Time Management Strategies for Turbulent Times
Make the most of your valuable time.
By Jamey Schrier, PT, DPT*
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Distracted, out of sync with your routine? We’re living through a time that demands deep, careful attention to our work and home lives. And yet the very same forces exerting that pressure—the pandemic, economic uncertainty, social upheaval—are making it a whole lot harder to focus.
I’m in constant communication with physical therapy practice owners across the United States. Most are running themselves ragged, trying to keep their practices afloat while also juggling additional responsibilities in their personal lives: taking care of kids at home, caring for older parents, or grappling with a spouse’s lost job. And on top of this internal and external stress, private practice owners are not only supposed to find time to treat patients, run a business, but continue to market to new clients, a task that most owners find unrelenting and exhausting.
If there was ever a moment to pause for a second and create a plan on how to use one’s time, it is now. Here’s some good news: effective time management practices do not have to be complicated. In fact, they can be quite simple. They require nothing more than your Google calendar—or, if you’re like my wife, who refuses to adapt to the age of technology, you can use your old-school calendar book.
These fundamental strategies are inherently self-sustaining; once launched, they require minimal attention to maintain. And when followed they will help you:
- Get more work done
- Spend less time doing it
- Increase your energy
Many people in our society view vacations and time off as a type of reward. If you work yourself to the bone, sacrificing everything, only then are you allowed to take a vacation.1
However, research supports a different perspective. People who are overworked, worn out, and zapped of their creative energy tend to make more mistakes and are more reactive to problems that occur in the workplace.2
So, where do you start when it comes to time management?
SCHEDULE TIME OFF
The first thing I urge you to do is to go to your calendar and block out days off for the rest of the year. These are full days, not half days off, where NO work is done. This is time devoted to family, friends, hobbies, and fun. These free days are your time to reenergize and rejuvenate.
It might feel odd to start here—you might even feel guilty—but free days are exactly what you need to keep your mind sharp, creative, and prepared to handle the problems that work throws at us. Nonstop working takes its toll on your energy, focus, and judgment. It creates chronic stress and paves a path straight toward burnout. We’ve known for years that the rates of burnout among health care professionals in general and physical therapists, in particular, are alarmingly high.3-5 And if you own your practice, you’ve got the sky-high burnout risk that comes with being an entrepreneur.6
It sounds counterintuitive, but the more free time you take, the more productive you’ll be when you are working, and you’ll make better, smarter decisions on behalf of your patients, your business, and your family. (This won’t be the last time I give you a strategy that goes against the grain—most of the best thinking in time management does exactly that.)
These precious free days aren’t going to offer themselves up. You can’t leave this to chance. Take out your calendar and block out all your free days until the end of the year, or at least for the next three months. And protect your free days with everything you’ve got!
So, what do you do after your free days are blocked off?
CHUNK YOUR DAYS (AND START WITH TREATMENT HOURS)
When I was practicing physical therapist, I spent years making this one costly mistake. Perhaps you’re making it, too. I scheduled patients anytime they wanted to come in—mornings, afternoons, evenings. If they wanted to be seen, I would accommodate their schedule at all costs. I wanted to capture every visit possible because I was afraid if I didn’t, these patients would go somewhere else.
I thought consistently bending over backward for people would result in more referrals and, ultimately, more profits. It didn’t. The only thing it did was wear me out physically, mentally, and emotionally. I exhausted myself putting in 12-hour days, and I didn’t even make the money I wanted because I was operating so inefficiently.
Fed up, I made a switch. I concentrated all my treating hours within specific blocks of time. That’s what chunking is—blocking out extended periods of time to devote to a single activity, in this case, treatment. And I got busier. Patients conformed to my schedule and the engagement with my patients skyrocketed–along with my word-of-mouth referrals.
I realize this isn’t the typical advice you’d expect to hear as a health care provider. We must be accessible to our patients on their terms, so the thinking goes. I’ve learned otherwise.
Offering select hours creates one of the most important and desirable conditions: scarcity. Concentrating your treatment hours makes your service inherently more desirable and valuable to your patients.
