Beating Burnout by Flint Geier

Beating Burnout 

5 tips and tools to reinvigorate yourself and your practice


by Flint Geier


Burnout is a cancer that seems to be affecting almost every independent practice owner. At best, you’ve heard and read a lot about it. At worst, you’re deep in the burnout trap and feel there’s no way out. Most of you are somewhere along the spectrum—experiencing some level of burnout, yet not understanding why or what to do about it.

As the saying goes, misery loves company. Industry publications, websites, social media, message boards, online communities, emails, you name it, have become a feeding frenzy of negativity—essentially, platforms for complaining to the masses. And everyone’s listening! A recent Dentaltown message board post garnered almost 500 responses about people feeling burned out, worn down or never having enough time—the most responses I’ve ever seen to a single post in such a short time. Doctors report their anxiety levels are triple what they were before COVID-19. Search “burnout in dentistry” and you’ll see an onslaught of articles written over the past three years about how the profession has changed, how difficult running a profitable practice has become, how bad teams have gotten and why good people are impossible to find.

Following those conversations pulls you deeper into the burnout trap. Instead of further fueling the frenzy, I want to change the narrative by talking about what you as an individual practice owner can do to combat your own risk of burnout and get you out of the trap you may already be in.


Recognizing burnout
Before treatment must come diagnosis. For private orthodontic practice owners, there are three unmistakable signs of burnout, or indicators that you could be headed down that path in the near future:

“I’m so tired.” How many times a week do you say, think or feel that way? The words may vary—“I’m tired,” “I’m beat,” “I’m exhausted”—but the symptoms are the same. You’re going through the motions of your daily existence—going into the office, treating patients, interacting with your team—but with little energy or enthusiasm. You’re just trying to get through the day.

Lack of engagement.
This is a more palatable way of saying you just don’t really care as much anymore. That’s not to say you don’t care about your patients, but you’ve become somewhat apathetic about running the business; you’d rather let the practice run on autopilot than take an active role in steering it the way you used to. When asked what makes your practice better than others, you may say all the right words, but you won’t be able to hide the nuance that you no longer really believe what you’re saying.

Decreased sense of accomplishment. If you were surprised at April tax time to learn you had a great year in 2022, you obviously never celebrated the accomplishment with yourself and your team. Maybe you weren’t tracking results, so you didn’t recognize the progress you were making throughout the year. Or maybe even big successes no longer seem worth the effort that went into achieving them. Even if you’re tired and less engaged lately, tracking progress toward goals should be satisfying and motivating; if not, you are deep into the burnout trap.

Be honest with yourself. If any of those signs of burnout are present, or just beginning to enter into your thoughts, begin applying these simple tools and concepts to divert yourself away from the burnout zone, or get out of the burnout trap if it seems you’re already caught in it.


Feed your mind healthier food.
The content you allow into your ears, eyes and brain is as important as the food you allow into your mouth. The relentless feed of distressing information and negativity bombarding us 24/7 can trap an already burned-out practice owner, send one close to burnout plummeting over the edge or drive the most enthusiastic young practice owner toward burnout before they ever get started.

Stop consuming a steady diet of no-can-do attitudes and feeds that would have you believe you can’t do any better. Replace those feeds with ones that talk about how other independent practice owners have solved their challenges and are as successful as ever. Join communities of growth-minded doctors willing to share their knowledge and best practices for the good of their colleagues and profession overall. Avail yourself of information and tools, such as workshops and coaching, that create only positive feeds.


Reenergize through physical health and fitness.
Practicing orthodontics is tough on the body; ignore that and you’ll inevitably suffer from physical burnout. The longer you stay in shape, the longer you can continue to make a profitable living doing what you love. Moreover, research is well documented that physical activity and a healthy diet not only boost energy and stamina but also improve mental well-being—how clearly you think, how you feel about yourself, how you engage with others and your overall level of enthusiasm for all aspects of life.

Sustaining physical health and fitness requires structure, constant commitment and accountability. Don’t just join a gym; hire a trainer. Don’t just do a workout; commit to a regimented fitness plan. Join a local sports club that requires practices and games. Don’t go on a diet; work with a dietitian on a total dietary plan. Doing something is better than doing nothing, so start small, if necessary. The initial sacrifices will be worth it and eventually become part of a healthier routine.


