Time After Time: Managing Workflows by Frequency

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Plan for weekly, monthly, and yearly time frames

By Nathan Risley

Creating better habits will always be on your to-do list. Intentional and automated actions are excellent tools to streamline efficiency. For myself, I have found that this becomes an all-or-nothing exercise in changing my ways. If I have something that I can make a daily task for, it is almost always a low effort to make it routine for me. After a week or two, it works into my daily checklist with ease.

Where we may run into problems is with those tasks and actions that we want to turn into habits but that occur with inconsistent frequency. It is these tasks that have the highest chance of getting missed or de-prioritized to a dangerous level.

Around our office, we often look for triggers to remind us of when we have specific tasks to get done. If a patient is at the desk scheduling their appointments, we have that trigger to then update their plan of care in our tracking system. These triggers are sometimes easy to identify, and in that case, they become a natural guide to the workflow. But when we assess the weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks, we need specific tools to guide us and catch those action items in a timely manner.

Your workflow organization will need to be tailored to your needs and style. As a not-so-naturally-organized person, I have gone through many trials and errors to find what works for me. There are some good places to start when designing how you will organize your mid- to long-term workflow and goals.

PAPER, DIGITAL, OR BOTH

There are many organizational tools and techniques to help you create an efficient workflow while keeping you on track. With so many apps, digital calendars, and spreadsheets available, it seems as though there is a digital solution for just about any situation. Tools like Google Calendar, Evernote, or personalized spreadsheets can help automate your organization. But these tools only work if you use them. Some people prefer the tactile interaction of actually writing something down in a notebook, legal pad, bullet journal, or any other number of physical organizing tools. The act of physically writing down your thoughts and tasks may even help embed them into your memory. And who doesn’t love crossing things off a list?

For myself, I combine the two — I use a notepad for my daily and weekly tasks, and when it comes to long-term tasks or tasks that occur less frequently, I use a workflow spreadsheet to make checklists of things that need to get done on weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual intervals. In my role as an office manager who must keep up with the fast pace of a busy front desk, it has been integral for me to have such a list to keep track of all the reports and follow-ups that aren’t so apparent from my day-to-day tasks. Having that 15,000-foot view of the entirety of your responsibilities makes the seemingly unmanageable feel within your control.

Something that has been incredibly helpful in making sure that all my bases are covered is creating my workflow spreadsheet based on my job description. It might seem obvious, but this exercise didn’t only help keep my tasks in check; it also helped define my role with concrete expectations and goals. Something to consider when developing your staff and the roles they fill is how well they understand the role over the course of time beyond a daily workflow.

REMINDERS FOR YOUR REMINDERS

Organizational processes should be reviewed and refined as you find what works best for you. Sometimes trying a new strategy will spark something that really revolutionizes your workflow and efficiency. The key is to make sure you use those tools and they are not lost to the minutia of the day. This is why we need accountability — so that all the work we put into organizing our workflow will prove to be a fruitful pursuit. There are some great safety nets we can prepare for ourselves.

I make sure to have my “workflow by time frame” summary somewhere I will see it constantly. My overview of tasks is kept on a spreadsheet like the one below on my desktop so that I see it each time I log on to my work computer. This is just a simple spreadsheet of each task I have to complete, with a checkbox, its frequency, and the date it was last completed.

For any task that is less frequent than weekly, I will create a reminder on my online calendar. Placing a reminder directly on my schedule in our EMR software is another way to trigger my memory when I am reviewing the day’s happenings. When a task is completed, I record it on my spreadsheet and add a reminder to my calendar for the next time it comes up.

With so many moving parts, I prefer to have yet another layer of accountability by having another staff member in charge of auditing some of my reporting on a weekly basis. This collaboration has the benefit of both giving me a helping hand in keeping on top of everything needed to get done while also getting other members of the team invested in the operations of the clinic. I find that the group project mentality also helps fend off complacency — I never want to do half-hearted work that affects other team members’ abilities to do their job the best they can.

Organization is something that I am constantly reviewing and revising, knowing it is not one of my natural strengths. It is because of this that coming up with solutions and seeing those practices positively influence workflows feels like a double win. These practices must evolve as roles and circumstances change. There are so many variables that we can tweak little by little to create big outcomes in efficiency and effectiveness. And by experimenting with your own format, you can make sure you are making these tools work for you — not the reverse. 


Nathan Risley

Nathan Risley is the office manager at Action Potential in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at NRisley@reachyours.com.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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