How to Prioritize: Primary Vs. Secondary Tasks

By: Stanley Greenfield, RHU

Many years ago, I sat back and wondered why the day just seemed to fly by, and I never seemed to have enough time to accomplish all the tasks that I needed to do. Even when I planned my day, something always seemed to come along and the best laid plans were out the window! I decided there had to be a better way to prioritize my tasks.

With that thought in mind, I sat back and tried to analyze what I was doing and where I was wasting time. After many hours of examining what I had done, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t wasting any time. I was hard at work on a lot of different tasks that took up all of my time. No goofing off at all. If that was true, which it was, then where was the time that I needed to do the things that produced income for me? Bingo! That was it. I was busy doing a lot of things, even things that did not directly produce income for me. In other words, I was doing things that should have been considered “secondary” to what I needed to do. Those items I referred to as my “primary” tasks. Now for the first time, it all looked so simple. All I had to do was to put what I was doing into two categories: primary and secondary.

Guess what? That isn’t such a simple job. As I went through the list, it was easy to see that picking up something from the grocery store was definitely a secondary job, and going to get a haircut was also a secondary task. Separating the others became a little more difficult.

Before we take a look at what you do, let me try to define the two categories a little better for you. Your “Primary” tasks are the ones that actually have you in front of a patient, either adjusting or educating them. The education part could also be seen as part of a report of findings. That is it. Nothing else is a primary task. Nothing! Secondary is everything else. Simple enough? That may sound pretty cut and dried but that is the way it is. The only things that qualify as primary tasks are the things that produce income for you.

Primary vs. Secondary

Here are a few jobs for you to rate. Please put a “1” if it is a primary job and a “2” if it is secondary:

___ Working on a newsletter to send to patients.

___ Calling to set up a screening.

___ Staff meeting and staff evaluation.

___ Attending club meetings.

___ Working on a public relations program for practice.

___ Checking out new equipment.

___ Calling credit card companies to get better rates.

___ Trying to call old patients to re-activate them.

_____ Now total up all of the “1”’s and put that number here.

_____ Now go back and see how many “2”’s you have and put that number here .

There are eight questions, and if you have an “8” for the number under the secondary tasks, you are correct. None of these jobs is a primary job. Now before you reach for that phone to tell me that I am totally wrong, go back and read the definition of what a primary task is. I will agree that in the beginning you have to wear a lot of “hats” and you have a lot of things that you have to do because you cannot afford to hire someone to do the job for you. That may be true, but it should not be done during the “primary times” of the day. When are the primary times of the day? The times when you need to be in front of patients. The rest of the time is “secondary time.”

Primary tasks, secondary tasks, primary time, and secondary time. That’s easy enough to remember. Now all you have to do is block off your day and see which hours are “primary time” and “secondary time.” Once you have that set up, then take a look at what needs to be done and assign it a number. If it is a primary task, then it gets a “1.” If it is anything else it gets a “2.” The only tasks that get done during “primary time” are ‘primary tasks or “1’s.” Everything else goes into the secondary time slots because they are secondary tasks.

Once you get used to this, it makes your life quite simple. If something comes up during a “primary time” and it is not a “primary task,” then it waits until the appropriate time, which is secondary time. No more doing secondary tasks during primary time, which means no more wasting your valuable time. Once you have staff, then many of the secondary tasks can be delegated to members of your staff. Before doing that, you need to determine each staff member’s primary tasks and establish their primary times. This should become part of their job descriptions so they understand what is expected of them and when! No more “busy work” that accomplishes nothing except filling time.

I hope this hasn’t been too confusing. This is supposed to make your life easier and make you more efficient. It can make your staff more efficient also, if you use it and make sure that they use it, too.