#003 Reinvest Your Time Dividends In Your Hobbies
Where I try to persuade you (and maybe me) to automate your work, to say no to things, and to use that extra time to do things that you enjoy
Hi, and welcome to The Deliberate Practice. I’m your host, Jeremy Barr. Before we get started, I’d like to mention that this is an advice column. Like any advice, you are going to want to take what works for you, and leave what doesn’t. Wherever possible, I’ve left questions that you can ask yourself to help see what resonates for you, and to move you further along your own path. If you have a strong reaction to anything here, I’d love to hear about it. The easiest way to contact me is to respond to any of the weekly (or automatic signup) emails. I look forward to hearing from you.
Our Courtice dental practice is still in start-up mode, and is nowhere near capacity. For the next couple of years, we want to make sure we are attracting a steady flow of new patients. In today’s case study (at the end of this post), I am going to show my thought process on designing a flyer. How I think through letting new patients know that we exist, what our services are, and why they might want to come here.
Before we get on to the case study, I want to take a moment to reflect on how we (as a practice) got here, and what I’m currently learning about my work-life balance.
Work-life balance. That’s a funny thing to say, isn’t it? As if it’s some kind of see-saw, where one side goes up whenever the other goes down?
My wife, Sharon, opened her dental office in the fall of 2011, at the same time as we had our first child. (I use the word our in its vaguest sense here—she did most of the work!) I remember the idea being that we would put in the work while the kids were young, so that as they got older, we’d have room in our lives to spend time with them.
The first couple years went okay. The kids were growing. The clinic was growing. I was able to swing by one evening or weekend day per week, and get the basics out of the way.
I started working full-time in the office in early 2017, right after we had our third kid. The Bowmanville practice was growing, I was looking for a change, and it seemed like the kind of thing that would work. And in August 2019, less than 3 years later, we signed the lease on our second office, which is sort of funny, because I remember us promising ourselves way back in 2011 that we would never build a second office.
Along the way, there’s always been that pull between work and life. I started my career as a teacher, partly because I love to teach, partly because many of my heroes were teachers, and also partly because it was a profession that was rumoured to have a kind of work-life balance. Between 2017 and 2019, the realities of small-business ownership kicked in. I was passionate about teaching. And I was also passionate about the dental practice doing well, and about my wife doing well, and about the people who worked there doing well. I remember looking at my life, and seeing that something had to go. I could be a good husband & father, or a good teacher, or a good small-business owner: and I could only really pick two.
So, in 2017, I chose my family and the dental clinic. Those two things worked well together. I had enough experience in teaching to know that I don’t do well with the high level of routine in the intermediate classroom (that’s junior high, for those of you outside of Ontario). I figured that when I come back to teaching, it would be to high school, university, or in the private sector anyway.
Making the switch, actually choosing, was very challenging for me. One thing that I learned from the experience was how much emphasis I put on seniority in the public school system. It’s one of those things that would only matter if I was continuing to teach in elementary school. The moment I switched to something else, I would lose it. Now that I don’t have seniority, I don’t miss it. But when I had it, I didn’t want to lose it. I wonder how many things I’m holding on to now, that I’m afraid of losing, and that I won’t miss when they’re gone.
By 2019, something had shifted for me. The Bowmanville dental clinic had started to settle. We had an office manager on-site. My job there was almost done. And I was looking around for my next project.
Another funny thing is, the idea of just settling back and enjoying my family never really occured to me. One of the thoughts that goes through my head is, “If I’m not working on a really big project, then who am I?” I find it fascinating when I meet people who aren’t defined by their work, who like to be good at what they do, but don’t stress about whether they will still be doing the same thing five years down the road. It seems like a much healthier relationship to have with work.
So, in 2019, we decided to move ahead a build a second practice. Sure, there were some good business reasons for it. We were looking for more space. We thought that if we had multiple doctors and hygienists, that it would provide better care for our patients, especially if one provider took some time off, we would still have coverage. And we wanted to move ahead with some of the more advanced tech that’s available now: namely a CBCT scanner and a digital lab.
I’m talking about all of this because I notice a pattern. I have this thing where, the moment a project starts to slow down, I immediately start looking for the next thing. And I have this period of time where I’m afraid to try something new and afraid to stay continue doing the same old thing. If nothing else, it’s interesting.
I see an opportunity to try a new strategy. At the end of each of these big projects, I’ve essentially automated something. Either by finding software that helps do the job better. Or by finding a person who is a really good fit for that role, and then handing responsibility over to them, and letting them run with it. When that’s done (and I’ll admit, I don’t always get it right the first time, but I’m talking about toward the end, when it’s working) there’s a time dividend that comes back. This work is now someone else’s responsibility (or it’s automated). And so there should be a certain amount of time freed up. In the past, I’ve always taken that extra free time and poured it into more work. I think there’s an opportunity here to do something different.
