Doing whatever it takes to release the brakes

CarPaul Green looks at how to manage your time better and achieve more.

I recently met up with David, a friend of mine, to talk about his business. He’s not a dentist, but has a similar set of frustrations to many practice owners.

His business does well but it’s a lot of work. He has to do a lot of selling to keep the clients coming in. His staff sometimes seem unable to make the most basic decisions. Cash flow is an ever-present danger.

David works crazy hours and most weeks doesn’t spend enough quality time with his family. He doesn’t mind so much, because this beats his old job working for someone else. It’s better that the maniac who controls your income is you, right?

But David is a classic case of a business owner suffering from deep frustration. He sees more negatives in his business than positives. And that frustration is borne from the inability to make real permanent change happen within his business.

On it, not in it

We met because he was thinking of hiring an £18k a year marketing manager to help his business grow. I told him that would be a pretty dumb thing to do. Someone in that entry-level position will just want to blow money on wasteful advertising, to desperately try and generate new clients (and keep their job). Hiring someone won’t fix David’s problems.

Instead, he should re-focus what he does within the business, and free up some of his time to solve the big problems. You see, David is a classic example of someone who spends more time working in the business than on the business.

You might do the same. Every hour you spend doing clinical work, or admin, or chatting to your staff is working in the business.Sure, it’s important, especially if the business needs you as the senior clinician. But it doesn’t grow the business. It’s only when you set aside regular time daily or weekly to work on the business that things start to change.

Cash flow problems? Given time and focus, they can be fixed. The same with staff issues, marketing challenges – all the things that hold you back. When you find quality time on a regular basis and focus intensely on what you do with that time, you can change the world.

Releasing the brakes

I asked David four big, revealing questions. Go for a walk, clear your mind, and ponder them:

  • What are the top three things holding back the growth of your practice right now?
  • Dream a little…what does your practice and life look like in the year 2020?
  • One day you’re going to die. On your deathbed, what will look back and regret?
  • So with that new context…consider again the top three things holding you back…what’s it going to take to release the brakes?

‘I need more time’ is the most common answer to that final question. Because as the practice owner, you probably do have the answers, or at the very least the skillset to eventually get to the correct answer. But not if your mind and time are cluttered up with all the things you need to do each day.

Here’s an eye-opening thought: you should only do what only you can do. I bet someone else can do that admin, or meet with that rep, or tidy the decontamination room. You’re not going to lie on your deathbed and wish you’d done more of that stuff…you’re going to wish you’d spent more time with your family; and taken more risks.

You’ll wish you had spent your precious time – your most finite resource – doing things differently. Well today is your opportunity to do things differently. To live the life, that the old person you’re going to become will look back on and think ‘wow, I did it. That was fun’.

This is not a question of ‘time management’ (which is a myth). It’s a question of focus. You have the same amount of time as Richard Branson. With his time, he manages to run a number of businesses with tens of thousands of employees, and play a lot of tennis with celebrities on his personal island.

Branson is no more intelligent than you. But he has better focus than most. And he channels his energy into the activities that make the biggest difference to growing his business.

Making change happen

Here’s a five-step process to making this change happen in your practice:

  1. Be clear on the big goal: what do you want to achieve over the next five years?
  2. Set simple targets: keep them small. Think in terms of what needs to be achieved today or this week. With the right focus, a series of small achievements will add up to big change
  3. Clearly separate projects and tasks: projects move you forward. Tasks are just stuff that needs to be done
  4. Dump the 80% of stuff that doesn’t move you forward: if it really needs to be done then ‘DOA’ it – delegate, outsource or automate. If it doesn’t really need to be done, then write it down to clear it from your head, and add it to the ‘I’ll get round to this one day’ list. According to my task organiser,, I have 4,815 tasks gathered over the last five years in this way. The ones that are really important will find a way to get your attention again…the rest can simply be forgotten
  5. Find a small amount of time on a regular basis to do this stuff, and protect it at all costs: hide from your staff and family. Stay clear of the practice. Switch off your mobile. And work only on the projects that move the practice forward.

This kind of focus is hard to do. But get it right, and that dream of how your business will be in the year 2020 is dramatically more likely to come true.

You can get a free copy of Paul’s book, The Root of the Problem, posted to you by visiting

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