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The Number 5

Posted May 27 2009 10:13pm
In the movie " The Number 23", the main character played by Jim Carrey is obsessed with the idea that all incidents and events are directly connected to the number 23, some permutation of the number 23, or a number related to the number 23.

I'm not obsessed, nor do I have OCD in any way, but much of my life is neatly organized into groups of 5.

Why 5?

I find that 5 is the maximum number of tasks I can do simultaneously without losing track of the details. Here's my framework for my career and personal life

1. BIDMC - As CIO of BIDMC, I have 5 direct reports
a. Clinical Systems
b. Financial Systems
c. Infrastructure
d. Knowledge Services (includes medical library and all online
e. Media Services

2. Harvard Medical School - As CIO of HMS, I have 5 direct reports
a. Administrative IT
b. Educational IT
c. Informatics
d. Infrastructure
e. Research IT

3. Standards- Chair of HITSP and Vice-chair of the HIT Standards Committee (Although the work we're doing includes 5 Tiger Teams,that was not a conscious choice on my part!)

4. Healthcare Information Exchange - Chair of NEHEN and CEO of MA-Share (MA-Share and NEHEN merger will be finalized in June) which supports 5 different use cases for data sharing.

5. Advisory Councils - I have 5 advisory positions
a. Food and Drug Administration Subcommittee on IT
b. Social Security Administration Future Technology Advisory Panel
c. Anvita Health Board of Directors
d. Epocrates IT Advisory Council
e. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation National Advisory Committee for Project HealthDesign

Personal Life
1. Family - (wife, daughter, mother, father and me)
2. Home and Garden (my Thursday blog will describe my 5 small gardens)
3. Japanese Flutes (I have 5 instruments)
4. Outdoors - (Hiking, Kayaking, Climbing, Running, and Biking)
5. Writing (blogs, IT journals, academic publications, popular press, lectures)

Each night before bed, I review my 5 career organizations and my 5 direct reports in each of my jobs to ensure I've resolved all the issues of each day. By always balancing five tasks, five people, and five projects in every area, I maximize my breadth without sacrificing the depth of my attention span.

There's no need to worry about my sanity, the number 5 is just a convenient mnemonic and not a pre-requisite for getting through the day. And now it's time to prepare for my 5 meetings tomorrow...
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