Taking Control of Your Calendar: Time Management Tips for Home Care Owners

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As a home care owner, your time is precious. Here’s how you can protect it.

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Being a home care owner is tough. Long hours, heavy responsibilities, and last-minute tasks are part of the nature of the job. Aaron Marcum, our founder, has remarked more than once that it was easier to maintain a good family life as the CEO of Home Care Pulse than as owner of a home care agency.

Aaron’s experience isn’t unique; we frequently talk to agency owners who report pulling 60-80 hour workweeks.

So, what you can you do to keep unnecessary work to a minimum and preserve your time for the most important things?

We’ve pulled together a list of important tips and principles. Some of these are universal, and some are unique to home care. In any case, they’re relevant to any home care professional trying to work more effectively, preserve more time for family, or just keep better control of their time.

And don’t be fooled—while many of these are pretty fundamental, it’s the fundamentals that typically have the greatest impact. Most of us are worse at time management than we think we are.

(Author’s note: A couple years ago I taught a course on time management at a local university. The students who learned the most were the students who went in assuming that all the tips applied to them, rather than finding excuses for why particular tips weren’t relevant. It was eye-opening for me to see how many basic time management principles go from clichés to lifesavers when we commit to them fully and take them seriously.)

Tip #1: Invest the time in learning your scheduling software as thoroughly as possible.

The more robust your system, the more likely it is that there are useful features and functions that you’re not using—even if you’ve been using the program for years and feel familiar with it. The more that you know about your system, the more you can automate and save time.

You might consider making a wish list of the processes you wish your scheduling software could do for you to save time, and then run through it in meetings with your staff or on a call with your software rep. You might be surprised at some of the features you didn’t realize your software could do.

Tip #2: Get better at delegating.

Almost all of us need to get better at delegating. There’s a fair chance that most of your work as an owner could be done effectively by one of your staff. As an owner, it’s natural to feel wary of turning over important tasks to your staff.

For instance, many owners, especially at home care startups, handle relationship-building with major referral partners. In truth, there usually comes a point where most or all these partnerships should be handled by your sales reps. With a documented process that can be trained on and repeated, you can feel much more comfortable handing this off to your staff.

The same principle applies throughout many areas of your business. If you don’t feel comfortable delegating to your staff, there’s a good chance that it’s because one of the following:

  • You don’t have the task outlined clearly enough for someone else to be successful at it (it’s not repeatable)

  • You don’t have your staff’s roles or objectives defined clearly enough (Netflix, which has become famous in the business world for its approach to employee culture and leadership, says that employees need more context on their own job: what problem was their manager trying to solve by creating their job position?)

  • You aren’t providing sufficient training to set them up for success

  • You simply don’t have the right people in the right seats

There may always be instances of tasks that you prefer to do yourself, or that simply require an owner’s perspective. However, these are probably a lot fewer and further between than you think. Trust your people, and they might surprise you.

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Tip #3: Schedule separate blocks of time for proactive and reactive work.

This is easier said than done but will go a long way toward helping you get a better handle on your time. Aaron Marcum calls this “running a home care business that doesn’t run you.” You’ll always have fires to put out, but you also need time in which you work to move the business forward: working on the business, not necessarily in the business.

At Home Care Pulse, we solve this problem by requiring each employee to take weekly “Clarity Breaks”—scheduled time for them to go offsite and think about their role and the company from a high level, and what they can do to move it forward. The length of their clarity breaks vary depending on role; our leadership team members take a half a day per week for clarity breaks. While it takes some advance planning, we strongly recommend scheduling regular clarity breaks for yourself to refocus on what will move your business forward, not just solve problems at a day-to-day level.

Tip #4: Establish a daily routine to sharpen the saw.

In the bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, management expert Stephen R. Covey explains the concept of sharpening the saw: a lumberjack who maintains his tools and keeps his saw sharpened can saw more trees, more quickly, than a lumberjack who never pauses from working to sharpen his saw. Ultimately, working smart means taking time to care for your most important tool: yourself.

