Self-Management and Productivity Principles that Work 
(If you take the time to do them)

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On the 21st of June, the NHS released the Integrated Care Systems design framework. Increasing emphasis is placed on collaborative working to improve health outcomes, tackle inequalities and enhance productivity. But what jumped out to me, was the recognition for protected time, support, and infrastructure for clinical and care professional leaders to carry out their system leadership role. 


However, irrespective of whether you are trying to influence and collaborate at a system level or lead your local day-to-day activities, success and failure can be closely linked to self-management.  


I use the term self-management over time-management because we cannot manage time. We can only control what we do with the time available to us.  


The Think Tank Betterup defines self-management as our ability to manage our behaviours, thoughts, and emotions in a conscious and productive way.  


In the clinical context, we talk about the self-management of patients and how we can provide them with the support and resources to assist them in managing their long-term conditions.  


In this paper, I discuss how self-management can make us more productive.


I present not the usual productivity tactics we are used to seeing but a deeper level of awareness of how we make the best use of ourselves and time to ensure we deliver the very best for our patients, colleagues, families and friends.  


To provide a little context about me: 

  • I am a wife. 

  • I have three children, of which 2 two have long-term conditions: Type 1 diabetes and Nephrotic Syndrome.  

  • I run a consultancy providing Primary Care Network Management employing a team and working alongside contractors.  

  • This year I am signed up to complete a 100-mile bike ride, two 50K runs and climb Everest Basecamp.  

  • I sit on the NHS Confederation PCN Board and The NHSE Primary Care Health and Wellbeing Task and Finish Group at the time of writing. 

  • I host the Business of Healthcare Podcast, releasing two episodes a week featuring healthcare leaders or conversations around and for those in health-related roles.

  • I am part of the NHS Time for Care faculty supporting General Practices to lead their change projects underpinned by quality improvement principles.  


Like you, as a busy healthcare professional, self-management is critical. My business and personal life depends on it. We need to be productive, efficient, have clarity, surround ourselves with a talented team, maximise the available resources, and say no without feeling bad about it.  


Productivity is NOT about working harder. The BMA reported in May 2021 that thousands of exhausted doctors in the UK are considering leaving the NHS in the next year. We know that working harder is not the answer. It is about working smarter and admitting the realities and limitations of your time.  


Going back to the start of this paper, I focused on the increasing emphasis on collaborative working to improve health outcomes, tackle inequalities, and enhance productivity which needs protected time. For this to happen, we need to drive this, and the following principles should help guide you.  


1. Define your values

Too often, and unconsciously, we let others control what we do. The first principle of self-management is to define your values and work out what truly matters to you. You are the CEO of your life, and you should be in control of your life. 


For example, my values are:

  • Independence, freedom, and flexibility  

  • Adventure 

  • Ambition  

  • Fun   


These values guide what I do with my time and where I place my energy. How do I know I am aligning myself to these values? I ask, am I happy? I am making time for the activities that make me happy and push me (this is my ambition taking!) I am surrounding myself with people that make me feel good? 


I regularly journal on this and then readjust my focus. Of course, I would rather not do certain things, but as long as 80% of the time I feel good about my work and activities, then this works for me.  


2. Say No ( and do not apologise for this) 


I know saying no is easier said than done. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to be responsive to everyone else's needs, and we do not want to be the bottleneck. However, we must say no to honour and deliver on our current commitments and knowing that working in alignment with our values takes the edge off feeling guilty.  


I could labour this point, but you know what you need to do. You know where you are wasting time. You also know where you are saying yes to please others even though it increasingly comes at a negative personal or professional cost to you.  


3. Meticulously plan your time 


Productivity tactics often fail because we struggle to make the time commitment to embed new ways of working effectively. Again, I refer back to defining your values. As Simon Sinek states, its starts with your 'Why'. Once you determine your why and values, this will create a new sense of commitment to self-management.


You, like me, are a busy health care professional, and your workload is significant, but there are things we can do to improve how we run our days. 


Many of you may be aware of the Releasing Time to Care NHS Productivity Series. The resources here are excellent, but again the caveat is, you will have to set aside time to organise yourself, your team, and others better.


There is lots of talk about setting morning and evening routines because creating little positive habits can lead to huge improvements. 


Ask yourself, what do you need to do to give yourself the best start to your week and each day? 

Then hold yourself accountable or find a coach to support you. Personally, working with a coach has been one of the best investments I have ever made to enhance my self-management 


I love checklists and find that this structure affords me the freedom and flexibility (another two of my values) to serve my clients and be there for my team and family.  


Creating systems takes the thought process out of routine tasks, so you have the energy and space to concentrate on the complex part of your role. 


I also find the habitual nature of planning in 90 day sprints, building more movement and exercise into my day and batching similar activities together gives me more time and space to do things that give me that sense of purpose and deliver work to a higher standard.   


Find what works for you. It may feel like trial and error at points but keep going and start small. Implement small changes at a time, just like a quality improvement project going through a PDSA cycle.


Lastly, be confident in saying what you want and what you need to deliver your best work and then be committed to making this happen.  


If you like this article, you might also find the following valuable:   



A guide to increasing productivity 

Books to help you stay positive 


Podcast Episodes



About the Author, Tara Humphrey 


Tara has an MBA in Healthcare Leadership and Management, is published in the London Journal of Primary Care, is Core Strengths Facilitator and hosts The Business of Healthcare Podcast. 


Tara has also written blogs for the NHS Confederation, appeared on the General Practice Podcast and the You are Not a Frog Podcast with Dr Rachel Morris


With three children, Tara’s youngest has Type 1 Diabetes, and her middle child has the kidney condition Nephrotic Syndrome; working with healthcare professionals is not just a job for me; it’s part of everyday life. As a result, Tara has developed a huge passion for helping others to deliver excellent care. 


Tara is the MD of THC Primary Care that provides:  

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