than being put away and then pulled back out. You can’t do it all. Stop trying.

It’s a lot like a shift in a busy emergency department. You don’t have time to do everything for everybody, so you have to prioritize. The guy in room 1 needs to be intubated — better do that.

The lady in room four needs a central line for her pressors but is on her way to the intensivist. They still know how to put in central lines, so leave that to them.

The woman in room 17 wants her fibromyalgia worked up- that can be done in a primary care clinic. Discharge.

You can do a billable review of systems very quickly or very slowly, so you learn to ask questions like “Any seizures, blindness, sore throat, chest pain, shortness of breath, vomiting, vaginal discharge, new rashes, fevers, or hallucinations?” and move on. You catch up on charts instead of chit-chatting with everyone cruising through the department so you can leave at the end of the shift.

As you approach the end of the shift, you’re all over radiology and the lab to make sure everything you need done before you go is actually cooking. As you constantly look for ways to be more efficient, you learn a few tricks. All those lessons can be applied to the rest of your life.

 

# 7 Sharpen the Saw

 

Stephen Covey’s (RIP) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a 7th habit called Sharpen the Saw. What he means by that is sometimes you will finish a woodcutting job faster by taking 5 minutes out to go sharpen the saw, rather than fighting through the log with a dull saw for an hour.

We need to take the time to do those things that will help us to be more efficient. While it seems like we’re wasting time we don’t have, it actually makes the rest of our time more productive. The classic example is exercise. If you exercise, you will be more fit, have more energy, be more alert, and can work longer. You will also develop a discipline that will carry over into the rest of your life.

 

 

# 8 Work Less to Work Smarter

 

One of my great secrets, and the one that allowed me to really do the WCI thing, is that I don’t work all that much. When I was full-time (I went to 3/4 time in 2016 and 1/2 time in 2018), I was working fifteen 8-hour shifts. Granted, you would sometimes get out an hour late and there were some administrative duties, but if you do all the multiplication, the actual average number of hours at the hospital was close to 30 per week.

To make things even better, 80% of those hours occurred at what are traditionally less productive hours- evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. That left me all kinds of “productive time” (weekday mornings) to do something else. We’re all workaholics in medicine, whether we want to admit it or not. Limiting your work hours is likely to make you more productive at work AND at home.

 

 

# 9 Regular, Uninterrupted Sleep Is Better

 

Here’s another lesson learned from being an emergency doctor. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I really learned it from NOT being an emergency doctor, i.e. dropping my overnight shifts. Now I never miss out on my entire anchor sleep.

Anchor sleep is a concept well known to shift workers. Basically, sleep that occurs between 10 pm and 8 am is more valuable than sleep that occurs at other times of the day. It’s probably a hormonal thing. That’s why a shift that ends at 3 am is nowhere near as painful as one that ends at 7 am. You only lost some of your anchor sleep.

But since I cut back to 12 and then 8 shifts and dropped my overnight shifts, I am amazed at how much less time I spend in bed. My sleep is MUCH more regular. Except for 3-4 days a month when I work the late shift, I go to bed within an hour of the same time every night.

Whereas maybe I used to sleep 9 hours and still not wake up refreshed, now I wake up after 6 1/2 or 7 hours ready to go. When working late shifts, it is hard to switch back to a day type schedule, so you don’t. You just stay on this schedule all month where you sleep until 10 or 11 in the morning, and you lose out on a lot of those really productive pre-noon hours.

For many specialties, interrupted sleep is a big deal. Limiting your call (and educating those who call you so they won’t have to call you next time) can pay huge dividends in productivity and happiness. Small children and extensive call are a bad combination for productive sleep.

 

# 10 Do Multiple Things At Once

 

Some people say there is no such thing as multi-tasking. That’s not entirely true. Let me give you a few examples. I keep a list of articles I want to share in my newsletter each month. Where do I keep them? I keep a lot of them on my Twitter feed.

In many ways, I can “recycle” the same material for the blog, the book, TwitterFacebook, the forum, a live presentation, the newsletter, the podcast etc. Very few of you guys do WCI in more than 1 or 2 of those ways. Nobody is reading or listening to EVERYTHING I do, so it’s fine to have some overlap. Besides, repetition is a useful learning strategy anyway.

If I write for another publication, I’ll use it for a blog post or mention it in the newsletter. Blog posts can be packaged up into a book. Lots of efficiencies to be gained there.

In summary, efficiency and productivity enable you to accomplish more of what you would like to accomplish in your life. Following these tips may help you to make incremental changes that over time will dramatically boost your productivity.

 


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What do you think? Are you a productive person? How did you become that way? What tips do you have for people who want to accomplish more? Comment below!

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7 comments

  • I have always struggled with time efficiency and concur with the great points made by Jim Dahle.

    It is funny but adding more on my plate (which the creation of my blog and the amount of time it takes to maintain a website, think of topics, research topics, publish a post, respond to comments, read other bloggers posts and comments) has actually improved my efficiency.

    The biggest way I improved my life efficiency was the #1 point by Jim and that was reducing TV. Don’t get me wrong, I still love watching TV (reality shows are my guilty pleasure) but I have toned it down considerably ever since I started blogging.

