My days are full treating patients, so I often find my week ending with a lot of unfinished business dragging me down. I don’t like staying late, going to the office on weekends to catch up, or bringing charts home. My family time suffers. Do you have any tips for me?
It sounds like you are busy working in your practice, and that is good, but are you spending time working on your practice? There is a difference. Dentists are trained to act like dentists, and when we realize that our practices are so much more than just the clinical side, we struggle in our attempts to get it all done. You must find the time to work on your practice so that it doesn’t take over your life. That will only happen if you schedule it into your calendar.
Dan Sullivan, the “Strategic Coach” (www.strategiccoach.com), talks about free, focus, and buffer days. Understanding this concept will move you forward to designing your days so that you can spend more time with your family, achieve your goals, see your vision become a reality, and live a life of fulfillment.
Free day = day off
These are days when you do no professional work. Instead, you rest, recuperate, recharge, and reconnect with yourself and people who matter most to you. You neither run to the office to check on something, nor do you read journals or do bookwork. These are your days to spend as you like. Try to keep entire days free to enjoy.
Focus day = focused on getting results
These are the days during which you focus on doing what you get paid for, i.e., clinical dentistry. You see patients, take care of business, and focus on the results you get from your work.
Buffer day = all other stuff associated with business
These are the days during which you take care of all the other stuff that needs to get done, such as paperwork, correspondence, budgeting, administrative details, team meetings, and research. You must decide for yourself how much time a week you need to accomplish all these nonclinical activities. Typically, half a day a week is enough time. If you do not schedule these days into your week and calendar, then you will have to rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, they’ll come out of your free days. No wonder you are working evenings and weekends. You can further subdivide your buffer days into time spent alone and time spent with your team.
Think of these buffer days as future profit days. During this time, you should:
● Handle administrative tasks that you are unwilling to delegate to others.
● Plan treatment for patients and review charts and X-rays.
● Meet and role play with your team to improve your communication skills.
● Develop and refine systems for your office.
● Review with your team the health of your dental practice; what you do well, what you can improve. Receive input from all team members.
● Refine your customer service skills.
● Have in-house continuing education, review clinical techniques, or both.
Doctors, take 15 minutes of quiet time every morning regardless of which type of day it is to plan your day (or in the evening to plan the next day if you are a night person). This reflection time is invaluable. You must also plan adequate buffer time to meet with your team so that everyone is aware of what is going on. Your practice will operate more smoothly when you incorporate these get-togethers. Start each day with a morning huddle. Then schedule regular meetings as follows: weekly for one to two hours, monthly for half a day, quarterly for one to two days, and annually for two days. Adjust these time periods according to the size of your practice and your specific needs.
Put this together by getting a large wall calendar and three colored markers. Plan and book your free, focus, and buffer days at least a year in advance. Schedule your free days first, then fill in your focus and buffer days. How much vacation time or free time do you want? How many days per year do you want to see patients? When is your buffer time? Some days can be divided into focus and buffer days, but try to keep entire days open for free days. Color code your calendar and have one for the office and one for your home.
You will be amazed at how powerful this system can be for you. With your buffer days and buffer time scheduled into your calendar, you will find that there is little, if any, unfinished business to complete. You’re free to leave the office! ■
© 2006 Stephanie Houseman, DMD