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Time-Management Tips for the Busy Veterinary Leader

A watch partially buried in sand

As practice managers, owners and directors, there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. 

This ‘lack of time’ is a big problem. Practices where leaders struggle with time management have significantly poorer workplace cultures- because they don’t have time to focus on the leadership activities needed to grow a healthy culture.

This not only has a knock-on effect on the wellbeing of leaders and their teams, but also on practice performance, as poor culture inevitably results in higher staff turnover. 

[image: Leaders who make time for leadership have a culture score of: 7.4, those who don’t have a score of: 6.7]

In this article, we explore the concept of time management, giving you some tangible ways to take back your time and finally get control over your workload. 

Is Your Perception of Time-Management All Wrong?

The concept of time management can be a bit misleading. 

It infers that the reason why leaders struggle with work is because they are inefficient at managing their time. In reality, this is not the case. Many leaders are very organized- they’re just not so good at prioritizing. 

The real problem is that clinical leaders often put off more important (but less urgent) leadership responsibilities so they can deal with the less important (but more urgent) clinical duties. While these tasks are important from a clinical perspective, they are not from a leadership one. 

This results in a cycle where leaders are constantly working, but never getting anything done besides clinical caseload. Excusable only because ‘clinical work is king’. It is, after all, an activity that is both productive and profitable. 

But healing animals is not on any leader's job description. And the more senior the leadership role, the less appropriate it becomes for clinical work to take precedence. The consequences are predictable - both vision and culture drift on the prevailing currents, rather like a ship without anyone at the tiller. This, in the end, spells doom as culture’s left to chance rarely turn out well.

Rather than being martyrs and thinking they can do it all, leaders have to be honest with themselves and admit that no matter how well they manage time, they cannot do everything.  

So what are the alternatives to this?

How Leaders Can ‘Create’ More Time

1. Define Priorities and Goals.

Before you begin sorting out your workload, you need to think about your priorities (big issues or opportunities to tackle) and goals (specific actions you will take to deal with the issues). Having priorities means you are going to focus on these actions to the exclusion of other things that might consume your time or distract you from the most important work you can be doing. 

Goals are the smaller steps that when combined allow a priority to be accomplished. There are usually many goals to be completed under the banner of a single priority. Whatever your priority, your goals should be SMART to stand the best chance of completion. SMART, if you are unfamiliar with the acronym stands for: 

Specific- Your goals must be clear and well-defined. 

Measurable- How will you know when the job is done?

Attainable- Do you have the necessary resources?

Relevant- Does your goal help achieve the priority?

Time-bound- Do you have a deadline the job needs to be completed by?  The final word is that every goal needs an owner to be accountable for the work getting done. 

2. Delegate

Many leaders find it difficult to relinquish parts of their work to others. If you are unsure whether you fit into this category, think to yourself about how many times you have taken over a task that someone else is paid to complete because you thought you could do it ‘better’ or ‘quicker’. 

Although it is tempting to adopt the ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’ attitude (especially if you are quite experienced!), this is not ideal. It not only deprives your team of a learning opportunity, but more importantly, deprives you of time.

If you don’t fit into this category, but still have issues with delegated work being done well enough, ask yourself:

  • Have I given my team enough training to do their jobs without my help? 

  • Have I made it clear to the team what each person's roles and responsibilities are? 

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, your team may not be feeling confident enough to work without direction or supervision. This process can, if you have been guilty, take time to become normal for the team, who are hooked on the task hoarding leader assuming responsibility for everything. 

Patience, feedback and coaching will be required, chewing up more of your time in the first instance than you might like. But perseverance is advised if you ever wish to have enough time to do your job well as a leader. Your team must grow the skills needed to operate independently of your ever watchful eye!

3. Coach, Don’t Teach 

If you spend a lot of your time repeating yourself or going through the same procedures, then you may want to reconsider how you approach training. 

‘Coaching’ as it’s known, can be defined as ‘unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance… [by] helping them to learn rather than teaching them.’ When done right, it can incentivize employees to take initiative, saving you time in the long run. 

To coach effectively, guide your team through the learning process by asking questions like:

‘How would you approach this problem?’ or ‘What do you think would work best?’. 

These questions can help elicit answers, gently guiding the employee in the right direction. 

4. Set Boundaries 

Boundaries are important in the workplace - especially as a veterinary leader. 

If you’re not laying down what’s acceptable and what’s not, then you may find yourself in a situation where you are constantly at the beck and call of your colleagues. 

To remedy this, have a straightforward conversation with your team about roles and responsibilities. You need to make it clear what you will and won’t do at work, so everyone’s on the same page. Also having a signal for when interruptions are not OK is very important so you can do meaningful work in a flow state. A closed door with appropriate signage is a small but effective first step.  

5. Hire an Executive Assistant or Even a Vet (gasp) to Help

Though many leaders may not financially be in the position to outsource, if you can- it is certainly an avenue worth exploring. 

The likelihood is that you’re wasting a lot of time on administrative or clinical work. This is not a valuable way to spend your energy. Assess where your strengths and weaknesses are, and if possible, outsource in the areas you are least proficient in. An executive assistant can free up a massive number of hours each week, as can a part time vet to take over some of your clinical case burden. Yes, both come at a cost, but if you choose wisely what to do with your leadership time gained, you’ll find the tradeoff worthwhile. 

The Bottom Line 

Running a practice isn’t easy, but there are many ways you can make your job a lot easier. Effective task management can completely transform how you approach your work. Not only making you better at your job- but also more satisfied overall. 

For more advice on time management and veterinary leadership, check out Dr. Dave's FREE veterinary leadership webinar:

A call to action for a Veterinary Leadership webinar


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