Getting into gear for 2007

Having long been an advocate of an annual retreat for business owners (preferably taken in August each year), I remain concerned at the number of dental principals who do little or no planning either in the short-term or for the year ahead.

So in this article, I want to assume that you are one of the majority, coasting in towards the end of 2006 with no firm plan on what 2007 will look like, and will offer some tips and suggestions on how to organise yourself.

Sometimes we all get a little overwhelmed with ‘stuff’ and I want these steps to help you in dealing with that occasional drowning feeling.

1. Plan the time to plan

You cannot plan in your lunch hour, at 5.00pm after the last patient has left, at 9.30pm in your study at home (with a half-bottle of something inside you) or at weekends, with spouse, children, pets, friends, self and home all requiring your attention.

Many times in the past I have written about the careful allocation of blocks of uninterrupted time to work on your business. I suggest that you allocate at least two full days to this process each time it is necessary. It’s an investment in yourself and you can afford to make it.

2. Choose your location

Experience shows that, no matter how many boundaries you may try to create, people will always interrupt you during periods of professional and personal solitude – unless you physically move away from the risk.

There is no point trying to plan while in your dental practice. You will be distracted by your natural curiosity (what’s going on?) and your team will find your presence irresistible (‘I know you said you didn’t want to be interrupted but. . .’).

And there is equally no point in trying to do this at home. Even if your spouse and children are at work, school, out and about – you will be interrupted by postmen, utility providers, neighbours and complete strangers calling to sell you services.

So, unless you have the luxury of a holiday cottage, a boat or some other hideaway that you own or can borrow, it’s time to put your hand in your pocket and pay for a nourishing environment in which to work.

Over the years I have chosen a variety of hotels, from city-centre brand names to old country estates. The key elements are comfort and seclusion (and remember that a hotel room needs cleaning – so make sure there is an area where you can spread your bits and pieces out over coffee and work).

Even as I write this article, I’m about to pop over to Canada to work for three days with a group of business coaches. I’m travelling alone to Toronto two days early, specifically to hide myself in the Hilton downtown and enjoy a couple of days of seclusion and business planning in my room and on the executive floor. I am sure that more than one of my Canadian friends would love to host dinner or entertain me, but I’m going to my ‘fortress of solitude’ to think deeply about my business and my life. How much true solitude do you enjoy?

3. Establish your objectives

What do you want to achieve from your mini-retreat? It may be an overview of the year ahead, the answer to a current and thorny dilemma, a decision that you have been struggling with.

Before you begin, ask yourself a simple question: By the end of this mini-retreat, what has to have happened for me to be happy with my progress? And write down the ‘shopping list’ that you will take with you.

4. Be prepared

Arrive with the technology and the information that you will need to answer your question. Almost all of my seclusions begin with the following list of must-haves:

a. A fast internet connection at the location – not just because I want to read emails (in fact, I don’t) but because I may want access to research or information on the web. As far as emails are concerned, I may want access to my support team, without having to speak to them live and suffer the ‘have you got a minute’ questions

b. A copy of my latest financial information – whether that’s a set of management accounts or a spreadsheet. I want the financial data that will allow me to project forward

c. A copy of my future calendar. Planning my time in advance and allocating holidays, rest days, business planning days and income generation days is one of the secrets of my success (I plan a year in advance). It’s critical to be in control of your time, so make sure you have whatever physical or software-based systems you need along with you

d. A file or folder where I have collected all of my thoughts and ideas. In my case, some of that is paper-based (I carry pen and paper everywhere) and some is laptop based (I’m a particular fan of Microsoft OneNote). During my retreat I can spread out and then prioritise all of those ideas that would otherwise swim around in my head. I sleep well because everything gets scribbled down somewhere.

5. Start the planning process

I’ve been trained and coached very well over the years and can slip into the planning process quickly. I also appreciate that may not be so simple for you and recall a dentist once calling me from a luxury hotel and asking ‘I’m here with lots of blank paper – what do I do next?’

For a major review, I would suggest the following format (the one that my coach asks me to use):

a. What are your core values?

b. What are your lifetime goals?

c. What do you want to achieve in the next three years?

d. What do you want to achieve over the coming year?

e. What are your 90-day goals?

f. What are the absolute must-do’s right now?

g. Which are your 20 key opportunities in the next 90 days?

h. Which are your 20 key opportunities beyond 90 days?

You may well be looking at that list and thinking that the last few questions are easier to answer than the first few? You have my sympathy, because establishing your core values and lifetime goals may require some preparation and time (even coaching!), but they are a necessary prerequisite to

getting the final questions answered accurately.

I would suggest the following format:

a. Establish the question/problem/challenge – what exactly is the goal of this meeting with myself?

b. Establish the desired result – what exactly will I accept as a satisfactory outcome of this period of reflection?

c. Make a list of the perceived obstacles – what exactly is getting in the way?

d. Make a list of the strategies that you will need to employ to overcome those obstacles

e. Establish what resources and which people you will need to have in place to implement those strategies

f. Establish deadlines by which the strategies and the overall solution will have to be in place.

6. Work at the right time

Make sure you understand your body clock well enough to know what time of day to work.

In my own case, I work best with a very early start and a lunchtime finish – I then want to rest and play in the afternoon and invest some more time in work in the early evening. If you are a night owl, then design a different routine. This activity is results-based and not time-based. It is not necessary to work for any longer than what is best for you.

7. Reward yourself

Establish rewards that will motivate you to keep going, from small breaks to quality time in the pool, the gym, out running or walking.

My small rewards in Toronto will be to swim and sauna, my big reward will be to step out in the evening and enjoy some pasta and wine before walking a few blocks to a movie theatre where I can indulge in whatever movie I like.

And finally, make sure you don’t go back home with any homework. Get all the phone calls, letters, emails and any other communication done before you leave the venue. Always remember this as a golden rule – never return with homework!


You do not make progress with your business and your life while you are performing dentistry. Progress comes when you stop and take the time out to think. I encourage you to take regular time out for seclusion and planning – it makes such a difference.

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