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Keys to finding balance in a successful practice


"How can I have a successful private practice and still ensure life balance?" In 2016, this is the question I hear most frequently. It should come as no surprise to you that busy eyecare practitioners need help with time management issues.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

How can I have a successful private practice and still ensure life balance?

In 2016, this is the question I hear most frequently. It should come as no surprise to you that busy eyecare practitioners need help with time management issues.

Blog: For whose convenience—the practice or the patient?

Yes, the bright professionals I coach have usually found a way to juggle career, family, and extracurricular activities during an ordinary day. It is the un-ordinary day that creates havoc.

Develop your action plan before you get into a crisis

Certain ‘surprise’ situations cannot be ignored. Other time-consuming activities are joyful and are meant to be celebrated. None can be put off to the last minute. All involve time management.

What is on your list?

Typical challenges mentioned to me include the following:

  •    Writing and conducting all 2015 service reviews (deadline missed)

  •    Unexpected pregnancy

  •    Thinking through counseling sessions with key employees regarding performance lapses

  •    Hiring to fill a unexpected job vacancy

  •    Finding an associate doctor

  •    Training/coaching employees not able to keep up with clinic pace

Money Matters: Is it better to pay off debt or invest my money?

Taking control of your time


Time management is important for almost everyone. You can succeed professionally and still have a life by dividing up your day.

Your time is your responsibility. Take control of your time so you can take control of your life. Begin with a personal time study and allow that harsh look at the past to motivate you to quit putting out fires and operating in crisis mode. By keeping a log and completing a time study on yourself, you will be able to identify your hours of peak productivity. Everyone is different. 

Stephen Covey calls this Habit #7 and explains it with a story:

A woodcutter strained to saw down a tree.  A young man who was watching asked â€œWhat are you doing?”

“Are you blind?” the woodcutter replied. â€œI’m cutting down this tree.”

The young man was unabashed. â€œYou look exhausted! Take a break. Sharpen your saw.”

The woodcutter explained to the young man that he had been sawing for hours and did not have time to take a break.

The young man pushed back… â€œIf you sharpen the saw, you would cut down the tree much faster.”

The woodcutter said â€œI don’t have time to sharpen the saw. Don’t you see I’m too busy?”

Covey explains the parable:

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. As you renew yourself in each of these four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice my other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Not a pretty picture, is it?

Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you. You can experience vibrant energy. Or you can procrastinate and miss out on the benefits of good health and exercise. You can revitalize yourself and face a new day in peace and harmony. Or you can wake up in the morning full of apathy because your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal–a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.”[i]

Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Exam the activity log you kept as part of your time study. Look for small increments of time by prioritizing, limiting interruptions, and effectively managing meetings.

Spend time in key areas even when there are more pressing things to do, and even when there is no apparent return on your efforts. Leave margin in your day for the unexpected. Having the life-balance you crave means being strategic with how you use your administrative time.

Putting it in view: 4 secrets to sustaining success in your practice

Administrative time


Administrative time

Administrative time is the amount of time you set aside to work on key business elements. Practitioners with well-trained front office employees may be able to do this in 10 or less hours. Those without skilled support staff are typically looking at 18 or more hours of time concentrating on key management metrics.

Are you frustrating yourself and annoying your staff by thinking you can get everything done in an hour grabbed here and there during office hours? Research suggests that the brain needs about 30 minutes to recover from an interruption—even the most brief phone calls.

Some aspects of practice management just don’t fit well into the beginning or end of clinic. Issues such as the following require larger, one-hour-plus chunks of uninterrupted time to plan.

  •      Personnel (performance documentation, service reviews, etc.)

  •      Marketing (1 – 5% of your gross collections invested in a plan with ROI, return on investment, tracked)

  •      Financial Issues (bill paying, reviewing payroll, revenue projections that guide staffing levels, raises and buying equipment, etc.)

  •      Familiarizing new employees with office procedures (a hands-on approach to training is often all a new practice can afford)

  •      One-on-one skills training with employees lagging behind patient flow (patient care is only as good as your weakest link)

The good news is that today’s virtual connectivity means those must-do items from the above categories that don’t involve staff training can be done from your laptop at home. It’s not as bad as you think. Personally, I just gave up television. When my children were younger, early in my career, I chose to leave the office at 4 and pick the kids up from school. Every evening, from 9–11 pm, I was in my home office working. As my children got older, I worked at the office until 7 pm and got up at 4 am to work at home on administrative issues.

Excellence in care means that patients deserve your undivided attention during clinic. Employees also want to feel like you notice their hard work. Some things shouldn’t be said during a ten-minute telephone call driving to-and-from work or an email dashed off between patients. Give yourself face-to-face time with employees. Listen to your people; give feedback on performance and provide appropriate recognition. This includes communicating the team score and being their most positive cheerleader. Personnel management typically takes at least 90 minutes a day.

Just these simple changes will put you on a faster-track to your financial goals. Change is an inside job. Are you unhappy with your practice’s growth? The most local thing to change is you, the owner. Change how you do what you are already doing and look for improvement!

More: Legal tips to avoid a lawsuit from knocking on your door

[i]The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, by Stephen R. Covey.

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