You Can Manage your Practice, But Can You Manage Your Time?
As a solo practitioner, you need to be able to manage people, finances, practice development and all of the other responsibilities of the practice, but when you are done with all of that, it’s your time that typically goes un-managed. Most practice consultants would agree that if you’re not in control of your time, then you are probably not in complete control of your practice. In fact, under these circumstances, the practice may be controlling you, which is not conducive to sustained growth or personal well-being.
We’ve all learned time management skills at one time during our lives, however, their application in a practice setting are tested well beyond the capacity of most physicians. Time management needs to be more than applying a skill or developing a habit; it needs to be tactical, with a true business objective, detailed action steps, tracking, accountability and evaluation.
Assess your Strength and Weaknesses. Effective time management begins with a complete understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. A time management plan needs to capitalize on your strengths, which may include certain management functions, strategy or other operational aspects of the practice. Weaknesses might include delegation, prioritization, financial management, administrative details.
Prioritize Your Business Functions. Compile a complete list of the functions that are performed in the practice broken down by frequency – daily, weekly, etc. Then sort these function by their priority beginning with essential functions and non-essential functions. Essential functions are those that can only be performed by you or other key people in the business. Non-essential functions can be performed by any person given the proper training.
Align Essential Functions with Your Strengths and Opportunities. As the business leader, your time must be spent exclusively with essential functions. Ideally, you will only undertake the functions for which you are trained, treating patients. Then list those essential functions for which you are not well-suited. The problem for sole practitioners is that they might spend an inordinate amount of time on these other functions which can be major time eater. It may be time to think about outsourcing some functions.
Color Coordinate Your Calendar. Map out your week with all functions in which you are involved, essential and non-essential. Then apply a color code of green, yellow and red to the functions. Blocks of time during which you are with patients are coded green. Functions don’t directly result in revenue but are important in advancing business goals are coded yellow. Functions that neither generate revenue nor advance key business goals are coded red. Most non-essential functions should be coded red. Your goal should be to maximize your green time and minimize your red time.
Delegate all non-essential functions. A solo practitioner should spend as little time as possible working in the red, as much time as possible in the green and sometimes in the yellow. While this may be easier said than done, the number one time killer for practitioners is any time that is spent on non-essential functions. Most of these can be performed by an employee, a virtual assistant or outsourced. If it takes some time and expense to train someone to perform the function, the investment will pay off quickly with big returns when you’re time is freed for green and yellow activities. Your key employees should also be freed from working in the red.
Outsource Your Weaknesses. Trying to perform essential functions that are not your strength could actually hurt your practice. They can cost you and your practice time and money especially if they take more time to perform or they are performed inadequately. Functions such as administration, insurance processing, practice development, legal, financial, human resource, are all essential; however, they can also be performed on an outsourced basis. And, because contracted individuals are paid for performance, or on retainer, the practice can control costs and, ultimately, save money.
Time management for solo practitioners is not about habits or skills. It’s about taking a tactical approach to organizing, prioritizing and delegating business functions that result in the business owner having the time to work on the practice, not just in the practice.