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by Tracy Dell
9 September 2022

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How to thrive and not just survive in general practice management

Tracy Dell, Practice Business Manager, primary care management consultant and MIP event speaker describes ways to take greater control of your day-to-day work routines, so you can better cope with the bigger challenges

Firefighting seems to be the common phrase among practice managers at the moment.

In these challenging times, I think most of us are just about keeping our head above water; frantically doggy paddling to stay afloat when actually we need to try and make a bit of progress.

This morning, I walked into the practice and was handed three different things before I even put my bag down and switched the computer on.

The practice is so busy everyday and it’s hard to find the headspace to think beyond the next task.  

But that headspace is important for the benefit of the practice and making things work. It can help to horizon scan and think bigger, but also give staff added resilience and help look after their wellbeing.

I’ve trained, mentored and supported practice managers on the habit of making this space for themselves in their day-to-day routines – as well as do it myself as a practice business manager. Here are my tips to thrive in general practice.

Ignore things

It’s really important to be able to recognise the difference between what is important and urgent, what is important and not urgent, and what is not important or urgent.

As practice managers, we get absolutely bombarded with emails. When I’m mentoring new PMs it’s one of the first things I am asked about, questions on what do I do with this, or this? They don’t know what to postpone and what is urgent.

But a very important skill to learn, is not working to everybody else’s timescales. It’s about having the confidence or assertiveness to say I don’t have time to get to it until Friday.

Often practice management can be a dumping ground – if you don’t know where else it goes, it lands on the desk of practice managers. So, it’s about delegation and letting go of things you personally don’t need to do.

Carve out quiet time

Whatever your work pattern is, you need to switch off at some point. With WhatsApp groups and text messages and emails pinging on your phone, it’s important to schedule some ‘do not disturb’ time.

We have a diary where we schedule do not disturb periods. During that time, staff know they then can still message me if it’s on an urgent matter, but they also know to leave me alone if it’s not urgent.

It’s vital you lead by example to make sure others in the practice are also building in that quiet time.

Protected learning time should also be included in that. Conferences like the one organised by Management in Practice can provide that time away from your practice and give you that essential headspace to think of new ideas and connect with others.

I just want to share one tip about email too. Rather than have it constantly open throughout the day,  access them only at certain times, such as first thing in the morning, mid-morning, lunchtime and then an hour before closing. Otherwise, you can easily become distracted by emails that are interesting when trying to do something that’s important.

Practice management is not a one-person job

Practice management is evolving  – and has already changed signigicantly. It’s no longer a job for one person. No matter the size of the practice, one practice manager cannot hold everything together for the whole business. They cannot work all the core hours of general practice – 8:00am until 6:30pm, five days a week, and be on hand to deal with problems outside of those hours.

So, getting help with the responsibilities is a good idea. Whether that’s through assistant managers, a GP partner taking some responsibility for particular areas of the business, employing reception supervisors or using the admin team to provide support with certain tasks.

Those who are doing it all right now need to switch off and have time away – whether it’s for personal development or just making sure you’re getting a break. Otherwise, it will be hard to stay resilient and look after your wellbeing.

Your best is good enough

Another common mistake is that people try to do the impossible. There are only so many hours in the day and there’s only so much you can do – but your best is good enough.

Practice managers face a really big challenge looking after everybody, patients, staff and partners. It’s a very lonely role because there aren’t always people who look after you.

It’s helpful when you get that endorsement from partners within the practice, but you can also get support from practice manager groups involved in your PCN and other networks. Those support groups can be invaluable.  

Accept that plans will change

Practice management is often about the unpredictable. I don’t have a magic wand or crystal ball to be able tell you what’s going to happen. But if you can manage the predictable, we’re in a better place to cope with the unpredictable challenges that come our way.

Tracy Dell is Practice Business Manager at Cleckheaton Group Practice, West Yorkshire

You can hear more from Tracy at her session at the Management in Practice event in Newcastle on 28 September. Sign up for your free place here.

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