In the first post for the “How I Work Smarter” series, I called out Dr. Esther Choo (@choo_ek), because she is able to juggle so many interests and responsibilities flawlessly. She’s the principal investigator for a study, funded by the National Institutes of Drug Abuse, looking at a national computer-based intervention for women with substance use and interpersonal violence in the ED; Academic Emergency Medicine‘s first Senior Associate Editor for Social Media; and star presenter. Esther was kind enough to provide her best-practice tips for this ongoing series.

  • Esther ChooName: Esther Choo, MD MPH
  • Location: Providence, RI
  • Current job: Assistant Professor, Emergency Department, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
  • One word that best describes how you work: Nocturnally
  • Current mobile device: iPhone 5s
  • Current computer: MacBook Pro

What’s your office workspace setup like?

I have the following:

  1. One analytic computer for data analysis that is separate from everything else: that’s my data brain and where I keep Personal Health Information (PHI)
  2. One separate computer that I use for my RCT, since the software and plug-ins only work on a PC
  3. My laptop, which does everything else.

I backup everything on SugarSync, so I can access my files everywhere. (The alcohol to the right is for champagne taps, not part of the productivity/efficiency plan.)

Choo Desk

What’s your best time-saving tip in the office or home?

I use the Dragon app on my phone to dictate long emails, parts of papers, or new ideas while I am walking on the treadmill, watching my kids play in the yard, or otherwise not near a computer, so I don’t lose the wording/thoughts/etc.

What’s your best time-saving tip regarding email management?

Cluster times for email at the beginning and end of the day, so it doesn’t dominate the whole day. Email can snowball, so a little benign neglect is key.

What’s your best time-saving tip in the ED?

Be kind to the ancillary staff: secretaries, med techs, supply guys, security. When you are crushed, these guys can make a lot of important stuff happen for you fast.

ED charting: Macros or no macros?

Macros, but cautiously: I have used them for typical patients with very common presentations (LBP, low-risk chest pain), individualized as needed.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about work, life, or being efficient?

  1. As much as possible, everything you take on should serve more than one purpose.
  2. As much as possible, everything you take on should be in line with your main goals and objectives and consistent with your values.
  3. If you have a hard time saying no, say “I’ll think about it.” Then go back and say no later with a decent explanation and an apology.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers?

I’m also an obsessive whiteboard person, but I use it for checklists. It keeps me on track by breaking down my workload into manageable pieces. My core research stuff is in the column on the right, and every day in the office I try to move at least one thing in that section forward. Once I finish a task, I check it off and leave it on for a week or two so I can have a sense of accomplishment.

Choo Whiteboard

Who would you love for us to track down to answer these same questions? (list up to 3 names)

  1. Deb Houry
  2. Lainie Yarris
  3. Zack Meisel
Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at Bio:
Michelle Lin, MD