Bumpy ride? 5 ways to make workdays feel less chaotic


Drive here, go there, do this, finish that-you're really busy today! And every day, for that matter. Try these tips to smooth the kinks from your schedule and bring sanity back to your day-without hurting the bottom line.

YOU'RE RUNNING LATE—SO WHAT'S new? But, as you know, running 15 minutes behind at a morning appointment affects the rest of your day. You're late to your afternoon appointments and you'd sure like to get home for supper—but when are you supposed to catch up on your e-mail? And, darn it, your assistant forgot to enter some data into the computer and do the billing, so now you've got to take care of that, too.

Sure, there are some easy fixes to your scheduling problems. You could build in extra time to each appointment to give a cushion for appointments that run long. Or you could leave open a slot from 11 a.m. to noon. That way if your morning is off schedule, your afternoon isn't. (And you'll be more likely to get some lunch. Always nice.) But those are fixes that, in one way or another, affect your bottom line.

So what can you do, personally, to maintain your peace of mind and general well-being? Christiane Holbrook, a business coach and the founder of Legacy in Action, a business coaching firm in Pasadena, Calif., says you can take these five steps to smooth out your schedule, stay focused while you're working, and get home sooner.

1 Set boundaries

Knowing your limits and sticking with them when dealing with clients, team members, and when you're setting your work hours is a great way to smooth out your day. And knowing your boundaries means knowing when to say "no" to clients.

Stanley McChattsalott, one of your oldest, albeit most difficult, clients won't stop talking. If you don't get in the truck now and start on your 20-minute drive, you'll be late to your next appointment. Sound familiar? "It's OK to let the client know that you've got to move on," says Holbrook. "And it's OK to say no to a client." So if that familiar, "While you're here doc could you ..." pops into the conversation and you don't have time, say so.

Holbrook says it's not easy to set boundaries. "You worry that you'll upset the person or that you'll lose money," she says. "But you know deep in your gut when you're dealing with a difficult client and need to say no, yet most people ignore that feeling. You've got to tap into your intuition."

Dr. Emily Williamson, owner of the Sixth Day Veterinary Practice in Bargersville, Ind., relies on her team members to help her set boundaries and deal with difficult clients. "Your team is your first line of defense in this situation, and they need to be direct but polite with this type of client," she says.

Boundaries are also a must when you're trying to establish reasonable working hours. "If you want to set the goal of being home by 6 p.m., then you should set that goal," says Holbrook. "You'll work hard to be home by that time and most likely you'll get everything done. That's focused work." Make your goal clear to your team, too, so that they can help you defend your boundaries.

2 Stop rescuing everybody

You're back at the office after finishing all your appointments for the day—it's late. You notice your receptionist didn't finish filing the day's records and your assistant didn't clean out the truck. So you take care of both tasks and get home even later. You just rescued your technician and receptionist, but what about rescuing yourself?

"I've rescued about everyone that has ever worked for me because nobody can do it better or faster than me!" says Dr. Williamson. "I think this is typical of most equine veterinarians; we're so independent that we're the last ones to hire technicians or assistants. We need to learn to delegate—and enjoy it—in order to make our lives easier."

Holbrook agrees. "Most veterinarians have difficulty letting go of control, therefore they're rescuing people all the time. Why not empower your assistant to do her job, rather than doing her job for her?" That approach should save you a lot of time and let you focus on what you're good at.

3 Put systems in place

Maybe you're not rescuing your staff members, but you're constantly telling them, "No, you can't go home until the records are filed," or "It's your job to handle the walk-in requests." If you find yourself making these kinds of statements, you're wasting your time reminding staff members about their job duties. So maybe it's time to develop some crystal clear job descriptions. "If your employees really understand their roles," says Holbrook, "you don't need to rescue them or remind them of what they should be doing."

4 Lead and communicate

Even when you're really busy, you shouldn't be too busy to take a second to say thanks. Holbrook says that top complaints from team members about their jobs revolve around praise and not getting enough of it. Praising your team encourages, inspires, and empowers them, which leads to a more productive staff. And a productive staff means that you can focus your time and effort on what you do best.

"It's so easy to neglect to say, 'Thanks, you did a great job today,' but we all need to hear that every now and then," says Dr. Williamson. "I praise my team with conviction, there's nothing false about it. I make sure I let team members know when I think they've done something great."

5 Recharge

Frequent breaks could do more than you realize to reduce your stress throughout the day. Holbrook recommends taking a five- to 10-minute break about every two hours. "Breaks are essential to help reset your clock and get back to neutral," she says. "You've got to allow your mind to absorb those not-always-so-joyful moments that are part of the job." Plus, Holbrook says, if you know that in two hours you'll take another breather, you're living in two-hour stretches of time instead of 12-hour stretches, which makes the day easier to tackle.

Instead of taking a few minutes to catch your breath, you could also try building in longer chunks of time to pursue other activities. "If I have to tell someone that I'm booked, but really I'm out riding that hour, then so be it. Sometimes I just need a break!" says Dr. Williamson.

"I love what I'm doing, but ... "

Maybe your day starts with answering a slew of e-mails, returning phone calls, and so on. And then you move onto the next thing, and then the next. Your big goals get away from you because you're putting out fires all day. If you've ever thought, "I love what I'm doing, but ..." then it's time for a change Holbrook says. "If you want to continue to practice medicine—and thrive—with a healthy mind, life, and bottom line, you need to think about finding ways to make each and every day enjoyable."

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