In a world that glorifies busyness, finding the time to work out what you want, both from your work and your life and achieving a balance between the two is particularly challenging for private practice owners.
In a recent Power Talks webinar hosted by Damien Adler with special guest Natasha Ace, Damien asks if it’s the work-life balance that we’re talking about, or is it something slightly different? The concept of balance is difficult to define, much less achieve, because it’s specific to the individual and changes over time.
With that in mind, Damien and Natasha approach the idea of a balanced life from a slightly different perspective, suggesting that intentional integration of all the spheres of your life is what’s worth pursuing rather than the elusive concept of balance.
Damien is a Power Diary co-founder and registered psychologist with a private practice that he owns with his wife, while Natasha is a business coach and self-proclaimed “Chaos Tamer” who has helped thousands of private practice owners improve their businesses. Both are passionate about the work they do, as well as intentionally building a meaningful life outside of their chosen professions.
Both Damien and Natasha, based on years of experience, as well as having worked with thousands of practice owners, have broken down their approach to work-life integration into two key ideas:
- Defining what you want your life to look like;
- Taking practical steps to bring that vision to life.
Let’s dive right in and start by answering some questions that will help you narrow down what you’re actually looking for.
Define What an Integrated Life Looks Like for You
Before you can intentionally integrate your work and personal life, you need to take a step back and answer these three questions:
Why Did You Get into Private Practice?
While there are many reasons that health professionals may start their own practices, one of the most popular is freedom, the ability to set your hours and choose when you want to go on holiday. But while you may have all the training you need to be an excellent health practitioner, there’s often very little focus on becoming an excellent private practice owner and even less on how to build a business that will achieve your goals.
Ask established practice owners, and most will say that they weren’t prepared for everything that starting their own business would entail. And the questions never go away, they might change, but there’s always the next challenge.
Starting out, you might be worried about the answers to questions like:
- Will I have any clients?
- Will I be able to pay the bills?
- Should I really have left my job?
- What am I even doing here?
Then, as you start booking clients and you see some success, your focus will shift to new questions, like:
- How do I expand without having the systems in place?
- How will I cope with the stress of managing more people if I’m maxed out already?
Unfortunately, over time, hundreds of questions like these can lead to extended periods of stress, burnout, and even leaving private practice.
What Does Integrating a Business into Your Life Look Like?
Enforced lockdowns over the last few years have led to a shift in how we compartmentalise work and life, with some memorable viral moments about the difficulties of working from home cementing the reality of these challenges. Importantly though, it’s created an acceptance that everyone has a personal and a professional life, which is a double-edged sword. It’s positive because more people have become proactive in setting aside time for interests outside of work. Still, without a clear delineation between work and home, the lack of boundaries can increase stress and burnout levels as you take your work home with you.
How Do You Focus on Filling Your Cup?
Everybody knows the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. But, without work-life integration, that’s exactly what will happen over time. As Natasha explains,
“If we consistently continue to give and give and give in our workplaces, whether we own the practice or we’re working for someone else, then we’re eventually going to run dry. Pouring from an empty cup will mean missed opportunities both in your personal and your professional life. And that’s not the way that we want to live. We’ve got to evolve.”
With a better understanding of why you’re in private practice, what integrating your work and life might look like, and the importance of filling your cup, you can start to make changes towards building a life you love.
Once you start delegating tasks to your team or outsourcing them entirely,
you’ll find that it gets easier and easier.
5 Steps to Building Work-Life Integration
1. Define Success
The root of a success mindset is knowing what works for you and your lifestyle, and it’s different for everyone.
To work out your priorities:
- List the things that are important to you;
- Define your goals so that you know what you want to achieve.
When you have these written down, you’re much more focused on where (and how) you expend your energy. You can easily wander off track if you don’t know your priorities.
A good example would be this scenario: your practice is fully booked, and you’re turning away clients; the obvious answer is to hire another practitioner. But if you were to take a step back, you might realise it’s not the way you want to go. There are other options, such as raising your rates, reducing the number of clients you see, or finding a way to deliver your services in a one-to-many format (like downloadable courses). But, if you have your head down without a clear idea of what success looks like for you, you probably won’t even think to consider other options.
Growth doesn’t always mean more practitioners. It could mean reducing no-shows or improving administrative flows because expanding without improving systems will lead to more stress and busy work, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
2. Identify Mindset Blocks
What’s holding you back?
If you feel like it’s never good enough, maybe you need to define, “What is perfect, and what does it look like?”
Things change over time; even if you put all your effort into making something perfect today, there’s a good chance that in a month, or a year, with the benefit of time and learning, you’d want to make changes anyway.
The law of diminishing returns is relevant in private practice. Your time is limited, and moving from 80% to 100% perfect will take more time than it’s worth, and that time could rather be applied to getting to 80% on the next item on your to-do list.
Look at the numbers to get an accurate idea of whether your hard work is paying off. If you have increased your revenue, have more referral sources, or reduced the number of cancellations and no-shows, then you’re making progress.
Conversely, if you’re busy but not productive and these metrics aren’t improving, you need to take a step back.
- If you struggle with perfectionism, you may never feel like you’ve done enough because there’s always more, and
- Busyness is not a badge of honour, and success and hard work are not the same things.
3. Focus on Your Work Habits
Many practice owners have a caseload that’s too big. For Natasha, that’s a sign of poor planning, “as a practice owner; you’re not asking yourself the right questions upfront. You need to know what you’re working towards, what you want your working day to look like, how many clients you need, and what your ideal client looks like.”
