One of the most challenging, albeit alluring, aspects of private practice is constructing your own schedule. On the one hand, being able to control your schedule allows for flexibility that cannot be attained in more structured work settings. On the other hand, the temptation to meet every patient’s scheduling needs can lead to working long hours and sometimes with major gaps of time between each patient. While working hours that are less preferable can possibly result in seeing more patients, it can also lead to quick burnout and can even reduce clinical effectiveness if providers do not want to be there. Whether you are just getting started in private practice or have been established for a while, it is important to balance your desire to get patients and build your practice with developing a schedule that is realistic and sustainable over the long-term. What follows are some tips to consider to help you develop a schedule that works for you.
1. Watch your own clock
- Consider how long you want to be at the office (an average workday is 8 hours)
- The high-demand hours in private practice tend to be before and after work. Consider picking “early start” days and “stay late” days. Try to avoid starting early and ending late on the same day, as this could lead to being in the office for 12 hour days.
2. Identify a realistic number of patients you can see in a day
- Consider how many total patients you can see in a day and still be energetic, focused, and engaged.
- This number varies from person to person, but most say between 5-7 is an ideal number to see in a day.
3. Know your limits
- When do you need a break?
- Some prefer the “power through” approach – seeing patients back-to-back and working shorter days.
- Others prefer the “slow but steady” approach – working longer days but building in breaks between patients.
4. Pick your ideal schedule in advance
- Generate a calendar of your available slots in advance and try to maintain your boundaries by only seeing patients at those specific times.
- Many patients will ask to meet at other times, but if you make too many exceptions, you will end up working much longer hours or seeing more patients than intended.
- If you hold firm on your available slots, patients often find a way to accommodate or you will eventually fill those times with people who can, even if it takes a little longer
- Be willing to make exceptions every now and then
- If you are really interested in working with someone, it might be worth seeing them at a time you would otherwise block off.
5. End sessions on time
- Most providers schedule 50-minute sessions to allow themselves time between sessions to use the restroom, eat a snack, or complete administrative tasks.
- Consider giving your patients a 5 minute warning so they know you are getting ready to wind down the session.
- Many patients appreciate the structure and predictability of ending on time, and the next patients will certainly appreciate your timeliness.
6. Build in time for administrative tasks
- Consider scheduling in time to accomplish the administrative tasks. If you don’t schedule this time during working hours, you will have to make up for it during your personal time, which could lead to burnout.
- Administrative tasks may include: returning calls/emails, writing notes, or preparing for sessions.