Here are three results you can expect from chunking your days:
- Fewer cancellations. Patients will schedule out their plans of care because they’ll want to stay on your schedule at the time that’s most convenient for them. My practice utilization shot up when I started chunking my treatment days. And I had fewer treatment hours. Oh, and the same thing happened when I began to chunk my other physical therapist’s schedules, too.
- Being fully present. When you’re treating erratically throughout the day, it’s hard to get into a flow. It’s also tiring. Concentrating your clinical hours allows you to give your best to your patients and the work. That’s good for everybody!
- More time for strategic work. Rather than shouldering a series of lost hours in an on-off treating day, you’ll have larger blocks of time to devote to marketing and operations, and working “on” your business.
How do you ensure your newfound time won’t get taken up by other activities?
FOCUS ON YOUR BEST WORK
If you’re running your own practice, you’re staring down an endless array of tasks, to-dos and responsibilities that fall on you. There’s a good chance—I’ll go out on a limb here—you don’t like doing most of these tasks. Am I right?
Why does this matter? We get energy from the work we like. It’s a positive, self-reinforcing cycle that drives productivity and excellence, as well as happiness and well being. Somewhere along the line, society told us that work was supposed to feel like drudgery. It was supposed to be unfulfilling, even miserable at times. It’s just the way it is, we were told.
In my experience, I found this couldn’t be further from the truth. When we do activities we love, it doesn’t seem like work at all. Time flies and energy increases.
How do you start to weed out the stuff you like to do from the stuff you don’t? Hold your hat: you write it all down. Do a simple, thorough audit of your week, and write down every single thing you do at work. If you pick up the phone at your practice once a day, write it down. If you clean tables, take out the trash occasionally, write them down.
Label each and every activity as high-energy or low-energy. Keep in mind, if your response to an activity is indifference—i.e., I don’t mind that one—that’s a low-energy activity. The high-energy designation is reserved ONLY for things you love to do.
The next step is to take as many of those low-energy activities as possible off your plate.
DELEGATE, DELEGATE, DELEGATE
Whole books have been written about delegation, its importance to running a successful business and leading a life of purpose and happiness. For the purpose of time management: start with delegating one thing from the list of low-energy activities. I started by delegating answering the phones. Yes, I had a front desk person whose job it was to answer the phones, but I had a bad habit of picking up the phone and depriving her of the chance to do her job and me of valuable time that could be put to better use.
When you feel reluctant to give up a low-energy activity—and you probably will feel reluctant—remember these three things:
- Your time is worth much more than what you’ll pay someone to do it!
- Your low-energy activity is someone else’s high-energy, unique ability!
- Letting go is uncomfortable. And, yet, it’s the ONLY way to grow your business!
Becoming proficient with your time, takes time. Implement these time management strategies slowly, but consistently. And you too will increase your enjoyment of practice ownership and the impact you are making in the world.
1U.S. Travel Association. Time Off and Vacation Usage. https://www.ustravel.org/toolkit/time-and-vacation-usage. Accessed August 10, 2020.
2Achor S, Geilan M. The Data-Driven Case for Vacation. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-data-driven-case-for-vacation. Published July 13, 2016.
3Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Physician Burnout. https://www.ahrq.gov/prevention/clinician/ahrq-works/burnout/index.html. Accessed August 10, 2020.
4Campo MA, Weiser S, Koenig KL. Job Strain in Physical Therapists. Phys Ther. 2009;89(9):946-956. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737052/
5Reith, TP. Burnout in US Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review. Cureus. 2018;10(12): e3681. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6367114/
6de Mol E, Pollack J, Ho VT. What Makes Entrepreneurs Burn Out? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/04/what-makesentrepreneurs-burn-out. Published April 18, 2018.
Jamey Schrier, PT, is the Founder and CEO of Practice Freedom U, a business coaching and training company that helps physical therapy owners create self-managing practices that allow them the freedom they deserve and the income they want. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @JameySchrier on Twitter.
*The author has a professional affiliation with this subject.