5 Strategies to Beat Burnout in Your Practice

By Gerard Johnson, M.S. September 23, 2020

You walk into the office and it feels like the world is crashing around you. You received an early morning text that your front desk is calling out because their childcare fell through, you are down to one optician due to COVID furloughs, and you are looking at your desk and you can’t even find your mouse because of all the invoices and sticky notes from the day before. You just want to scream.  What do you do? Below are 5 strategies to help you fight back at those overwhelming feelings and get control of your day.

1. Fifteen Minutes of Focus

Ultimately, how you start your day and how you finish your day are what determines how your day will finish. Do you have a plan? Do you know what needs to be done vs. what you would like to get done? Start each day by taking 15 minutes to focus on creating a checklist. What is a Daily Task, Action Task, and a Now! Task? Daily Tasks are short simple tasks that must be done daily; an example would be approving staff hours. Action Tasks are more complicated and require time to complete, but there is not an immediate action needed to meet  a deadline, such as preparing annual reviews. Action Tasks become Now! Tasks as deadlines arrive. Last and most important category is Now! Task. These are items that demand your immediate attention and need to be completed by the end of the day at the latest. 

Approval Checklist FeatureCreating this checklist provides structure and familiarity to your day and familiarity has a calming and relaxing effect.  Most importantly, it provides a chance to cross off tasks as you “collect wins” and there is nothing more that the human brain loves more than winning. Each time you cross off a task will give you a sense of accomplishment and putting wind in your sails. Microsoft Outlook has a built in To Do List feature that is perfect for helping you structure your day. It even has an added bonus of a soft bell sound that goes off every time you finish a task. There is no better feeling than hearing the sweet sound of that bell when you have completed your checklist.

2. Big Team Big Purpose

Now that you have taken 15 minutes to focus your day, it's time for you to help the team refocus on itsBig Purpose. What’s your team’s “why”? What is the larger purpose that drives your practice? Do your team members know the larger purpose of why they come in every day? Each morning you need to huddle with your team,  give it a brief rundown on your vision of the day (number of patients, possible obstacles to success) and refocus on the team’s Big Purpose. Each day I review our patient satisfaction score in the light of honoring our patients’ voice and serving them with compassion. We discuss our pursuit of excellence every day. You can use quotes and stories from the previous day to highlight your big purpose. Your Big Purpose serves as your team’s lighthouse, helping it to avoid crashing on the shore of despair. But you have to keep that light burning.

3. Don’t Forget the Fun

It’s important to remember, with all this talk of structure and Big Purpose, not to forget that work is a lot less stressful if you are having fun. Have a joke-of-the-week contest with team members, taking turns adding a joke or riddle to a white board in the breakroom each day for people to try and solve. Give small prizes (the person's favorite candy or Starbucks drink) at the end of the month for the best joke. Select a team member to bring the day’s theme songs to the morning huddle each day from the Spotify playlist or from YouTube.

4. Everyone Wants to be Seen

Young people giving high five concept Free Vector - NohatIt is also important not to forget to give recognition. Knowing that people see your hard work and appreciate it can make all the difference in the world. Dr. Seuss once said, “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world”. So, have a Recognition Week. This is where each team member writes a short thank you note  to each other recognizing one another’s contributions.  The trick is that each day they have to write a note to someone different.  This forces them to appreciate the efforts of co-workers with whom they don’t interact with as much. These notes should be specific; for example, “Thank you Jaylen for taking the extra time to help the patient trying contacts for the first time. It really made a difference for her.”  This helps to avoid people using bland generalities that don’t carry as much weight, and really pay attention to each other’s contributions. These small and specific thank you notes can really help your team refill its emotional cups

5. Take a Minute and Breathe

Box Breathing | Square breathing, How to relieve stress, Deep breathing  exercisesThe Navy Seals know a little something about stressful situations. They have probably the most stressful occupation in the world. To help them manage these daily high stress situations without burning out, they use multiple breathing techniques in order to cope. To help with everyday stress, they use a technique known as box breathing or square breathing. Using this technique daily can activate your parasympathetic nervous system,  which is the rest and digest system with the purpose of slowing the body and conserving energy. It serves the opposite purpose of “fight or flight” by calming the body, decreasing heart rate, and slowing respiration. The Seals have been using this box-breathing technique to take control of the PNS system to decrease stress and increase concentration, mindfulness, and performance. Five minutes a day is all that is needed and you can start to feel the effects right away. For those instances of direct stress, tactical breathing can help you get those emotions and feelings of drowning under control. The Navy Seals literally use this technique to calm them and drive away the panic associated with handling explosives underwater. You can find apps for both of these techniques in Google Play, Apple App Store, or wherever you download apps.

Gerard Johnson, M.S.

Gerard is a writer, trainer, and leader who has worked in healthcare since 2003. He has managed and trained teams in Optometry, Ophthalmology, and Family Medicine. Gerard currently works as a practice manager for a family practice in Atlanta, GA.

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