TIME management is a misnomer. We cannot manage time. Everybody is allotted the same number of hours, minutes and seconds in a day - the only thing we can change is how we use them.
In an early book on our use of our time, How to live on 24 hours a day, author Arnold Bennett referred to the supply of time as “the daily miracle”, and time itself the most precious of possessions. He points out that all of us let time slip through our fingers, often embracing habits which use our allocation of time poorly.
This is not the place for a full exploration of time usage. Instead I want to encourage you to consider your attitude to time and perhaps make changes in order to feel more satisfied and happier with the way that you spend your time. I choose the word “spend” deliberately because that is what we do. We have an allocation – 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week – which we can allocate as we see fit.
When done thoughtfully with clear decisions made and followed through, then our hours, days and weeks are spent fruitfully and with satisfaction. Of course, if it was that easy we would be happier and more fulfilled. What makes it a challenge is that we are all pressurised, to a greater or lesser extent, on how we use our time.
Work smarter, not harder
The switch that was clicked in me when changing from being an associate to becoming a practice owner was profound. I came to understand that although I believed I had been hard working, and truly I thought I was doing my best, I was not at all. My response to most time pressures was merely to get my backside in the air and pedal harder.
As an associate I tended to do what was in front of me without much strategic thought. A principal needs to be more than familiar with a much bigger picture than the need to generate cashflow. Ensuring that your team members are working well, know exactly what is expected of them and are appreciated come high up the list.
Like everyone, I believed that I worked hard, but I was confusing energy, effort and efficiency with being effective. Unless we are working effectively – defined as successfully producing a desired or intended result, for which we need to understand that big picture – then effort and time spent can be wasted.
The past 18 months have seen new and very different types of challenges in everything that dental teams do - from the clinical difficulties brought about by PPE and cross infection control, reassuring patients, supporting other team members and maintaining income. Now we are facing the pressures of trying to catch up.
Loans need to be re-paid, the more timid, older or isolating patients, many absent for well over a year, must be seen and treated accordingly. Growth and business development needs to continue with marketing adjustments reflecting the current situation.
These forces may translate into greater and different demands on time.
The temptations may be there to work longer hours and to cut corners with reduced appointment lengths. Associates, therapists, hygienists and nursing staff can easily get wrapped up in these time demands. A sense of urgency with promises of overtime and a feeling of obligation to the practice whilst the catch-up goes on can prove a distraction.
It’s now that having a sensible, well reasoned and thought through approach to our use of time comes to the fore. When working with practices it is a privilege for me to watch and analyse the way they work, observing patterns and suggesting small changes to improve their methods. This is diametrically opposed to what I have heard described as “sweating the asset”, which can result in the burnout of individuals, equipment and systems.
Effective working tips
Here are a few tips around respecting time and the way that you use it.
Be aware of time. Learn to focus so that when you’re on, you’re on. Beware temptations to multi-task - there is always one team member who thinks that you can and should. Avoid distractions.
Watch other people, not only dentists, work and learn from them. How do they spend their minutes, hours and days? Search for the effective.
Respect other people’s time. Try to see things from their point of view.
Look at top athletes. Consider the way they train in order to give their very best in competition. Learn about recovery time – something I learned about the hard way years ago.
Don’t rush. When you work clinically or otherwise, rushing never works. Patients dislike feeling hurried.
Reflect routinely. Ask yourself: “What’s working? What isn’t? What should I reduce, change or stop doing? What should I start doing or do more of?”
I believe time pressures influence most problems; the majority are within our control but too often we allow ourselves to be influenced and constrained by others. It’s your time nobody else’s. Use it well.
Alun K Rees is an experienced dental practice owner who works as a coach, consultant, troubleshooter, analyst, speaker, writer and broadcaster. Find out more at www.dentalbusinesscoach.co.uk