Not long after he was promoted to Clinical Development Manager in Israel, Doron Manzur had a tight timeline to write a medical protocol. Protocols like this, which physicians use when enrolling patients in Novocure’s clinical studies, are documents that house significant instructions and data. Writing the clinical protocol to meet the urgent deadline was one of the most difficult tasks he’s faced at Novocure.
This particular protocol included 10 highly detailed supporting documents. To focus and stay on track, Doron only worked on one document at a time before he started another. Additionally, he was able to put his other assignments on hold so that he could focus on the protocol.
“Trying to work on everything at once makes it more difficult to complete the whole task,” said Doron, who’s now a Senior Manager of Clinical Development. “Each document in the protocol submission is connected to the others. It’s much easier to finish the whole assignment by focusing on a single document at a time because it allows you to maintain consistency between them.”
Focus can be particularly difficult to lock in when starting a new project with a steep learning curve.
Marco Carrino, Senior Director Global Business Lead, MAXPOINT™, has experienced such demanding starts throughout his career. He joined Novocure in 2016 to build our EMEA marketing capabilities. Now, he is leading the commercial launch of our next-generation TTFields treatment planning software platform, MAXPOINT.
A business economist by training, Marco had scant technical software development expertise and no experience commercializing software platforms when he joined the MAXPOINT project. Step one — researching as much as he could about the software and picking the brains of its talented developers — came naturally to the inquisitive polymath.
The crucial next step with this project and others, Marco said, was “identifying my North Star,” or defining the commercial end goals. In collaboration with Thomas Hefti, Senior Vice President EMEA, Marco developed the strategic building blocks of MAXPOINT that empower radiation oncologists to visualize and maximize the dose delivered to the target region of the patients using our therapy.
Faced with ambitious deadlines and ever-proliferating Post-It reminders of important tasks, Marco prioritizes based on his guiding North Star. As a generalist leader working with cross-functional specialists, he strives to remind others to maintain perspective of the big-picture practical objective, and to not get lost in the departmental weeds.
“In the end, I’m responsible for making sure that MAXPOINT reaches the market in such a way that it will be successful,” he said.
Marco, based in Switzerland, is mindful of his work habits and attention span. He works a later shift to allow for additional collaboration opportunities with U.S.-based colleagues and because his mind is at its most creative in the evening. To increase focus, he listens to soft background music, but avoids lyrics in any of the six languages he speaks.
Over the course of his career, Marco has learned to avoid the temptation of jumping from one task to another every few minutes when under pressure. Conversely, he also realized his productivity declines when he’s focused on a single task for more than an hour or so. He now tries to give his undivided attention to a task for 45 or 50 minutes, and then takes a 5-minute break or turns to less deliberative work.
Employees juggling multiple projects frequently face competing priorities. Staying on top of a dynamic to-do list can at times feel like a mountain to climb. To make a list feel more manageable, Chief Financial Officer Ashley Cordova recommends identifying at the start of each day a single item that can minimize the amount of work needed in the future.
This method comes from entrepreneur and author Gary Keller, who asks readers in his book, The One Thing, “What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
“Focusing on your ‘one thing’ at the start of the day allows you to operate from a proactive position and can really save you headspace,” Ashley said. “This makes me productive because if I’m always clear on the next step, I’m reducing the number of actions I’ll need to take in the future.”
Novocure’s U.S. Revenue Operations team has applied a similar strategy over the past few years to help more patients secure Medicare coverage for our therapy and reduce the lag time to start treatment.
The Medicare appeals process has up to five rounds. Upon joining the company in 2020, Ed Palmgren, Director of Revenue Operations’ Government Reimbursement unit, challenged team members to win more appeals in the first two rounds. He encouraged team members to think more critically about each patient’s circumstances when making the case for Medicare coverage. For example, if coverage was initially denied because a patient didn’t start our therapy within seven weeks of the last dose of concomitant chemotherapy or radiotherapy, team members would provide the specific medical records demonstrating why the timeframe wasn’t feasible, rather than overwhelming Medicare administrators with paperwork.
By focusing on the most pertinent facts, our colleagues began making more concise, effective arguments for why our therapy was medically necessary.
Ed also challenged team members to submit Medicare appeals more quickly. At first, he held daily meetings to review work and ensure the team was focused on accomplishing the incremental tasks that add up to real change.
In addition, Ed opened the door to our Continuous Process Improvement team for help identifying other ways Government Reimbursement could more efficiently complete appeals. Another cross-functional committee focused on ensuring a higher rate of patients start treatment within seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, a requirement for Medicare reimbursement.
The focused effort paid off. We significantly increased the rate of patients who receive coverage earlier in the appeals process and cut in half the length of time of the average appeal.
I think clarity of roles and expectations simplified things for the team. I can't shout out the team enough for how well each member embraced the challenge and rose to the occasion. We are at the point now where they are seeing how the hard work and sharpened focus pay off and benefit patients.—
Director, Revenue Operations Government Reimbursement
When faced with high-priority deadlines, other employees are able to maintain focus because they know they can ask their colleagues for help.
Shiri Davidi, Product Development Project Manager, Preclinical Studies, Israel, managed the development of the inovivo system, a comprehensive tool to conduct Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields) experiments in mice. She created replicable guidelines and processes that have enabled many collaborators and outside laboratories to conduct their own TTFields experiments. This research has led to new insights on how TTFields can be used to treat cancer.
To maintain their focus, Shiri and her team have an understanding that they can ask each other to support certain tasks and responsibilities to better meet project deadlines. To send the system to institutions in time, Shiri’s colleagues helped her with tests, experiments and documentation that kept the project on track.
“When you’re trying to meet a deadline, you have this high adrenaline that can help you focus, but it only lasts for a short time,” Shiri said. “When your adrenaline decreases, it helps to know that your team is there to help you. This can really allow you to focus on your tasks, even if you don’t ask for their help.”
Employing project management strategies is essential to meeting deadlines, but monitoring physical wellbeing is equally important to focusing and producing quality work. Maintaining a healthy body can help reduce stress, inspire joy and reset focus.
Teresa Freeman Parker, Operations Support Specialist I, U.S., shared how healthy habits improve her focus at work. To clear her mind, Teresa practices mindful breathing every day, which helps her in several different areas in her work life.
“Mindful breathing is a technique I had to truly develop and focus on to make it a daily routine,” Teresa said. “It brings a sense of peace and joy in those moments when I need to make time and slow down and reset. It helps provide calmness when multi-tasking becomes a little overwhelming or when there’s an increase in my work flow.”
She also uses a helpful mindfulness app called Insight Timer that helps her stay grounded and start her days off right. In addition to practicing mindfulness, Teresa ensures she is getting enough sleep, fueling her body with healthy snacks, and most importantly, taking frequent breaks.
“It’s as simple as putting on my headphones and listening to music or just leaving my desk and going to another room to clear my thoughts,” Teresa said. “When I follow these daily habits, I can truly feel my stress and anxiety levels decrease.”
Though the approaches to focus vary, spending time and energy in an intentional manner is essential to propelling our mission forward.
“Our aspirations are sky-high,” Ashley said. “We want to bring our therapy to as many people who can benefit from it. That’s a large task that doesn’t lend itself to one specific strategy. It seems counterintuitive, but by narrowing our focus to individual plans, I believe we’re more able to achieve extraordinary results.”
It’s as simple as putting on my headphones and listening to music or just leaving my desk and going to another room to clear my thoughts. When I follow these daily habits, I can truly feel my stress and anxiety levels decrease.—
Teresa Freeman Parker
Operations Support Specialist I