I’m the CEO of five hospitals in an integrated medical system. It’s an exciting role that allows me the daily privilege of working alongside many of the brightest and best people you’ll find anywhere.

We had an intense discussion recently about how we could improve cost-efficiency. Not a subject likely to impassion many healthcare practitioners, but an important topic nonetheless.

I’m not the first person to notice that a discussion with doctors, nurses and therapists couched in such terms is unhelpful. It’s always much better to talk about the outcomes we aim to achieve for our patients — and how we can improve them if we are able to focus resources in just the right way.

Today’s conversation prompted a comparison with how our use of time can also be framed in ways which I think are unhelpful. The more I thought about it the more similar these issues appeared. Let me explain.

In healthcare we often discuss the important difference between outputs and outcomes.

An output in healthcare might be a hip replacement surgery that is performed on a patient. An outcome on the other hand would be a patient who is able to walk pain-free.

These are two very different ideas.

Outputs can be improved a lot by looking at the processes involved in delivering them. Often this means choosing the most efficient way, in our example, to perform a hip-replacement procedure.

Improving efficiency might involve removing some non-value adding steps — such as waiting outside the operating room for example. Outputs are usually governed by the speed and efficiency with which they’re delivered.

An outcome by comparison might involve following a well designed process — but the most important factor in achieving an outcome isn’t about the process. It’s about judgment. Selecting the right patient for surgery in the first place. Then choosing the right prosthesis and rehabilitation program for that patient and so on.

If you look at the results that hospitals should be aiming for — staying with our example — maximizing the number of people who can walk pain-free, for a given amount of resource would be a good way to measure success.

Unfortunately many healthcare systems find measuring outputs much easier than outcomes. Regulators fasten on to the same output orientated measures, and pretty soon everyone’s in a discussion about how to reduce costs.

That’s not the way to win the hearts and minds of the staff involved , nor does it focus on what matters most to the recipients of care — the patient.

To summarize:

Output = the number of hip replacement surgeries undertaken for a given level of resource — organizing the process of delivering hip replacement surgery. This is work done efficiently.
Outcome = the number of people able to walk pain-free for a given level of resource — choosing the right techniques, using the correct methods and selecting the right recovery path. This is work done effectively.
Results = maximizing the number of people able to walk pain-free for a given amount of resource. This is work done productively.

Let’s apply these same terms to the way people organize their time and see what we get.

Output of better time management = more tasks completed within a given length of time — efficiency in task handling or ‘getting things organized.’

Outcome of better time management = more goals completed within a given length of time — judging which tasks are most value or ‘accomplishing the right things.’

Results = maximizing the number of goals completed for a given length of time or ‘successfully moving toward your goal’.

It’s so much easier to focus on the first of these. Getting things organized is useful because it helps design a process for triaging and dealing with tasks which arrive unsegmented and unsorted. Without a process for handling incoming traffic, you’ll never know if you’re missing something important.

But it shouldn’t be an end in itself.

Working out which tasks — among the many available — carry most weight requires thought. I think it’s only possible to do this when you’re clear which goals are most important to you.

If you can yoke the goals or outcomes which matter to you to an effective process — then you’ll start to see results.

What are you focusing your time management and productivity improvement efforts on? The outputs, the outcomes or the results?

Author's Bio: 

At work, I'm a professor and CEO of 5 hospitals.

I am the blogger behind HEALTHY LEADER a website and blog which aims to help you do more, be happy and stay healthy. https://healthyleader.health/