How I Stay Up to Date in Plastic Surgery – and 5 Easy Steps for Staying Up to Date in Anything

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For any of you who have had a consultation with me, you’ll know I like to give extremely tailored advice backed up with the proof for it. From time to time I hear (usually via my secretary) comments along the lines of ‘How does he remember all that?!’ The truth is, I don’t think I have a particularly great memory and I certainly don’t have much free time. But I have some life hacks that work for me in Plastic Surgery, and should work for most other professions too.

We all lead busy lives and are inundated with too much information. A common approach is to ignore all or most of it, dipping in when we can, missing the majority when we can’t, and feeling a bit guilty from time to time. But if you have a professional responsibility to stay up to date then there must be a practical solution for doing so. Here’s what I do:

1. Manage what comes in

I see Plastic Surgery everywhere I go – in newspapers, during TV adverts, throughout my social media feed, when Mrs UB (ahem) switches on Real Housewives of Cheshire. Incoming sources of information are potentially infinite. What isn’t infinite is my available time, so I set one important rule: I allow in only a few pre-selected trusted sources. My schedule lets me handle up to four sources. If I find a new source I’d like to start using, it needs to be better than one of my existing ones as it’s strictly one-in-one-out.

2. Shortlist

As soon as one of my sources gets updated (i.e. a journal drops through my letterbox) I pick from it which articles I will want to read: only those relevant to my practice or very newsworthy. I photograph them or save the pdf there and then, because it will never be so easy to regain access to it as at that moment.

 

3. Organise

I said earlier that I allow four information sources. That’s because there are four weeks in most months, which lets me be consistent about which source I read on a given week of the month. I organise this in a folder and subfolders on my computer, like this: Year – Month – Week – Papers. This syncs to my phone so I always have it to hand, and makes it as easy as can be to find the next thing in line to be read.

You may have spotted that some months have five weeks. I don’t schedule anything into the week 5s up front, but if I don’t get around to reading everything I intended then I bump it to the next week 5. This is a handy built-in buffer.

4. Schedule

Although I’ll fire up my active reading whenever I have a spare moment, we all know how life gets in the way so I allocate a fixed time point that works in my schedule – mine is over breakfast. During the week I usually get up first in the house, so that is a quiet twenty minutes over a coffee that I really look forward to. I find it helps to make this as great an experience as possible – my favourite time of day, accompanied by one of my favourite things (coffee!), and pre-curated reading material I’m going to enjoy. When I’m done, I either delete it if I won’t need it again, or if I will…

5. Right-Time-Retrieval

If the article was so good that you might want to refer back to it then that’s not the end of it. Unless you’re a machine it’s not enough to read something once, but you have enough on your plate without too much repetition either. So you need to come up with a way of being presented with the information again when it is relevant, without further effort on your part.

In my practice it works like this. My patient management software allows me to assign various attributes to patients – things like medications, background health diagnoses and procedures. But it also allows me to attach things I’ve read to those attributes. Earlier this week I read some newly-released guidelines on imaging before cosmetic breast surgery. So linking that paper to all breast procedures means it is flagged up for every patient undergoing such a procedure in future. I do the same with medication- or illness-specific recommendations. They are automatically served up to me for consideration whenever it is relevant to do so.

Of course, I won’t re-read it every time, but if it’s been a while I might refresh my memory. Your solution might be different. Perhaps you have a physical folder where you file client work. If so, you could consider separating it out into different sections for different kinds of work, and putting reading material relevant to each right at the front of each section. However you do it, the aim is make subsequent retrieval timely (always and only when needed) and with no active effort on your part.

Please let us know what you think in the comments, or how you do it (in whatever you do it in!)

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