Plan to Succeed by Planning Ahead
Use long-term planning to avoid the last-minute surprises that can prevent your practice from running smoothly
By Elizabeth Baxter, MS
In a private practice, you develop a rhythm for managing daily tasks. Checking email, seeing patients, tending to equipment, reviewing daily billing, meeting with staff members — the repetition inherent in all of these tasks makes them easy to remember. Even weekly occurrences, such as running KPIs and responding to employees’ PTO requests, can develop a memorable cadence. Monthly occurrences, though, often surprise us, never mind annual concerns like reviewing your lease or getting started on your taxes.
To avoid the friction created by the need to tend to important last-minute concerns, it’s important to create a system whereby you can keep track of all pertinent tasks, no matter their frequency. You don’t need to rely on your memory, which has plenty to keep up with already, or external reminders from vendors or other sources. Instead, you can plan in advance by scheduling your own notifications and creating systems that will prevent surprises from stopping you in your tracks.
If you find yourself consistently unable to plan beyond your daily task list and, as a result, constantly putting out fires when things arise unexpectedly, create a system that works for you and your practice. Commit to setting aside some time to develop a plan for handling monthly and annually recurring tasks, and even more routine ones if needed. Work with your staff to delegate tasks that don’t require your regular attention. Involving your team members can help get everyone invested in the success of the new system.
Create a list of all recurring tasks. Ask any pertinent team members — the billing manager, for example — to submit lists of their own or join you in a brainstorming session. Things like biweekly paychecks, monthly electric bills, quarterly reviews, and annual insurance policy updates are all fair game.
Once you have your list, create an at-a-glance document with every item on it appearing in chronological order. This gives you peace of mind by allowing you to quickly glance over the list so you don’t have to comb through your entire calendar to see what’s coming up. You can do this in a spreadsheet, word processing program, or other task management tool. In some digital calendars, you can also simply toggle to a setting that will show you your calendar events in list form. The most important thing is that the system you create works for you and your team.
Depending on the software you use for your at-a-glance document, you may be able to simply add notifications to the list you’ve already created. If that isn’t possible, you now need to schedule notifications through another program. Either way, be sure your notifications will integrate well into your preexisting daily tasks. A program that will send you an email notification or ping another task management system that is already in place in your office is perfect. For some items, like taxes, you may want weekly notifications beginning two months in advance. For others, like paying monthly bills, one or two business days might be enough notice — or maybe one week would better suit your needs. Tailor the notifications to whatever makes the most sense for you and your practice.
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If you already keep up with the basics as they happen, not just on a daily basis but on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis as well, try refining your system even further to create a more efficient operational flow in your practice. Tap any staff members with a vested interest in such changes — anyone with relevant specialized knowledge should be included, and anyone whose workload might benefit from streamlining regular tasks should also be included. Consider dividing your lists by department if this applies to your practice.
Create templates for any and all written communications that you send on a recurring basis. Whether you send a quarterly newsletter to patients, order supplies via email, or populate a new KPI spreadsheet every month, there is no need to start from scratch every time. Highlight the portions of your template document that will need to be filled out with new information each time, and never directly edit the document; instead, save it as a new file so the template will be blank and ready for use next time.
Review any systems you already have in place to see whether prep work can be done that will better distribute the workload to avoid things piling up. If you perform a monthly P&L report, for example, can you enter daily or weekly data so that at the end of the month you just need to tabulate the final calculations? Scrutinize all areas of your practice where issues crop up around recurring tasks and see if it’s possible to streamline them.
On an annual basis, solicit feedback from your staff on the processes you have in place. You never know when a staff member will have a great idea for improving the workflow; often those closest to the work will have the best solutions for how to improve efficiency. And as your practice grows and changes with time, new areas in need of improvement may develop.
When processes at your practice are rolling happily along, the surprise need to review your lease or perform an annual maintenance check on your equipment can throw things out of whack. By planning ahead in tangible ways that integrate reminders and preparatory work into your preexisting operations, you can remove the element of surprise from your workdays, and as a result, you can remove a lot of stress as well.
Elizabeth Baxter, MS, is a staff writer for PPS and lives in New York City.