This can take many forms, but one important way is to establish a consistent morning routine for yourself comprised of habits that help you be at your best. Usually, this should include reading, exercising, staying up on industry news, and reading or watching something that makes you laugh. You should also take time at the beginning of each day to reaffirm your plans for the day, and take time at the end of the day to plan out the end of your day.

(Author’s note: Like many employees at Home Care Pulse, I served a two-year mission for my church and adhered to a strict daily schedule while doing so. While some of the schedule involved spiritual/religious habits, much of it was simply aimed at keeping us as healthy, productive, and effective as possible. It included waking up at 6:30 every day and exercising, meditating and studying for two hours every morning, holding nightly planning sessions to set the next day’s goals, and having a longer weekly planning session every Thursday. Despite working 60-hour weeks, I spent more than 3 hours every day sharpening the saw. Many of the people who use this schedule intentionally retain these habits for the rest of their life because they’re so useful in staying effective.)

Tip #5: Avoid meeting overload.

While meetings are an important way to keep your team in sync and get things done, it’s always important to continually reevaluate whether you’re holding the right number of meetings and whether you’re using time in meetings effectively.

Ask the following whenever you hold a meeting:

  • Do we have a clear purpose of this meeting, and what is it?

  • Is this purpose worth our time?

  • Could this purpose be accomplished more quickly and effectively another way?

  • Does everyone at this meeting need to be here?

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has famously challenged his employees to limit the number of meetings they’re attending and to respectfully push back if they’re being required to attend a meeting that’s not relevant to them. As a busy home care owner, you should be similarly protective of your time.

Tip #6: Use a planner.

When we say planner, this can mean a paper planner, an app on your phone, or any other tool that helps you manage your time. However, whatever you choose, it needs to follow this criteria:

  • It needs to go with you anywhere you go.

  • You need to like using it. If it’s not convenient and intuitive for you, you’re going to find excuses not to use it.

  • It needs to own you—meaning that you follow your plans in it (wherever possible; obviously, sometimes priorities and plans have to change)

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Tip #7: Use an Eisenhower Matrix every day.

An Eisenhower Matrix is a simple tool to help you identify which tasks are worth your time and which aren’t. To make one, group all your tasks into one of four categories by asking whether they’re urgent (needing your attention ASAP) and important (going to be impactful to your business or another worthy cause). Based on the quadrant they fall into, you can decide which ones are worth doing.

Tip #8: Identify your five dials.

The principles of five dials comes from aviation: as the story goes, there are so many dials in a cockpit that a pilot can’t always watch all of them at once. Many planes have five crucial dials that aggregate the most important information, so that a pilot can keep his attention on what’s most important.

(Author’s note: having no background in aviation, I don’t actually know if this is true; but the principle is what’s important.) You need to establish your five (or so) dials for your home care agency to help you focus on what’s most important, and delegate the rest to your staff where possible.

Put another way: If you were stranded on a deserted island and your only connection to your business was a daily note in a bottle that washed ashore, what numbers would you need to tell whether your business was going in an overall good direction?

These are some metrics that we recommend for most home care owners:

These are others that may be necessary based upon the circumstances and needs of your business. Most of these can be measured against industry benchmarking in the Home Care Benchmarking Study, and in fact that’s the primary reason we provide the Benchmarking Study: to help home care owners have something to measure against as they track data to make informed decisions.

Commit and Be Accountable

To be successful with any of these tips, you’ll need to commit fully. Using a planner half the time, keeping an inconsistent daily schedule, or infrequently checking your five dials simply isn’t going to bring you the results you want. For some of these (especially establishing your daily schedule), you might consider finding an accountability partner who can make similar goals, and you can hold each other accountable.

If this was useful to you, here’s what you should do:

  1. Scroll up to the top, click the Print Article Option, and share it with your team
  2. Download our free eBook, The Top Ten Mistakes Home Care Owners Make. It dives deeper into some of these topics and provides some great tips on getting your time and business under control.
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