Now What? How to Fill your Calendar with the Right Things

When you start your private practice, it can feel like you have a blank calendar and only vague ideas about what should go into it… besides seeing clients, of course. Your most valuable asset as a private practitioner is your time. In addition to your clinical expertise, time is what your clients pay you for— and that’s what you have to manage successfully to really grow your practice.

Here are some ideas on putting together your most effective schedule:

Figure out how much time you have to work with.

I know this seems obvious, but just because there’s an hour free on the calendar it doesn’t mean that there’s an hour available for work. You want to make sure not to overbook or set unrealistic expectations. Schedule what your body/mind/spirit can do, rather than what you wish they could do. Don’t schedule something in the wee hours if you’re not a morning person, or have a late night planned if you are.

Also, whenever you can, schedule in a buffer around your important items. Extend your anticipated travel time and make sure to plan transition time between activities. Don’t make your schedule one where everything has to go perfectly and, even then, you’re running from one thing to the next. That guarantees you’ll be stressed out, late and potentially seen as incompetent or disrespectful.

Set guidelines around what work means for you.

When I first started, I was working 15-hour days because I kept seeing networking coffees as “time away from the office.” I couldn’t figure out why I was so totally burnt out, because I really wasn’t “at work” that much. As your own boss, you must identify what’s a work activity and what is not. You have to decide what is worth doing and what isn’t. And everyone has an opinion. Make sure to classify your activities, so you know how much you’re doing every week. Networking, marketing, clinical training, paperwork, phone calls, and especially client sessions all need to happen. So, make sure you put the right amount of each activity in your schedule.

You don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, so decide what your work activities are and then assess if they’re effective. For example, interacting on social media can be an important marketing activity, but can also be a major time suck. Ask yourself questions like: Does this activity bring in new referrals? Does it support high quality clinical care? Make sure you’re meeting your practice goal and not wasting time on stuff that doesn’t work.

Schedule the highest priorities first.

It’s important to schedule the highest priorities first — not when you get around to them. Steven Covey creatively explains how to schedule things effectively in one of his signature talks. To summarize, the activities of your life should be classified by level of importance. Your highest priorities are big rocks (e.g., family and friends, big projects, community service), less important activities are pebbles, and filler activities (like mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed) are sand.

To make an effective schedule, you put in the big rocks first, when  there’s plenty of room. You don’t try to shove the big stuff in after filling your schedule with sand. What are your big rocks? Make sure you know, so you can budget ample time. They shouldn’t be after thoughts—they’ll always get short-changed if you do that!

Chunk your time.

When you know what your big rocks are, use some popular time management techniques to up your productivity. Schedule blocks of time to complete tasks and “chunk” your time by type. If I’m seeing clients, let me keep seeing clients. If I’m writing, let’s keep on writing. You can get in a rhythm and keep on trucking — doing your absolute best work from deep inside the zone.

Switching back and forth throughout the day accumulates a lot of transition time. It takes different mindsets and skills for different types of tasks, so it can be especially hard to get into a rhythm if you don’t chunk your time appropriately. Now – you want to make sure you don’t overdo it (like seeing 9 clients in a row without a break or slogging through a 7-hour marathon writing session). But, when you chunk your time by activity, it can make you more efficient.

Manage crises.  

Now, of course, all of this time management stuff flies out the window when there’s a crisis. But what makes something truly, can’t-put-it-off-for-a-moment critical? We have to determine that, because oftentimes, especially when it’s somebody else’s problem, everything seems to rise to that level.

First off, you’re not responsible for others’ crises. Friends, colleagues, or family members often feel entitled to your help, even if it puts you in a bind. You can also do this to yourself—you get an idea of something you need to do and drop everything to do it—with the same results. Your impeccably planned day, with time blocked off for the big rocks, is now in shambles. True crises need to be managed immediately. They are life or death (literally or figuratively for your family, friends, or clients).

When you feel the “crisis” energy come upon you, take a breath and figure out if you can wait. Can I schedule time later to handle this? Can I delegate to someone else? Can I stay on track or do I need to derail my day? Don’t jump in until you’ve answered no to all of these questions.

Know what is enough.

There are a million things you could do each day. How do you know when it is enough?

If you have prioritized top tasks that support the big picture in a single-minded, efficient way to achieve high quality work, it is enough. It may be more than enough, depending on what you are expecting of yourself. But know that it is, at the very least, enough.

How do you determine what is enough?  

  • Set reasonable expectations. Give yourself a reachable point at which you can say, I have done enough. For today, this week, this month, etc.  
  • Stop once you are done. It seems obvious when you’re not in the weeds, but too many times people keep going, making busy work or starting a new task when they are out of gas.  
  • Do what’s best for you. Always stop when you need rest or you have accomplished enough for the day.

It is so much easier when your boss hands you a schedule and says, “Do this.” But, with the freedom of entrepreneurship comes the responsibility to manage your own time.

What do you think? Where are you getting caught up? Let’s chat.

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