Time matters

Letter from the dean

Time. Looking back over many years, time has always been my most precious commodity. I’ve never had a lack of things I wanted to do, and haven’t yet experienced the curse of boredom.

As a physician in the clinic, I learned that patients appreciated the time I spent with them, and that I gained valuable knowledge by listening to them. It also became clear that the time I spent conducting research led to advances that helped them. One example of this was my description of a condition that explains an unusual set of symptoms arising from an inner ear anomaly, followed by the development of a treatment plan and surgical procedure to help patients with this debilitating condition.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Glenn Matsumura photo)
Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Photo by Glenn Matsumura)

As a surgeon, I learned that I shouldn’t let an operation extend longer than necessary, but I also couldn’t rush the procedure. And as a scientist, I learned that the time I spent delving into a problem, designing experiments to test hypotheses and looking at data from many vantages was the essential investment required for discovery.

It’s not easy for physicians and scientists to figure out the best way to allot precious minutes. We juggle our time in the clinic, the operating room or the laboratory with many other tasks. Of course, working too much can lead to errors and burnout, which can take a toll not only on our mental health but also on the well-being of our trainees, our patients and our families. Clearly, time for relaxation and renewal as well as time for significant personal relationships is vital for anyone. A balance is essential for nurturing health, creativity and innovation.

I began to think seriously about managing time in 2003, when I became a department chair at Johns Hopkins. I didn’t give up any of my responsibilities: I was still seeing patients, conducting research, and mentoring future scientists and clinicians. Nothing fell off my plate, but new tasks were added. I was recruiting professors, managing finances and working with the faculty to chart the department’s course. Each day I had different situations to deal with and I had to adjust my priorities accordingly.

I found help then in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. His notion is that we all tend to keep too much in our heads, which prevents us from concentrating and focusing. I learned to use lists and structure. To this day, it allows me to be fully present during the task at hand and therefore much more productive.

As dean, I know that where I direct my time and attention will determine where others in our organization will direct theirs. I focus a great deal on department chair and other leadership searches, seeking to create an evermore accomplished and diverse community. I spend time working with volunteers, donors and development professionals to ensure that we have the resources we need. I also spend time with our faculty and students, whose knowledge, insights and creativity are a constant source of inspiration. I devote time to our initiatives on clinical quality and value in health care — cornerstones in all our activities that involve patient care.

Figuring out my relationship with time has been a lifelong journey. It’s always been my most valuable resource, though I didn’t recognize it as such for many years. I’ve learned it needs to be planned and allocated just as anything else in my life — it dictates the books I read, the materials I prepare. And I’ve seen how I have benefited from the wisdom, dedication and time of those with whom I have had the privilege of working. I encourage all of us to reflect on ways we can harness time to enhance our lives.


Lloyd B. Minor, MD

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine

Professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery