Getting Stuff Done in Healthcare

dsc_9889-peter-powerBlog post by Colin Hung

There is a saying and a hashtag that is making the rounds in our office: #GSD aka Get Stuff Done (admittedly some use an expletive in that short-from). It has become the mantra of people within our organization who want to get things done despite the challenges in their way. Sometimes it is a lack of budget, a lack of time or simply a lack of organizational will.

People who get-stuff-done are valued in every organization. I would hazard to say that nothing really gets done in an organization of any size without people who are courageous enough to push aside the miasma of “it can’t be done” and “just do it”. I’m sure everyone reading this blog is a member of the get-stuff-done tribe and you likely work alongside others who are also members. People who get-stuff-done are precious and it’s our job as leaders to do whatever we can to support them.

Getting stuff done is difficult in healthcare. It is an environment where adhering to the status quo is the path of least resistance and where regulations dampen out-of-the-box thinking. On top of that, healthcare workplaces are full of distractions and ever-changing priorities that make focusing on a single task extremely challenging.

David Allen, best-selling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity said it best on an IntrepidNow interview (paraphrased):

It’s a busier world. We have more access to more things that are creating more change more rapidly in our world in terms of our priorities. The fact is that the world has opened up to “instant on” input. Any one of those modalities may produce some content or input that could totally change what your priorities are.

What Allen says is particularly true in healthcare. It seems every minute there is a new crisis, regulation, process change, drug, therapy or disease needing our attention. There is barely time to do anything more than just survive the day in healthcare. It shouldn’t be this way.

We need more GSD in healthcare. If we are only able to maintain the status quo, the system will soon collapse upon itself. But how do we get more done in healthcare? Do we need more technology? More people? More space/time to focus on longer-term projects? What is the magic formula?

According to Allen, the problem is people + process – meaning that people don’t have a good process for determining priorities which results in a downward spiral of declining productivity. Allen recommends these five steps in his GTD methodology:

  1. Capture. Get out of your head anything that you can’t finish in the moment
  2. Process. Decide what you are going to do about it (if anything) – any action steps or outcomes you are committed to
  3. Organize. Park the results of that thinking in a trusted place (notebook, iPad, etc)
  4. Reflect. Review those organized thoughts on a regular basis
  5. Engage. Focus on the next priority and equally feel okay about what you are NOT doing.

But is there a special GSD formulation needed in healthcare? If there is, Professor William Hsiao at the Harvard School of Public Health holds the keys. Hsiao has succeeded at implementing ground-breaking public health policies around the world – often succeeding where politicians, healthcare advocates and executives have failed. Hsiao was the mastermind behind Vermont’s state-level single-payer system. He was also the consultant brought in by the government of Taiwan to complete revamp the way they financed their healthcare system.

This wonderful article from Eric Bland summed up how Hsiao succeeded in public healthcare policy:

Hsiao’s true expertise lies in the ability to get things done where others cannot. “Politics tells you what political forces are at work, but it doesn’t give you good solutions to technical problems. Economics gives a good foundation to analyze the problem and develop technical solutions, but it doesn’t look at political viability,” he says. “If you don’t understand what is viable politically, you can design the most beautiful plan, but it won’t even get a hearing.”

To achieve the perfect balance, Hsiao, like a master chef, follows a recipe but varies the amount of each ingredient every time he steps into the kitchen. He begins with a base of economic theory, carefully measures in political will, stirs in an understanding of an organization’s hierarchies, seasons it with on-the-ground details, and then mixes it all together with an honest and affable personality. In the end, Hsiao makes a dish that everyone, from patients to politicians, can swallow.

I really like the “master chef” reference. In my role at Stericycle Communication Solutions, I feel like it is my duty to make sure we have the right ingredients to get-stuff-done. The most important ingredient is people. I place a premium on cultivating and hiring people who are driven to get things done – without alienating others within the organization along the way. These people are hard to find and when you do, hang on to them as long as you can by giving them more responsibilities and projects that are aligned with their passions.

Also key is giving space for those people to succeed. In other words, leaders need to stay out of the way of those that are driving things forward. The job of the chef is to bring out the flavors of the ingredients not overpower them. It’s the same for healthcare leaders. Our job is to create an environment for sustainable success not build a legacy in our own names.

Please join us on Tuesday October 25th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) when the #hcldr community will gather to discuss the following topics:

  • T1 What is the biggest barrier to getting stuff done in healthcare?
  • T2 Examples of people or healthcare organizations that get stuff done? What makes them good at GSD?
  • T3 What can have most positive impact on getting stuff done in healthcare – people, process or technology?
  • T4 What can healthcare leaders do to help people and patients get stuff done in healthcare?


“David Allen: Getting Things Done in 2015!”, David Allen interview by Todd Schnick, Intrepid Now, 2015,, accessed 22 October 2016

“Three Core Principles of GTD”, David Allen interview, Lionel Valdellon, Wrike, 11 November 2014,, accessed 22 October 2016

“6 Practical Tips for Getting Shit Done”, Stephanie Huston, Huffington Post, 17 October 2016,, accessed 22 October 2016

“The art of getting things done”, Eric Bland, Harvard School of Public Health, 2012,, accessed 22 October 2016

“Episode #16 – GTD and the Medical Community”, Julie Flagg MD and Julian Goldman MD, GTDTimes, 25 May 2016,, accessed 22 October 2016

“Toyota Kata in Health Care”, Mark Rosenthal, The Lean Thinker, 12 November 2015,, accessed 22 October 2016

“Overall Well-Being as a Predictor of Health Care, Productivity, and Retention Outcomes in a Large Employer”, Sears et al, Population Health Management, 1 December 2013,, accessed 22 October 2016

“How Should We Define Productivity in Healthcare?”, Robert Glatter MD, Forbes, 30 May 2012,, accessed 22 October 2016

“Bring order to chaos in medicine: Stick with an organizational system”, David Mann MD,, 4 August 2014,, accessed 22 October 2016

“ONC’s Mostashari wants to be remembered for getting things done”, Joseph Conn, Modern Healthcare, 14 April 2014,, accessed 22 October 2016

Image Credit

Thumbs Up – Chard Horwedel

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