Plan Time out of the Office
Yes, you and your staff can reap the benefits of a vacation this year. But you must act now.
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor
Okay, 2004 is off to a good start. Production is up from the slump that optometry has seen over the past two years and cash flow has improved. You've reduced the number of staff to a more manageable and profitable level, and you're feeling good. Now's the time to plan some time out of the office!
That's right, even though you could work straight through the year -- and maybe regain some of the financial ground you lost over the last two years -- it's time to take a break, or at least plan to take a break. I don't mean think about taking time off. I mean schedule it to the point where if you showed up at the office there would be nothing for you to do but leave. Schedule your vacation or time out of the office just as you would an important off-site business meeting. Make it mandatory.
Plan before you go
Plan your time out of the office well ahead so as not to totally disrupt your production and cash flow. You are your staff, so schedule time off at least one month in advance. Move all appointments already on the books to a time before or after you'll be out of the office.
For a few reasons, my personal preference is to move as much of my scheduled patient flow as possible to the time before I leave for vacation. One, as a result of a very busy schedule, it allows me to generate more income before my absence and this helps the office cash flow while I'm away. Second, the increased level of performance on your part before your time away from the office will make you feel better about leaving. Third, because your staff will have to perform at a higher level during the time before you leave, they'll be happier to see you go.
Don't forget your staff
Here's another somewhat uncommon recommendation I'll make: encourage your staff to schedule their vacation time as well. That's right; your staff should be planning ahead for time away from the office.
Help your staff plan and request their time away from the office and in advance. Either you or your office manager should have the authority to approve or disapprove the timing of staff requests for time away from the office to insure the smoothest possible operation of the practice while they are gone. Planning at least a month ahead helps you plan for appropriate staffing levels while individual staff members are away. And it helps eliminate the potential for having too many key staff members away at the same time.
It might also be appropriate for some staff members to take their vacations while you're away. This way, you won't have a lot of staff (with nothing to do) while you're gone and then too few to assist you when you return.
Before leaving, tell your staff what you expect them to accomplish while you're away; you know, all those things that never get done because you don't have the time. By doing this, even solo practitioners can benefit from time off because they'll return to an office that is better organized and caught up with the tasks that never seem to get done.
Why do I bring this up now? Because timing is everything. If you don't start planning your time out of the office now, you won't go.
Don't burnout . . . get better
Optometrists leave the profession because of burnout. But I don't think they burn out from the amount of optometric care they provide, but rather from the amount of time they spend in the practice. Beyond the pure enjoyment of a vacation, there's another reason that you and you staff should leave: You're never better at what you do than when you've been away from it for awhile. Enjoy!