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INSIGHT

Get organized or suffer

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

I usually focus more on the serious sides of personnel management, the kind of issues that can close down a business or organization if mishandled.

“Getting organized” might not sound like one of those issues, but I’ve witnessed cases where disorganization was clearly a factor in success and failure. Especially in environments like those faced by medical office managers, “simple” organization may top the list.

The ugly truth of office management is that it’s a position where a lot of paper, responsibility, and still more paper comes your way. And did I mention paperwork? You get the idea.

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to only handle a paper item once. Never pick it up and set it down, intending to get to it later. I would add similar advice for email, text messages, and other electronic communications. These are pretty basic concepts, although I would suggest conducting a web search for “make your email more efficient” or “control your inbox.” There are some good ideas out there and most of us can benefit by a few moments to improve our habits in those areas.

What I am addressing here, however, are issues that are more office-wide in nature. Often, these are the areas where organizations trip up on seemingly simple pursuits, sometimes not understanding why.

One is as old as organizations themselves: the establishment of clearly defined responsibilities.

I’m sure you’ve heard that when “everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.” I once visited an office where their skills were outstanding, but it was amazing how often toner was low in a printer, or coffee remained unmade in the waiting room. These are minor nuisances, but later I heard about relatively critical supplies failing to be available during an emergency.

Clearly, these seemingly mundane items were not anyone’s responsibility and the answer I got after asking was that “whoever uses the last one is supposed to order new ones.” Yikes!

That’s a rare oversight in the medical field, but almost every office can benefit from reviewing who is responsible for what and putting that in writing. If you develop a comprehensive list of responsibilities, it’s easy to share the relevant portions with the respective individuals.

This brings up record keeping in general, one of the banes of your existence but a key component in what turns chaos into order. The best advice I’ve ever heard on this is to make records management part of the routine, your routine and those to whom you delegate related tasks. Personally, I try to budget a few minutes or so early each morning, before things get hectic and while I’m still on my first or second cup of coffee. Of course, this is only possible if you’ve maintained records in decent shape, so you’re only updating. If they’re not organized, then plan on a morning or afternoon. Afterward, you will need only minutes each day to keep them that way. Make sure those reporting to you—those sending you records—follow a similar plan.

This brings up a more general but related topic: procrastinating on work you don’t like. With the typically busy schedule many managers face, it’s very easy to put off tasks that you don’t enjoy. Again, a key is to schedule time to do it. Actually set aside time on your planner or calendar, then get it done. If it’s a really big job, schedule the work in sections so you’re not overwhelmed or become even more frustrated because your plan wasn’t realistic.

This brings up still another concept: don’t be afraid to outsource. Whether it’s bringing in a temporary assistant or hiring an independent accountant to help with a major headache, the price you pay will most likely be worth the time you or a staff member saves. Especially for smaller organizations, bringing in the occasional “hired gun” to help focus on a specialized or seemingly intractable problem can bring major benefits.

Finally, take time to think about these types of issues. Office management is often filled with a constant parade of “fires” to put out and there’s often little time to think strategically. Indeed, many of the above strategies are difficult to implement without at least some time for planning and communication. Unless you set aside some time—I suggest weekly or at least twice a month—it won’t happen. And you and your office will be the worse for it.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.

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