Tactic: Spend Your Time Dividend
When we signed the lease on this new practice in August 2019, my mindset was off. I had this picture in my head of needing to prove myself, to show that I’m capable of getting something up and running, and of getting it to a point where it’s successful.
But it was more than that. It had to do with the idea that, if the practice was successful (whatever that means), then by extension, I am successful. And at the same time, I never defined success. And I also tied my identity up in my work. I would ask myself that question, “If I am not constantly tackling the next big project, then who am I really? If I’m not simultaneously raising a family, being a good husband, killing it at work, and taking courses to (a) make me better at what I do, and (b) show other people that I’m good at what I do, then does any of it really matter?”
It became this impossible standard to live up to. In any job, there are parts that are intrinsically satisfying. At the same time, this need to prove to an undefined someone else that I’m good at what I do, made it very challenging to enjoy learning.
I had this dream that at one point, somehow, I would have worked hard enough that it would all become easier. Work would become less stressful. I have this question that I like to ask people when they’ve just done something cool: “Did it get easier? Or did you get better?” I like to ask it, because I really enjoy the answer. Every single time I ask it, the person smiles a little and says, “I got better.” I think I was hoping for that for myself.
But, because of where my mindset was, work never started to become easier. And I think I’m starting to understand why. I’m reading Great at Work by Morten Hansen. He talks about these 7 strategies that people use to become really good at work. And toward the end of the book, he finds some things that can actually make our work-life balance worse. In the chart below, you can see that “Do Less, Then Obsess” and “Disciplined Collaboration” go a long way toward improving our work-life balance. But “Going from 50 to 65 Hours Per Week” and “P-Squared (Passion & Purpose)” (which means finding working that blends our passion and our purpose) can actually have a negative impact.
So, he asks the question, How do you prevent burning out? He describes 4 strategies to help improve work-life balance while also being great at work (and I highly recommend you read the book to understand what they are and how they can work for you).
The strategy that stands out to me is to Spend your time dividend on making your life better.
Here’s why it resonates. We live in this technologically advanced world. In some ways, tech has made our lives better. And in others, it has made our lives worse (I swear, ten years ago, I would never have thought about checking my e-mail before having breakfast). We have all of these automations, all of these things in place that allow machines to do the jobs that we used to do. As an extreme example, consider that in the 17th century, computer was a profession. Now, it’s a machine. When we automate our work, there is a time dividend that comes back to us, and it’s up to us to choose how we spend it.
For the last 6 years, I have consistently taken that time dividend, and reinvested it in (you guessed it!) more work! I was proud to put in 7-day, 70-hour weeks. I told myself it was what the business needed to do well. After all, it was just a baby, and don’t babies need that kind of time and energy?
The Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as a “special type of job stress—a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.
(Original source. As quoted in chapter 9 of Great at Work by Marten Hansen)
Well, having done the test myself, I am now thoroughly convinced that reinvesting all of the time back into work, only led to burnout. After a while, the quality of my decisions went down. Even when I was getting the little things right, I was letting the big picture slide. There are so many things that I could have done less of (or not done at all).
With all of this in mind, I am now learning to put in good, solid weeks. I’m still okay working up to 50, even 55 hours a week. But most of that has to be on projects that I enjoy. Things that move my work forward or the business forward. I’ve spent a lot of time automating different aspects of my work. Those time dividends are getting reinvested in my family, in friends, and in hobbies.
If none of this resonates for you, I’ll leave you with a few final questions. The questions I am asking myself right now are, am I doing work that matters to me? Am I taking time to turn off at the end of the day? What about at the end of the week?
The case study on the actual flyer design (including the 13-minute how-to video, where I use Canva to take a 6” x 9” flyer, and redesign it to fit a 9” x 6” ad) is going to go behind the paywall. This is the nitty-gritty of what I do, and how I do it. If you are responsible for marketing in a dental office, I wrote this with you in mind, and I hope that you’ll find it useful.
Case Study: Designing the Flyer (12-Minute Video)
One of the ways to build connection with patients is to have someone or something that they can become familiar with. In our branding, I frequently use our primary dentist to do this. You can also use a specific location in your dental practice (for example, the reception area) to accomplish the same goal (for example, on The Deliberate Practice, I use photos of nature to try to create a similar effect).
The thing is, what I choose to represent the practice matters. I spend a lot of time looking at these images (and patients are going to see them again and again). They should be something that I can engage with.