For Practice Managers: Four Steps Towards a More Manageable Workload

I’d like to begin this post with a special shout-out to you – the practice managers – who keep the wheels of our industry turning. From recruiting, staff training, and payroll administration to inventory control, budgeting, and everything in between, yours is an all-encompassing role. And that’s not taking into account all the extra responsibilities that inevitably land in your lap – like putting out unexpected fires and performing all of the tasks they forgot to list in your job description, if you were lucky enough to actually receive one!

While dedication and work ethic tell us we need to do it all, I’m here to tell you that you can’t, or at least, you can’t without compromising your personal well-being, and jeopardizing the future success of your practice. So, what are you supposed to do? There’s only one solution: figure out which tasks and responsibilities matter most. What follows are four initial steps you can take to help manage responsibility overload.
 

Step 1: Recognize that the 80/20 rule probably applies to you

Usually called the Pareto principle (after economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto), the 80/20 rule speaks to the “law of the vital few.” Essentially, it states that 20% of our actions are responsible for 80% of our achievements. Flip this upside down, apply it to your job, and what it suggests is that 80% of your efforts only generate 20% of the overall value you bring to your practice.

As discouraging as this may sound, what it actually tells us is that we can generate greater value by selectively doing less, and that’s good news! The question is, which tasks and responsibilities should you be letting go of? That brings us to the next step.
 

Step 2: Conduct a task audit

An example of what a Veterinary Practice Manager's task audit might look like.

Sample Task Audit – click to enlarge!

For two weeks, keep a detailed list of every work-related task you undertake, whether it’s part of your job description or not, whether it’s during or outside business hours. If you called Susan into your office for a chat when she showed up 20 minutes late, or stopped at the bank during your lunch hour to drop off a deposit, or took a call from the practice owner in the evening to discuss an important staffing issue, put it on your list.

In addition, log any time wasted at work, and be honest. (Nobody has to see this list but you.) Spent five minutes chatting to your mom? Snuck in 10 minutes to look for an easy weeknight supper? Got caught up on Facebook for 15 minutes? It happens. Write it all down.

When the two weeks are up, organize the items on your list into categories, for example inter-staff management, client relations, inventory control, personal business. In all likelihood, there will be some monthly, quarterly or annual tasks that didn’t come up during your two-week audit, such as generating financial and KPI reports or working on taxes. Think about what categories any unlogged tasks and responsibilities would fall into, and add those categories to your list. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready for step 3, and that’s where the magic starts to happen.
 

Step 3: Map out your responsibilities using the Eisenhower Matrix

An example of what a Veterinary Practice Manager's Eisenhower Matrix might look like.

Sample Eisenhower Matrix – click to enlarge!

The Eisenhower Matrix – also known as the Urgent-Important matrix – helps you prioritize tasks by sorting them into four quadrants ranging from critically important and urgent to utterly inconsequential.

Using this matrix, map out your responsibilities by putting them in the appropriate quadrants. Keep in mind that in this context, we’re defining important as any responsibility that’s important for you to handle, versus a responsibility that somebody else can handle, or one that really doesn’t need handling at all.
 
 
 
 

Quadrant 1: DO NOW

Here, enter those responsibilities that are both important and urgent. Processing payroll, for example, can’t be delayed and at many practices, is a direct responsibility of the practice manager. The responsibilities you enter here are your top priority. They must be completed in a timely manner and generally require your direct involvement.

Quadrant 2: SCHEDULE

Here, enter responsibilities that are important but not actually urgent. Yes, you need to update treatment prices, but the practice probably won’t fold if this doesn’t happen tomorrow or even next week. The responsibilities you enter here are next on your to do list. Decide when these responsibilities need to be met, and set time aside accordingly. As an aside, I often find that the items in this quadrant are the ones that we all know are critically important to our practice’s long-term growth and success, yet tend to get pushed back over and over again. Before you know it, you haven’t reviewed and updated your treatment prices in over three years.

 

Quadrant 3: DELEGATE OR AUTOMATE

The responsibilities you enter here should be those that are urgent but not important. Remember, by important we mean it’s not essential that you personally take care of it. Take preparing KPI reports, for example. Is it critical that you personally prepare, print and distribute them? No. A member of your team should be capable of handling this or – better yet – automate KPI reporting using a platform like VetSuccess. Of course, if delegated, you’ll need to ensure that the team member receives proper training and ideally has access to process documentation. We’ll touch on both of these points in an upcoming post.

Quadrant 4: DELETE

All that should now remain on your category list are those responsibilities that are neither important nor urgent. Take listening to a team member gossip about a client or complain for 20 minutes about something that’s clearly not a situation you’re able to address. Eliminating such items can be as simple as having an open conversation with your staff, or advising team members to come prepared with a suggested resolution when bringing problems to your attention.What about taking the occasional call from a family member or stealing a few moments to respond to a personal email while you’re at work? In reality, you’re not going to be 100% effective 100% of the time. Ultimately, the point of this exercise is to make sure you only end up performing tasks that you’re intentionally choosing to include in your day, and if checking in on Mom is one of them, that’s OK!

 

Step 4: Take action on Quadrants 1, 2 and 3

DO NOW what you need to do now, SCHEDULE time to manage the less urgent tasks that only you can do, DELEGATE tasks and responsibilities that can be competently performed by other team members, and AUTOMATE anything that can be accomplished using software or technology. Stay tuned for a follow-up post in which I’ll shed some light on how to prioritize what you delegate and set up your team for success.
 

What next?

Like I said earlier on in this post, I’ve only shared the initial four steps in this process of refocusing your attention and optimizing the value you bring to your practice. Once you’ve completed these four steps, I appreciate you may still face some constraints due to practice budget, ambiguity surrounding your level of authority, or perhaps a less than understanding practice owner. But with your completed Urgent-Important matrix in hand, you’ll be in a much stronger position to show how redistributing some of your responsibilities will ultimately benefit the practice.

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