    I found that I was spending a lot of time on the internet going to various websites seeing if there was new content available to read and comment on. That started becoming a huge time commitment and I actually started to get burned out just by doing that process. Plus I knew that there were so many physician blogs that I never could visit because of the sheer volume (it was hard enough to juggle the 10 or so physician blogs I tried to keep current with daily).

    My biggest efficiency improvement regarding this was therefore created out of necessity. I wanted to create a curated up to the hour newsfeed of every physician blog I could find. Out of this idea, “The Hospital” was born.

    https://xrayvsn.com/the-hospital/

    It essentially allows me to keep track of the ever expanding physician blogosphere for me (I have over 70 physician blogs inputted in the system).

    Now all I have to do is go to that page and skim the titles/excerpts from each new post published (by design each physician blog will have only its last post published with the newest content always populating the top and pushing blogs with older content down towards the bottom).

    I cannot tell you how much efficiency I have gained because of this process. And as an added bonus I have found some amazing content from lesser known physician blogs that I guarantee I would have never visited because I couldn’t make time to check everyone’s site.

    Even my email was getting filled way too much to make it efficient when I tried to accomplish something similar before I created The Hospital when I was subscribing to the major websites.

    • It is funny because my non-physician blog partner just asked me about you since he was working with you to get our site working on The Hospital. I told him, “That guy’s a machine! He reads and comments on every single physician post I ever see.” As a result of your hustle, your blog has rapidly risen on the rank lists, do congrats. Your hard work is paying off.

      • Lol.

        I have joked in the past (or is it the truth?) that I am really an ultra sophisticated spam bot that has finally cracked the secret to those Captcha countermeasures.

        Did you silly humans think that my robot brethren will be fooled by the simple question of “are you a robot?”

        Granted that question got me a few times when I checked that yes I am indeed a robot 🤖 but soon I learned from those mistakes.

        That’s why Peter from PIMD has installed a little more aggravating Captcha method of picking pictures of cars (or pedestrian crossings) in his blog, but that only slowed me down momentarily. Lol

        I think once I started blogging I realized really how much effort it takes to put a post out there and also how much comments mean to me when someone interacts with a post I wrote.

        Figure since thankfully I’m a super fast typer it wasn’t that much effort to thank the author of a post with hopefully a good comment.

        Glad your partner figured out a workaround to the problem of your blog and the medical feed I created. Seems to be going smoothly now

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  • These are all good tips and I think that eliminating financial chores (#3) is particularly relevant to all readers. Especially for money nerds, the inclination is to spend too much time on financial matters. We are all better off just “setting and forgetting” so we can spend our time on other things.

    I was just explaining to my wife the other day how I have all of our finances set up. If I were to die or become incapacitated, the “machine” would just keep running fine without me…at least for a while…

  • Great post. Admitting to being a workoholic is the first step to recovery. The main difference I see between workoholic and highly productive is who you are working for. Working for “The Man” = Workoholic. Stickin’ it to “The Man” and working for what you enjoy and value = productive. You have to say those sentences in a rock’n’roll Jack Black voice. I am still a bit of both. Old habits die hard.

    I also like the efficiency of synergistic tasks. For example, using an e-bike (like POF’s electrified machine) to commute is highly efficient. A good chunk of exercise/fresh air with a minimal increase to commute time. I’d mention a saying about birds and stones, but that would kill the environmentally friendly vibe of my point.
    -LD

  • Another goodie from the godfather.

    TV is such a time waster. I have also seen a significant improvement in my efficiency when I eliminated TV. Although this was not intentional, it was by necessity. Between working as a new pulmonary critical care attending, studying for my critical care boards, wife and 2 young kids, something gotta give. Oh and a new habit, blogging. TV , adios.

    I have also felt less tension both in my marriage and my inner peace is restored. Everytime we turned on the TV, it is always some news that cause aggravation and extended arguments. My wife and I belong to different political parties. . You can imagine the TV headache.

    Marrying the right person is a biggie. Recently i have gone from barely a social media person to practically glued to my laptop and phone. If my wife were to punish me for all my wrongdoings, no way I would be able to survive.

    Sleep is important, not only because I see some sleep patients, but because sleep will finally catch up to you in a negative way if you don’t give it some respect. Just think of sleep deprivation as being tipsy from drinking.

    I’ll have to work on the exercise part. Home gym would have spider webs on it by now if wifey have not been exercising.

    Again, awesome content. Wish my writing could flow this seamlessly.

  • No 6 all the way for me. I drive my husband nuts leaving partially completed projects around, or getting annoyed with him for completing some chore in a different way than how I was going to do it.

    I think it’s partially an annoying type A personality control thing, and partially a refusal to be realistic about how much time and energy I actually have to get things done (for example, I recently used a leave day to work on painting the outside of my house. I could have hired someone else to do it cheaply and easily, but, you know, he might not have done it how I wanted, and we started painting nearly a year ago, so it really was time to get it finished…).

    It’s really a destructive habit and one I’m going to try to break.

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