Scheduling seems to be the challenge that never quite goes away. From holes that can’t be filled, to finding flow and keeping life balance, your appointment book can make the difference between a happy day doing what you love, and a day spent in frustration.
Here are three rules you can use yourself, or as guidelines for your staff. If you find the rules hard to implement, sometimes a few simple language tweaks when booking can help, too.
Rule #1. Start an Empty Day From The Edges
Scheduling problems often start with the first appointment that goes in the book. To avoid getting off on the wrong foot, remember that an empty day isn’t wide open. For effective scheduling, start from the edges.
By “edges” I mean a start or stop point in your schedule. An empty 9-5 work day, with an hour lunch from 12-1, for example, really only has two ideal time slots: 9AM, and the one ending at 5PM–you start booking from the top down, or from the bottom up. (The 1PM time slot after lunch is also a good candidate. Up to you.)
Benefits: Work-life balance & your real hourly rate. You don’t show up for work until you really have to, or you don’t stay there any longer than you need to. No more spending 8 hours at the office for three appointments.
Rule #2: Appointments Have to Touch
We also call this “No islands“. Once that first appointment is booked, it’s the new anchor point for the next. If your day has one appointment booked from 9AM-10AM, the only available slot is now 10AM.
Benefits: Better flow, greater capacity. Many practitioners find it hard to switch back and forth between working with clients and working on their practice, and so tiny holes in the schedule just don’t get used effectively for anything. Worse, if you have longer appointment times, like an hour, then a 15- or 30-minute gap means you might not be able to help anyone at all, particularly a new client.
Rule #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Move Appointments
Sh*t happens. People cancel. They reschedule. You can’t quite get them to fit the rules above. That can leave an awkward hole in your day. If your day is booked nicely from 9-2, but someone cancels at 10AM, you’ve now got a hole. You can try to use a waiting list, but if that doesn’t work, why not call your 2:00 client and see if they’re interested in coming in earlier? They may not be, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the last person in the day to move up.
What we’ve discovered is that you get to know your clients, and you can often tell from looking at the schedule who’s a good candidate to move. “Bob? He’s retired–he’ll probably happily come in earlier. In fact, I think he prefers the morning appointments, but we didn’t have anything.”
Benefits: All of the ones in #1 & 2. You earn more, help more, and smile more.
Can you break these rules? Of course. Schedules are personal. You can build yours however you like, and there are always cases where exceptions are justified. The important thing is to understand the benefit of using the rules, and the cost of breaking them.
What’s your favorite scheduling tip? Share it in the comments!