Stick to a time management system.
The stress caused by never having enough time to feel on top of your business, or life in general, is a huge driver of burnout. Be intentional about how you structure your time, what you spend your time on, and how you control and protect your time so you’re always focused on what’s most important. After all, you own the practice, so you should own your time as well.

We teach our coaching clients a highly regimented time management system. It does take time to set up and learn to use well, but the results are worth the effort. Whatever system you choose to use, start with a radical self-analysis of how you spend your time now. You’ll quickly realize that without a system in place and the discipline to stick to it, nothing will change—least of all, your results. You’ll discover how much of your time is spent on tasks that don’t grow the business, develop your team, benefit your patients or improve your own personal well-being.

An important outcome of this analysis is that you should uncover opportunities for adjusting your time in beneficial ways you may not have thought of before. For example, you may come to the healthy conclusion that if you adjust your schedule to start 30 minutes later, two days a week, you can fit in a morning workout and arrive at work as a more energized, positive business owner and practice leader. Unless you can make up for that time at the end of the day, though, you would adversely affect patient care and revenue. The solution? Add an associate.


Aggressively reduce debt.
Being in debt is mentally and emotionally exhausting and contributes to burnout. Debt negatively affects your cash flow and net worth, and the stress and anxiety can affect your personal life and relationships—unless you understand debt, how and when to use it to your advantage and how to aggressively decrease it.

Debt, as an investment that results in growth, is good for your business. As long as you’re getting a positive return, debt is not an expense to be avoided. Examples include investing in additional treatment rooms and associate doctors to increase capacity of the practice to generate more revenue; investing in training so your team knows how to bring in new patients and deliver a patient experience that grows the practice; and buying your building so you’re paying yourself instead of a bank.

A component of any return-on-investment decision is putting systems in place to track results so, if necessary, you can take steps to get the investment back on track. Then use the additional revenue to aggressively pay down the debt as quickly as possible, instead of spending in other ways.


Develop your people.
The emotional and mental energy it takes to lead and manage a team can be exhausting. So is trying to do everything yourself, which is a guaranteed recipe for burnout.

You probably already employ people who have the potential to share the burden, allowing you to produce at a higher level. Build your level of trust in delegation by putting them through development training so they’re equipped with the necessary tools and resources. Invest in their development so they build additional skills and knowledge and learn to take ownership and accountability; give them opportunities to grow and demonstrate they care about the practice and its long-term success as much as you do. After all, it is their livelihood, too.

Team members are just as susceptible to burnout as you are. Reengage and reenergize their enthusiasm by providing growth opportunities and, in turn, a greater sense of accomplishment that comes with affecting the practice on a larger scale. You will also find this to be a highly effective retention strategy, thus helping to alleviate that burnout stressor.


Your practice is important!
Burned-out practice owners forget how important their businesses are to so many people. Your practice fuels everything you and your family enjoy in life, both short and long term. It fuels the lives of the people who work for you and their families. Your practice provides essential oral health care for patients and serves communities.

If you lose enthusiasm, energy, positivity, engagement or physical health—if you stop putting patients first, stop generating new patients and stop leading the team—your people will know it, your patients will feel it and even the community in which you used to be more active will see it.

Even if you don’t recognize the symptoms in yourself, or won’t admit it, you’ll see the fallout in the results of your business. Your team will become as stressed and burned out as you, further spiraling you and the practice downward.

Whether you’re trying to escape the burnout trap you’re already caught in or trying to avoid it, the strategies are the same. Build them into your new management time system to ensure they get top priority.


Author Bio
Flint Geier Flint Geier is director of Scheduling Institute’s 5Star Certification Program and a keynote speaker who inspires independent practice doctors and team members to grow personally and professionally. With the company since its inception in 1997, Geier has followed in the footsteps of his father, Jay, to become a go-to expert and champion for new patient growth in the private practice industry. To take the Scheduling Institute’s complimentary practice growth analysis, visit fivestarchallenge.com/otown.
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