Structuring Your Day: How To Manage Time and Stress as a Therapist
Do you feel (most of) your days flow and transition effortlessly from one client to the next? Or do you feel like you’re juggling — forcing — every step? Never quite able to relax because there’s a perennial tension tapping at your thoughts. An ever-present “thing to do” creating worry? Structuring your day can change this. And quickly.
So, how can you prioritize tasks and manage time to enhance productivity and reduce stress?
Let’s take a look…
Cull non-essential, non-important tasks and outsource, when possible
There is much we can complete in our busy, modern lives. But we rarely stop to ask if we should. See, the default is set to an incoherent dash. A pace that can stop us from taking stock. Yet, this approach comes with flaws. So, let me ask…
Have you stopped to consider all of the chores you undertake?
Do you really need to complete them all?
There are many jobs that do not require your personal touch or expertise. And many tasks that simply need not exist at all. Ones you can cull.
So, keep a diary. Track your tasks over the next few weeks. Notice what needs to be completed, what doesn’t, and what can be outsourced. Become aware of the time each task requires.
With this knowledge, cull non-essential, non-important tasks.
For tasks that need to be completed, ask yourself if someone else can complete them.
Tip: If you complete the bulk of household tasks while other family members don’t, stop. Allocate fairly and implement consistently and firmly.
In practice, you might:
- Spend time adding and changing client appointments manually. In reality, an online booking system could take care of this for you.
- Craft and send new clients a bespoke welcome message when an automated email sequence would be perfectly adequate and take a fraction of the time.
- Personally deal with therapy billing. Instead, pay an experienced outsourcer to take this off your plate.
- Learn how to build a basic website when outsourcing this task to an expert would produce better results, without the stress.
- Sit at a keyboard typing a second-class blog. I’d recommend you forgo this lengthy process and hire a persuasive writer.
In your personal life, you might:
- Waste hours cleaning. Instead, you could delegate to a family member to pay for an affordable cleaner.
- Cook every night when high-quality meal preparation and delivery is a viable alternative.
- Have a garden that could be tended by a gardener or family member.
- Head to the shops when a preset delivery service could complete this task at a tiny additional cost.
These steps — and more — will free you to better manage your tasks, time, and stress. Let your imagination go wild!
Appreciate both clock and calendar
The first step is to appreciate that the clock and calendar must work together. You need to allow sufficient time to complete tasks without becoming lost in minutia or becoming sidetracked by procrastination. You need to develop respect for your time. Both within practice and without.
To better understand your relationship with time, ask yourself questions like:
- Do you resist the idea of tightly managing your time? (If so, why?)
- Do you usually run on time or are you often late?
- Do you typically feel present and relaxed, or under the pump?
- Do you lose hours to internet scrolling or pottering through your day, or do you set timeframes and stick to them?
- Do you have a time management system for your practice and your personal life?
Your answers will provide insight into your relationship with time. If you don’t have an effective, working relationship with the clock you are more likely to struggle and stress. This knowledge will help you stick to the program — your time management system — when you feel like you’d rather not.
Use a master calendar
Next, choose one master calendar. Yes, for both your personal and professional lives. This way everything is in one place. There will be no surprises or double bookings to deal with. No forgotten appointments or stress-inducing near misses.
Treat your calendar like your best friend (because it is!)
Tell it your secrets: all your wants, desires, and, specifically, your plans.
Place every event within its (preferably digital) pages…
- Client appointments
- Networking events
- Business meetings
- Ongoing training and seminars
- Social media and other marketing
- Date nights
- Catch-ups with loved ones
This has various benefits…
You’ll learn where you spend — and lose — your minutes and hours, days and weeks, months and years, and better understand how much time things actually take.
Additionally, you’ll prioritize the things that matter because you’ll be faced with the “cost” of your behaviors. And you’ll learn to unschedule what doesn’t matter; what doesn’t lead to a fulfilled, happy life. This is as important as scheduling what does. This will help you distinguish between the wheat and the chaff.
It’s like learning how to drive. The process of calendar keeping will allow you to gain control of the vehicle of your life.
Listen to your calendar!
Your calendar is a time management tool. But like any tool, if you don’t use it it won’t help; you won’t achieve the results you want. So, allow your calendar to direct your tasks and laser target your focus.
For example, to provide wonderful care you must be fully present and on-task. The client in front of you — the one booked in — becomes the center of your attention. This will feel necessary and natural…
Yet, often when therapists step away from their clinical roles they lose this presence.
Use this experience and awareness to cultivate this pinpoint focus in the other areas of your life. When you have time blocked for marketing, market. Or when you have time blocked for training, train. And when you have time blocked for meditation, meditate. Make the task in front of you the sole task you focus on: DO NOT multitask!
To do this:
- Clear the clutter.
- Place your computer in “do not disturb” mode.
- Limit the number of tabs you keep open to only those required for the task.
- Turn your phone off, onto flight mode, or leave it in another room on silent.
- Remove other temptations you know cause you distraction.
- Set a timer for each task or block.
- Focus on an achievable element. If you constantly worry about the big picture, you’ll become overwhelmed. The big picture has its place, but not in a small task time slot.
- Remove external distractions. For example, if you have young children, rise before they do to complete a task. Turn the television off. If the radio distracts you, switch it off.
- Remove internal distractions. You must gain control of your thoughts. When a non-relevant narrative begins, don’t allow seduction. Quiet your mind.
- If you get stuck, move on to the next part of the task. Come back later. Get help, when needed.
- Once time is up, transition to the following undertaking.
- Schedule break times to rest and rejuvenate.
Once you have time under your control, your stress will likely plummet. But, as unmanaged stress will affect your personal and professional lives, it’s sensible to implement structures to address this too.
How to manage your stress as a therapist
Being a therapist is accompanied by a unique range of stressors. Managing these is important. You can do this, in part, by structuring your day well.
- Manage your time, as above.
- Ensure you schedule sufficient breaks.
- Be realistic: Don’t underestimate how much you can complete and place yourself under pressure.
- Set time for regular meditation, periods of mindfulness, deep breathing, exercise, or coffee breaks.
- Note any deadlines, then reverse engineer the time needed. A sprint to the finish line is rarely relaxing. By allocating sufficient time you can, instead, enjoy focused and timely completion.
- Ensure you eat well (again, you can outsource meal prep and delivery).
- Prioritize sleep (yes, place this on your calendar and stick to your schedule).
- Remember, life isn’t all about work! Plan fun, connect with loved ones, and include activities — including periods of doing absolutely nothing — that bring you joy.
- Follow the sage advice you give your clients.
- Get professional support; therapists need a therapist too.
Structuring your day well allows you to minimize wasted time, reduce procrastination, make the most of the time you have, and ease stress. This simple approach is effective and might just blow your mind. The difference a considered structure can make is profound!
Start by culling non-essential, non-important tasks. Outsource, when possible. Appreciate both your clock and your calendar. Use a master calendar and treat your schedule like it’s your best friend. Do what your calendar says! There’s no point in having a powerful tool that you don’t use.
Manage the specific stressors that come with being a therapist.
And remember to gift yourself kindness and compassion. You are human. Sometimes you will fall short of your expectations. But, with well-considered structures, you will achieve more than you might have imagined possible.
And if you’d like more insights?
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