Today, I taught the last class of my acupuncture business class for the 1st year students at NUNM.
We do a four year course, and in this first one I give a high level overview of what it means to be a practitioner of this medicine. What’s the acupuncture community like? What options are available for graduates? What kinds of business factors should you be thinking about as a first year? And then we go into some base level marketing information including vision, mission, values & the passion/purpose that brought the students to Chinese medicine in the first place. It’s a fun class to teach.
Today’s lecture is my favorite in the series, because I get to geek out about what it means to be a productive acupuncturist.
In other words, we get to talk about personal organization, filing, project planning, task management, calendars and the strategies that lie behind effective use of these tools. It’s really one of my favorite topics. I’ve been actively studying & implementing productivity teachings for about 15 years. I’m a die hard GTD fan, and a prolific tester of every piece of software related to productivity and organization that I can. Scanning, filing, planning – these things bring me immense pleasure.
This stuff helped me make my way through a life that saw me have a kid at 20 years old, get three university degrees while raising said child in a very labor intensive manner, start a thriving practice right out of school, and maintain that practice while teaching at a high level. I don’t sing my own praises lightly – and I’m only doing so here to demonstrate that this stuff works. I’m not a naturally organized person, and I’m as forgetful as can be! I wouldn’t have made it through all of this without my trusted systems. My systems make me the productive acupuncturist I pride myself on being.
And here’s the rub – it’s really not that difficult to set up and maintain an airtight system to keep you productive and happy.
The standard GTD process takes about a week of self education and preparation and a couple of full days to get yourself to baseline with everything arranged appropriately. For maintenance, I find that about 30 minutes a day and then 2-3 hours on a weekend keep things humming along. For that time investment, I get a calendar, project/to-do list and informational database that is clean, organized, easy to use, and ready to help me be highly effective all day. I don’t spend time procrastinating by cleaning and organizing. I don’t lose things (much). I don’t find myself having to rethink projects or appointments every time I work on them.
When I give this lecture to acupuncture students, however, I’ve noticed something. Many students are highly resistant to learning about productivity and organization, even if they self identify as people who need to “get their act together!” This has always baffled me. In my world, when I find a problem, I start looking for solutions. When a solution presents itself, I give it my best shot.
Why are people so resistant to what is actually a very simple, low-cost and incredibly effective solution? Well, there are many reasons I’ve uncovered in my adventures.
- They have negative associations with the words productivity and organization. Sometimes, people just feel gross when they think about the word “productive.” It seems to imply that the only point in life is working. This is of course one meaning of the word. But, I think of “productivity” as taking care of all the important things in your life in a way that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes unhelpful friction. This includes your home life, your inner life, and all aspects of your work – not just those things you do that make money. So, a toddler drawing stick figures is being very productive. A stay at home dad taking care of the household chores is being very productive. And, very importantly, doing those self care practices that feed your soul is part of productivity! To be a productive acupuncturist doesn’t mean abandoning balance – quite the opposite – it means doing the work necessary to wrest balance from a complex and often busy life.
- They feel so overwhelmed, they cannot imagine adding yet “another thing to do” to the pile. As I mentioned above, it’s not really as time consuming as most people fear – and I promise you – you get more than that back in freed up energy and lost time looking for that EOB you misplaced. It does take some effort to get rolling, yes. But, having a functional executive management system will feel SO GOOD, you won’t even remember the pain of getting set up. And isn’t the promise of being a truly productive acupuncturist worth the effort?
- They just don’t know how to get started. Valid! But, there are about a hundred websites and books that can guide you, and people like me are out here talking to anybody who will listen. I even help people set up their own systems one-on-one, in person, sometimes! You really can’t go wrong just going through the Getting Things Done book and implementing everything he writes, in the order he writes it. You may find another system will work better for you at some point – but getting started is the key.
- They don’t see the point in doing it – they think they’re doing just fine. This may be true – sure. If you’re taking care of all of your commitments, keeping all aspects of your life in reasonable balance and you can find your stuff when you want it – maybe you don’t need a new system. You’re already productive! Great! But, I do like to tell my students that being in practice, if anything, is MORE complex and busy than being in school. So, while things may be swimming along fine now, that doesn’t mean that they will be when you add a full stable of patients, insurance billing and the need to market your practice to the mix.
- They believe that being productive and organized means they cannot be creative and connected acupuncturists. This is one of the comments I hear most often. There’s a sense of tension between being productive and organized on the one hand, and being free, creative and spontaneous on the other. All that project planning, all those lists – it’s like a little checklist prison for your wild acupuncturist heart, right? Not really. I’d love to break this down again, but the folks behind GTD have a nice article that explores the topic. What’s not discussed there is the sense I get that people think that productivity is anti-spiritual, like you’re going to lose your capacity to feel qi if you plan things so fastidiously. In my experience, though, when my head is free from thinking about phone calls I need to make and manuals I need to find, I’m much more able to be completely present with my patients in the treatment room.