The good news for most of us in the counseling/mental health field is that there is an ever-growing demand for what we do. With that comes a constant inflow of information and tasks we have to deal with. Emails, phone calls, meetings, caseloads, documentation to complete, obligations outside of work and just the normal demands of life have a way of keeping us busy. And the truth is that it is never-ending. Staying organized makes all of this manageable.
Recently I moved my private practice to a new office building. In fact, I bought that office building! I will say it is awesome… The problem for me though is that I am not a naturally organized person. I do think some people have a gift for being organized. And when you are in business for yourself and in private practice, it is so important to be well-organized.
I would say being organized just helps with life in general. I know from my own experience, that when I let myself slip into being disorganized, I feel like I am missing things and things are “slipping through the cracks”. There is so much less pressure and angst when a person stays organized. When everything’s in its place and there is a place for everything, it just has a way of helping you feel liberated and free.
As I mentioned already, I am not a naturally organized person. It is something I have to work at and stay on top of. And if done right, it does require daily effort and planning. Since it really does not come naturally for me, I have had to teach myself how to be organized.
Over the years I have implemented tons of apps, systems and gadgets to help me along the way. Most of them I have either abandoned or only partially use. Nonetheless, I have gotten much better at it. Here’s what I have learned about how to be better organized and productive.
Staying focused on the 20%
It is so very easy to get distracted by things that keep us unorganized. In the book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, the authors point out that as human beings, we really are not great at multitasking. In fact, our productivity goes down when we try to do too many things at once. Also, knowing where to focus our energy is often a missing piece.
When it comes down to it, only 20% of what we do is actually productive. The other 80% is just distraction and does not move the needle forward. So it is important to stay focused on that 20% of tasks that actually are most productive and get results.
The way to do this is to turn off the distractions. At least while you are at work. This means recognizing the habits we have fallen into that do keep us distracted. For example, do you look at email and texts as soon as they come in? A better strategy is to set certain times during the day when you check those things. Turn off the notifications to help you stay on task with what you are doing in a particular moment
Plan time for planning
One of the most helpful strategies for anyone trying to become more organized and productive is to plan out your day. If you don’t have a plan you will very quickly fall into that 80% zone of distractions. Set aside time each day to create a plan and identify what you need to focus on that day.
Of course there will be distractions and things that come up that will need your attention. So allow some buffer time for those things
Another book that I recommend to clients and to anyone that is trying to get a handle on their organizing is David Allen’s- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity(AKA “GTD”). He developed a whole system for organizing and being productive. One of the core principles that he explains in the book is to be able to have some tools for capturing all that comes at us.
With the amount of information and requests that are constantly coming at us, it can be overwhelming. That’s why it is important to have a way to capture everything coming in and that we have collected. One way to think about is having a giant inbox that you use to put everything into before you sort it out.
In the beginning stages of getting organized it is sometimes helpful to literally have a big box to put paperwork into so that you can sort it out. After that initial organizing, and on a daily basis, it is helpful to have some sort of system in place to capture everything.
Low Tech is Sometimes Better
I keep a simple notepad on my desk to jot down things that I will need to ge attend to. I have the word “Capture” written at the top of it just to remind me to write stuff down as it comes in. When I plan my day though, I figure out what I need to do with the stuff on that list. As I complete it, I cross it off the page. Once everything is crossed off, I throw the page away. Another way to do this is to keep a spiral bound notebook or composition book to do the same capture.
Shoot for Inbox Zero
The other place we all automatically capture stuff is with our email inbox. And it is a constant capture! The problem for most of us though is we are not always sure what to do with the stuff that comes into the inbox. Our inboxes end up becoming a catch-all that is difficult to manage. That why it is important to have another system for sorting what is captured.
David Allen talks about we have 5 things we can do with what we capture. Complete or do it right then, differ it till later, delegate it to someone else, file it for later reference or delete it. This one concept has been really helpful for me in making quick decisions about what comes to my inbox.
First of all, it is important to set some boundaries for yourself with email. Designate certain times during the day to respond and sort emails. Do Not watch email constantly!
When you do look at your emails, decide on what to do (actions to take) with them based on these 5 criteria: Respond, Differ, Delegate, File, or Trash.
Respond – if you can respond to the email in 2 minutes or less, it’s a good idea to go ahead and respond rather than differing.
Differ– if it is something that will take you more than 2 minutes to respond to or complete, differ it to another time. And make sure you put it on your calendar to respond to later.
Delegate – if it is something that another person can handle or can get someone else to do, you hand if off right then.
File– some things that come in are simply information or things you might want to refer to later. An example of this are newsletters or things you want to read in more depth. So file those away for later.
A great tool for filing articles and emails is Evernote. In fact there are whole GTD systems you can use with Evernote. One that I have used and really like is called “The Secret Weapon” – http://www.thesecretweapon.org/. It’s a whole system you can learn and use to optimize Evernote for GTD.
Another tool is Trello. I use Trello to help me chart out projects I am working to break them down into simple steps. I also use Trello with my consulting clients in helping them chart out what they are doing and for us to be able to share that information.
Trash– One of the best things we can do to stay organized is to learn to use the trash can. If it does not fit any of the other 4 categories of actions to take, trash it!
Ultimately, the goal is to have my email inbox at zero by the end of each day. Nothing stays in the inbox. It’s archived, filed or trashed.
Create Theme Days
Another thing I have learned to do in keeping myself organized is to create “theme days” with my time. In other words, my schedule revolves around doing certain tasks on certain days. I do see regular therapy clients Monday afternoons through Thursdays. And I use the time in between clients to work on those things that I have designated for those theme days.
Theme days are a way of “batching” tasks. Productivity experts have found that when we batch tasks, we can work more efficiently and actually be more productive. As has already been mentioned, we actually work better when we can concentrate on one thing at a time. Having theme days designates what you will focus on for that day.
Mondays-are for blogging and creating content for the Practice of Therapy
Tuesdays– client paperwork, charting and session notes
Wednesday– financial and office administration things
Thursday– marketing the practice and networking with other professionals
Fridays– more blogging, content creation and consulting
Of course there is some flexibility with this in that I might need to shift things around or focus on other things those different days.
Create Templates to Make it Easier
One of the ways to work more efficiently is to make templates for the things that you do repeatedly. For example having your paperwork packet in a PDF form so that when people make appointments you can just email them the packet to fill out before they come in. It will help better use the time needed for sessions to have all that done on the front end.
Also create email and letter templates for things that you respond to regularly. Anything that you notice you do repeatedly, create short-cuts for doing those tasks. Session notes are another example.
Do the boring stuff at high energy times
One of the things that we all have to contend with besides seeing clients are things that are just not that fun to do. For me, it is stuff like paperwork and notes. I just do not enjoy doing any of that. And it is something I must do in order to keep my private practice flowing well and successful.
I have found that if I do the most mundane of tasks when my energy level is the highest it goes much faster and I can get a lot done in a short period of time. So I do try to do paperwork and the mundane things first thing in the morning when my energy level is highest.
Keep it simple
Finally, whatever systems you end up using to keep organized in your private practice, make it simple. One of the mistakes I have made over the years is trying to come up with elaborate systems for staying organized. Simple is better. If it is too complicated, I will probably not stick with it long.
So give yourself permission to get organized with what you do. The stress will be less!
By L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., MEd. LMFT – Gordon is the President and Founder of Kingsport Counseling Associates, PLLC. He is also a consultant and business mentor at The Practice of Therapy. Follow us on Twitter @therapistlearn. “Like” us on Facebook.