She continues, “many practice owners don’t have systems in place, and cancellation policies aren’t being enforced, so there’s wastage left, right and centre, causing practice owners to increase their hours to meet their financial goals.”
Damien adds, “You also need to set expectations upfront by not running over appointment times and not taking on additional tasks that you don’t have the capacity for, even when there is excess demand. You need boundaries that are sensible and sustainable.”
If your caseload is too big and you don’t have sustainable boundaries, you can’t offer your clients the best level of care, and you’re putting yourself at risk of burnout.
4. Implement Systems and Structures
Thriving practices have streamlined systems and processes in place and a tight handle on the metrics that actually matter.
It isn’t easy to provide good clinical care if you have an overwhelming caseload. But do you even know how many active clients you have? How about the percentage of no-shows?
Without a bird’s eye view of your commitments, you’ll quickly find yourself over-committed, and your practice will suffer as a result. Power Diary’s reports give you the information you need to be more confident in setting boundaries with clients.
This also applies to the supervision of other clinicians in your practice. With data, you can monitor the average number of sessions, the percentage of single sessions, client attendance and client retention.
The word systemisation conjures up images of slick drive-through restaurants, but we’re not talking about turning your practice into a McDonald’s.
Instead, the goal is to reduce the ‘noise’ in your practice; all the things that go with running a practice and support your practice vision but aren’t actual therapeutic content.
Systemisation and automation will free up:
- Mental resources,
- And enthusiasm.
Natasha’s example is her emails. When you email her, you’ll receive an automated reply acknowledging receipt of your email and requesting your patience as she’s not bound to her email address. As a business coach, she’s also modified her job description in her email signature, denoting her title as ‘Chaos Tamer’. This speaks to her ability to help practice owners who have too many balls in the air and want to carve more space in their lives.
Utilising all your EMR software features, such as session notes using templates, SMS message reminders, online forms, and reports, frees you up to focus on providing good clinical care.
Tight systems and an eye on the numbers help you maximise your productivity because you have the right number of clients and know that your schedule is being carefully managed.
5. Delegate and Outsource
You might be able to do it all yourself, but will it make you happy? Nobody is forcing you to delegate, but if you want to build a passive income, you will have to let some things go.
Therefore, if you’re a practice manager with your own caseload and want to do other things with your life, like spend time with your family and learn new things, you need to delegate.
Common objections include:
I’m the only one who can do this
Is that really true? Could you not document the process and give it to someone else? In almost all cases, somebody could do many of the tasks on your plate, possibly even better than you can.
I can’t afford to outsource
Many successful practice owners would argue the opposite: you can’t afford NOT to outsource. It might cost a bit to offload the administrative tasks that keep you up into the early morning hours, but you’ll be much more productive because you’ve made space to do things that are more fun or more profitable or enjoyable.
Once you start delegating tasks to your team or outsourcing them entirely, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier. Start with the tasks that you don’t enjoy doing, whether they’re work-based or home-based.
Ideas of tasks that could be outsourced include:
- Answering phone calls
- Social media
- Gift sourcing
- Meal delivery services
In Closing; It’s Time to Get Intentional
Be intentional about your life; think about what you want.
Block out time for long weekends, holidays and even mental health days. When the time comes, you don’t need to go away if it doesn’t work for you, but you have the option.
Next, create your ideal week. Make time for hobbies, social time, reading time, exercise, and cooking – all the things that are important to you.
Then ask yourself: what’s stopping you from making those plans a reality? And what are you going to do about it?
Make another list of the roadblocks to your ideal week, look at your goalposts, review your analytics, and take the time to plan.
That way, when you book a client instead of going to a yoga class, you’ve chosen to do that.
And when you understand that it’s something you’ve chosen rather than something you have to do, you have more control.
Because, without intention, you get scope creep.
Unless you have designated work boundaries, the likelihood is that it will continue to spread into everything. But, if you block off time to exercise, spend time with your family and do other important things, work can fit around those parameters.
Then, if a work-related opportunity pops up that conflicts with the time you’ve set aside, you can intentionally make a choice to prioritise work or not, and you’ll be aware every time it happens.
The key here is prioritising.
The way you work needs to be sustainable so that you can continue to do what you love. This can be difficult for health practitioners, many of whom are giving by nature, and you might need a coach to help get you where you want to go.
Want to chat? Please jump on a live chat with our support team or pop an email to [email protected]. Part of successful work-life integration is getting the most out of your systems, and the Power Diary team is available to help you automate and streamline your practice administration.
Damien Adler is a Power Diary co-founder and the head of Customer Success. He’s also a registered psychologist and practice owner in Australia. When he and his wife opened the practice, they wanted it to be light on administration and high on automation. While it took some time, the practice can now operate without them, giving them the freedom to build intentional lives.
To get to this place, they realised that they needed technology to automate and make managing their practice easier, so Power Diary was born in partnership with Damien’s brother Paul. It operates in over 27 countries worldwide, including Australia, the UK, the US, Canada, and South Africa.
Natasha Ace is an international business coach with over 20 years of experience and the founder of Ace Private Practice. She has worked with thousands of practitioners around the world to improve their practices and is committed to helping her clients “stop the glorification of busy”.
Her goal was always to create a lifestyle where her businesses could provide both a lifestyle for herself and her employees. She’s a keen supporter of automation and systemisation for building sustainability and competitive advantage.