The Key to Success: Creating Checklists (no really!)

Too often, private practitioners cobble things together, focusing on DIY solutions to save money without realizing the actual cost. We can spend hours building a website, creating charts, and figuring out our books. Wasting time reinventing the wheel using substandard tools we don’t know how to use and driving ourselves absolutely mad for little to no gain.

So let’s talk about how to set yourself up for success.

Identify and simplify repetitive tasks.

In your practice, I promise that you’ll have the freedom to be creative and perform individualized treatment — the things you got into this field to do. However, screening referrals, on-boarding clients, getting started in treatment, and completing your documentation will not be creative. If you’re doing it right, it’ll be the exact same dull process every single time.

These tasks might not be exciting, but they don’t have to be hard. Determine what you do for every client and then create a repeatable process for each step. Play around to see what works best. Does it make sense to change the order of something? Is it smoother to ask for a form ahead of time? Identify which processes are repeatable, so you don’t need to think about what to do each time. When you create processes, you’ll save time — plus you’ll appear much more professional and polished to your clients and referrals.

Invest in the right tools.

It’s important to figure out what resources can streamline repeatable processes. Talk yourself through each step and see where tools might help. Research what others use to be effective and efficient. Consider which resources you need right away and then bite the bullet and invest.

Too many people say that they’ll wait to spend money until they have more clients or income, which doesn’t really make sense. So many tools cost relatively little money and save tons of time and effort. A strong electronic health record like SimplePractice, for example, will save you time (building charts, creating forms, setting up credit card accessibility, etc.) and money (paper, ink, and appropriate physical storage). In addition, learning these systems and setting them up early saves you a ton of time in the long run. Waiting until you’re swamped means you won’t have time to learn them and may have to do extra work to get set up. Figure out what you need and invest in it now.

Create checklists and templates.

Once you have your processes figured out and know which tools you’re going to use, don’t keep on reinventing the wheel. Make a checklist, so you remember  each step. Create templates for everything you can so you don’t have to type things out more than once.

Ideal spots for checklists are during your initial call, first session, and closing session. You’ll memorize your checklist eventually, but to start out write it all down. Don’t just trust your memory. When you get talking with a client, you’re likely to forget something.  

You might put together something like this for the initial phone screen:

  1. Make sure you have the time and privacy to conduct the call.
  2. Screen for the presenting problem and fit for your practice and expertise.
  3. Discuss fees, insurance, and any other financial matters and get a preliminary agreement.
  4. Set up the client in SimplePractice and send out their intake email.
  5. Set up the first appointment in SimplePractice before finishing the initial phone call.
  6. Send a welcome email with directions to your office and information to contact the insurance biller, if appropriate.
  7. Write a brief note in the new chart.

Once you have your checklist, you can create templates for each piece. In this example, you have a lot already created for you in SimplePractice, but having a template for the welcome email that you can cut and paste into a new message can save you quite a bit of time. Other templates you may want to create: progress notes (assessment and regular session notes), progress, attendance, and termination letters, and any other frequent client communications. Create a template folder, so you can add forms each time you create something new.

Make sure your systems work.

Once you’ve got your processes in place and know what you are going to do, test them out. Create your forms and load all your clients into SimplePractice. Create an easy to find folder with all of your templates. Actually use your checklists, so you don’t forget things.

Too often, our work feels worse without these systems in place. We think we’ve got it down, but miss something because we don’t utilize a checklist. Maybe we’re scrambling because we haven’t uploaded our forms into SimplePractice and still need to scan and upload completed documents for new clients. Create everything you need for the whole system and then test it. Walk through it as though you’re the client and make sure it makes sense, that it’s smooth, and that you haven’t forgotten anything.

Add team members to your systems and processes.

Once you get going, you may see that you don’t like or aren’t good at something. I think it’s important to recognize that your time is extremely valuable and, if you can, you should really delegate the tasks you hate or aren’t good at. Hire a bookkeeper and an insurance biller. Get an assistant to handle your social media and an office manager to take care of logistics. Whatever makes sense for you in your practice.

Once you’ve hired a team, you need to make sure to incorporate them into the systems or processes you’ve already established or even create new ones. Plan for communication between team members. Make sure everyone knows what you expect of them, including what they need to do at each point and who they report to. Ensure that there are checks and balances with clear accountability.

Setting up these systems can take a lot of time up front, but will save so much time in the long run. When your business is running smoothly, your clients appreciate it. When you have a clear on-boarding system, referrals want to work with you. Even better, you won’t have to worry about the administrative stuff and you can focus on the clinical work. That’s the reason you became a therapist in the first place, right?

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