Time Management: A Foundational Key to Practice (and Personal) Success
For more than a decade the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) has made it its mission to provide dental office managers and practice administrators the business tools they need to run a successful practice. These tools, such as educational webinars, local chapter networks, and practice management training, are vital, but unless a dental office employs good time management skills, implementing best practices for practice management can be quite challenging-it's like "putting the cart before the horse."
Practice managers and business owners understand that working efficiently and using time smartly impacts team morale, patient retention, and, most notably, production. The following are simple, realistic time management tips that practice administrators can implement to help ensure that the dental office team uses its time wisely on a daily basis:
Prioritize Tasks- At the beginning of each day, create a short "to-do" list of what must be done and what you would like to see get done. Prioritize the "must" tasks in order of necessity. "Wants" should be given a due-by date, depending on their importance. Start the day by working from the top of the to-do list and work down, marking off one task at a time. If possible, multitask by delegating out portions of your duties to other team members. Ideally, there should be no items on Monday's list that are still left undone by Friday.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate- Every employee's job description should include a list of tasks for which she or he is responsible. Weekly or monthly routines can be changed out to ensure important jobs are not missed. For example, everyday chores like taking out the trash or wiping down the patient restroom should be delegated to specific people, so that cleanliness is maintained and team members do not argue over what is or is not their responsibility.
Practice managers should delegate other duties to team members when their schedule allows for the task. This helps reduce others' workloads. If a hygiene patient no-shows and the hygienist isn't busy sharpening instruments or performing inventory, ask her or him to help you sort through that growing pile of paperwork. Or, have your new receptionist shadow you to learn a new task so you can offload it onto someone capable of handling it (leaving you more time to address other pressing office management issues).
For some people, being able to "let go" of responsibilities is a learned skill. They may be a perfectionist or insist on doing things themself. Unfortunately, this just leads to work fatigue. To adapt this skill, start out small, delegating less important tasks to someone who can be trained to do them equally as well. Actually, if your team is well-trained, delegation should not be an issue. Consider it a "win" when you can delegate. It means sound processes are in place and more than one person can carry out a given task.
Cross-train- Cross-training of staff is essential to be able to delegate out tasks that may not fall under each member's traditional job description. Whether it's training the sterilization technician how to answer phones, the assistant on checking out a patient, or a receptionist seating patients and reviewing their treatment plan, some overlap may be needed to allow the pressures of a rigid practice schedule to flow more smoothly. The key is to identify these "overlap" areas and ensure appropriate team members are capable of assisting when needed. This way if someone calls in sick, the practice doesn't fall apart.
Time Studies: Work Smarter, Not Harder- Dental offices should perform time studies at least once a year so all team members, from the financial coordinator to the dentist, can track how they spend each minute of their day. Time-tracking software systems are available that can analyze data for the practice on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. By identifying room for improvement the office can then implement changes that save everyone, including patients, valuable time in their day. In turn, overall production may increase. For example, if patients spend on average 6 minutes completing paperwork and an additional 4 minutes waiting to be seated, making paperwork available online or mailing it to patients in advance may eliminate several minutes of downtime per hour.
Maintain Office Hours- In speaking with and listening to AADOM members, I've learned how important it is to "unplug." Office managers must make it a priority to leave work literally and figuratively when they exit the building for the day. Spending some time exercising, volunteering, enjoying hobbies, or simply with friends and family is critical to clear the mind and be able to return to work with a new ability to focus.
For those who consider themselves workaholics, staying at the office until everything on the to-do list for the day is done simply isn't always possible. Working too long for too many days a week isn't necessarily healthy. In fact, it can even mask underlying efficiency problems that should be addressed. My advice: Get home in time to enjoy dinner, squeeze in a workout, or do whatever it is you like doing. Be well-rested so you can take on whatever the next day has in store.
About the Author
Founder and President, American Association of Dental Office Management, Red Bank, New Jersey; AADOM (dentalmanagers.com) teaches business management skills for the dental practice.