[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.76″ background_layout=”light” border_style=”solid”]
Own your time, and get more out of it
For business owners, time management is critical to success. Using your time wisely—putting your energy and attention where it’s most valuable and delivers the most powerful results—is key to growing your business, having it run smoothly, and freeing you from being perpetually chained to your work.
Sounds great, right? Many practice owners, immersed in the hectic day-to-day responsibilities of operating a business, lose sight of how they’re using their time. They just work and keep working, at whatever comes their way and seems most pressing in the moment. Time management can sound like a luxury afforded to people who have more…. time. It’s not. It’s a necessity to run your practice well—and it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult.
The 80-20 rule is one of the most powerful and effective time management strategies available to practice owners. If you’re looking to reclaim ownership of your time, this simple, long-tested method is a great place to start.
What is the 80-20 rule?
The simple principle is this: 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes.
Also known as the Pareto Principle, this rule has a pretty interesting history. It’s named for Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist and sociologist working at the turn of the 20th century. It’s said that Pareto while working in his own garden, realized that 80 percent of his pea crop came from 20 percent of pea pods. From this small, keen observation, Pareto went on to demonstrate that 80 percent of land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. He looked at other countries land distribution and found the same ratio. He examined production in other industries and found the ratio continued to repeat itself: 80 percent of output came from 20 percent of input.
From Pareto’s work came what’s known as the “law of the vital few.” In the more than 100 years since Pareto, the 80-20 rule has been used as an economic tool, and applied to a spectrum of business practices, from production and sales to quality control and time management.
How does 80-20 apply to time management? It means 80 percent of your desired results will come from 20 percent of your work. Rather than focusing attention on everything that needs to happen in your business, you hone in on the 20 percent of the work that will deliver 80 percent of the value. What happens to the other 80 percent? That’s the pool of work you begin to delegate to others.
Identifying what belongs in your ‘20’
Before you can focus your time on your most important work, you have to identify what that work is. How do you determine what your 20 percent should look like?
One of the methods I developed for myself and now use with my clients is The Activity Organizer™. It’s a step-by-step process that allows you to separate the work that’s moving you and your business forward from the work that’s holding you back. Here’s a snapshot of how it works:
Make a list of all the tasks you’re currently responsible for or engaging in. Be specific; don’t leave anything out. Nearly all physical therapy and chiropractic practice owners will have treatment and documentation on this list. But what about scheduling? Returning phone calls? Balancing the books? Cleaning the bathrooms? Every single activity you have a hand in has a place on this list.
Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to start categorizing, to get a picture of your 20 percent. We’re all unique individuals. None of us has identical strengths, challenges, and passions. The work that falls in my 20 percent is likely not exactly the same as yours.
What underlies time management is really management and focus of energy. To begin identifying where your time is most valuable, separate your tasks into low- and high-energy activities.
High-energy activities are those tasks that give you just that: energy. They fire you up. They’re the work you look forward to doing, the activities you truly enjoy. It’s from this high-energy list that you’ll find the work that belongs in your “20.”
Low-energy activities are the tasks on your plate that drag you down. They’re activities:
- You don’t like to do
- You aren’t skilled at doing
- You’re doing only in order to save money
Often, it’s all three at once.
This is a real gut-check exercise. Be prepared to discover things you think give you energy, in truth, do not. Be open to surprises in the other direction as well. When you’re stretched too thin, even work that you enjoy feels like a burden. There may be activities that feel low-energy when you’re overloaded, but in fact is work that could energize you, when your time is better managed. For me, one of those involved interacting with my staff. When I was an overwhelmed practice owner, fielding questions from my staff felt like a burden, a series of unwelcome interruptions. It seemed at first like a no-brainer, low-energy activity. After thinking about it, I realized that I actually enjoyed engaging with my staff on problem-solving, and I liked being available to them as a resource. Those activities become high-energy items on my list.
What to do with the ‘80’
Most practice owners have a lot of everything on their plate. I hear from my clients again and again about many of the same low-energy activities that weigh them down, steal their time, and for all their efforts, don’t add sufficient value to their business as work they’re doing themselves.
Some of the most common responsibilities that fall into the 80 percent for practice owners?
- Answering the phone
- Ordering supplies
- Tackling insurance issues
- Handling compliance and HR
- Paying bills and managing accounts receivable
If these are low-energy tasks for you, it’s time to look at delegating this work, to free up your time to focus on what you want to do and what you do best—where your greatest value lies, for your personal fulfillment and the growth of your business. Delegating—and learning how to delegate effectively—is a process. We begin by beginning. Start by going back to your activity list, and selecting a low-energy activity that feels easy to give away.
Back when I was transforming my own practice as an owner, I started with a simple shift: not answering the phone. I used to pick up the phone out of impulse, not thinking about why I was doing it or how it was taking me away from more important work. If the phone rang a few times without being answered, and I grabbed it. One of my first acts to take back ownership of my time was to delegate this task to my front desk person and to work with her to establish a system so the phone was covered if she was away from her desk. It didn’t cost me a thing to make this change, and it delivered me precious minutes of uninterrupted time every single day.
What you gain from an 80/20 approach
Time, of course, is the answer. But what kind of time? And how does having more control of time affect not just what you work on, but how you execute your work?
Using this approach, you’ll gain physical time—actual minutes throughout the day you can thoughtfully re-direct to other more important and more energizing work. Small gains in time build quickly into something meaningful. When I stopped answering the phone, I was almost immediately able to focus more on administrative work, with fewer distractions. That work started getting done more quickly and with greater ease, freeing up even more time for me to do things like leaving the office at a reasonable hour to spend time with my family.
But you’ll also gain mental space—a version of time that’s about having the breathing room to think and plan, rather than just react to events throughout your workday. Juggling lots of low-energy activities creates a perpetual sense of being overwhelmed. It also creates stress that in turn affects how you make decisions.
Under chronic stress, decision-making becomes reactive and impulsive, not deliberate. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that handles executive functions, the higher-level cognitive abilities including reasoning, problem-solving, and planning. It’s from this part of the brain that we deliberate and make judgment calls. The prefrontal cortex also has an important role in holding us back from impulsivity. It urges us to delay immediate action or instant gratification, in favor of weighing factors and considering consequences, and it enables flexible creative thinking.
Under stress, the prefrontal cortex can get overruled by our limbic brain—that’s the area of the brain that functions in part as a rapid-response center. In response to a sense of threat, the limbic brain urges quick reaction, relying heavily on habit, not flexibility, in decision-making.
Think about all the decisions you make throughout the day as a practice owner, each with a ripple effect of consequences. Freeing up time and mental space can be the difference between a cycle of reactive decisions for your business, and a forward-looking path of thoughtful ones.
It’s not easy for practice owners to let things go from their plates. Even after you’ve identified a long list of activities to begin to delegate to others, you can expect to feel reluctance. The logic of the 80/20 rule is rock-solid—put your time and energy on the select tasks that deliver your business the greatest benefit. But your sense of responsibility—often, along with ego and fear—can cloud that logic. Don’t let them. Give yourself the chance to claim ownership of your time, and direct it to the work that creates the greatest return on your investment.