Carpe Diem: Seize the Day Before It Seizes You

Written By: David Baker, LPC

As I’ve said before I realize this blog is available to anyone who wants to read it and I try to keep it relevant to anyone who reads it – helpers, people seeking help from helpers, the general public. Hopefully this post will be relevant to all those audiences as well, but it is admittedly focused more on helpers this time. However, keep reading if you would like a “behind the scenes” glimpse of a few of the challenges helpers face on a daily basis.

I would like to say this post is going to be about time management (and mostly it is), but in the interest of transparency it is really going to be about more than just that. You’ll see what I mean in a minute…

I think one of the most difficult challenges for me as a helper (and maybe for others of you as well) is being present when I am sitting with someone to whom I’m providing help or with whom I’m completing an assessment.  I often find that my mind is on a million different things like: “Did I get all the paperwork signed?”, “Am I late for my next appointment?”, “Was there an authorization for this appointment?”, “Will I have time to finish all my notes today if I try to schedule one more appointment?” etc. There are many obligations we face as helpers and they can often distract us from what we all want to do – provide help!

I am not the poster child for organizational skills and the concept of managing time in my mind is akin to trying to hold five pounds of loose sand in one hand without losing any. But I have learned a few things over the years about prioritizing the helping process which have improved my ability to focus on the person sitting in front of me who has come to me for help. The most important thing I’ve learned is that what I make my priority is what I will spend my time doing.

I have learned that there are three priorities I have to pay attention to every day. And if I pay attention to them every day, then at least my professional life as a helper stays mostly organized so that I am able to stay focused on the people to whom I am providing help. They are:

  1. I need to help the people I am supposed to be helping
  2. I need to document that I have helped the people that I am supposed to be helping
  3. And I need to make sure that my company gets paid for the help I provide so that I get paid for the help that I provide.

Let me tackle the third priority first because it is probably the most controversial. I like helping people. It is why I have spent a lot of time learning how to help and what kinds of help work best. This is why I got into this field in the first place. If I could do therapy for free (and without the paperwork…), I probably would because I like it. Unfortunately, like so many helpers, I have not had the financial freedom to do a lot of “pro bono” work. The truth for most of us, is that we need to get paid for what we do. More than that, we should get paid for what we do because we have put a lot of time and effort into learning what we know so that we can provide the help we provide.

Add to this that most companies who provide mental health services operate on very thin financial margins– reimbursement for services from insurance companies have not risen in many years, but service costs continue to go up. So being as efficient as possible in service delivery is really important so that we can afford to continue to provide help. And efficiency has some benefits:

  • Obviously, the benefit to a mental health services company is it helps the financial bottom line.
  • The benefit to helpers is that being efficient in providing help reduces the amount work hours staff have to put in outside the face to face help they are providing.
  • And finally, and most importantly, the benefit to the people we help is that there is very strong incentive to make sure that the helped are included in all aspects of the help they receive – there is a lot of research that supports the efficacy of this.

So helpers have to pay attention to things like whether the service they are providing has a payer and whether they are being efficient in scheduling appointments (more on that in a minute) and whether they’ve completed all the documentation needed for a payer to pay (more on that in a minute). We do all of this because we want to be able to keep helping people!

So with #3 out of the way let me go back to the first priority – helping the people I am responsible for helping. Practically speaking this means every day I need to make sure that I have scheduled appointmentswith the people I need to see that day and that I have an idea of what I am going to do at each appointment. Sounds simple enough, but we all know that life is not always simple. There are always unexpected “fires to put out” that interrupt our perfectly laid out plans. That is why we need to schedule for the “fires” too. I can guarantee you that if you do not have a schedule for the day, than you will not accomplish that schedule. I will go even further to say that if you do not have a next appointment scheduled for all the people that you are helping, the likelihood is pretty low that you will see them as often as you want or need to. So if you want to make sure you are on time and have the time to “put out the fires” that invariably come up, then have a schedule which allows you time for your regular appointments and also for the “fires”. The best way to do that is to schedule so that you to get ahead and stay ahead. In the helping profession being ahead is a requirement if you want to stay caught up. Or said another way don’t put off till tomorrow what you could have done yesterday. Trust me, you are going to need any “extra” time you can get.

Finally (and sort of out of order), we come to the second priority – documenting the help that is provided. Some helpers may say “If I provided the help I was supposed to provide, why does it matter whether I write it down? I did my job didn’t I?” Or Why is my helper so stuck on writing down with me what we did in our session today? Isn’t it enough that we did stuff that helped me today?” The most obvious answer to these questions is that if it is not documented, then (as I mentioned in the third priority) the provider doesn’t get paid for the help they provided – insurance companies need a record to justify payment. Put more simply if it did not get written down then it did not “officially” happen. But there are some other equally important reasons for documenting:

  • Documenting collaboratively between the helper and the helped ensures that the helper and helped are on the same page about how the helping is going and that the help is the right help.
  • It also removes the unnecessary “mystery” around what the helper is writing down and includes the perspective of the helped in their own record.
  • Documentation records the “story” of progress that is being made through the provided help. That’s important because the story of progress helps the helper and the helped to know when help is no longer needed.
  • And a final reason for documentation is that it helps both the helper and the helped remember what happened in the last session and what might need to happen this session. I don’t know about you, but for me without something like a note to jog my memory I have a hard time remembering the help I provided the previous session and how it was received. For me that difficulty is multiplied by the number of people I am responsible for helping each week. And we need to remember so that we know how to plan for the next session.

There are many other good reasons for documenting what goes on when help is being provided. The point of this post is that paying attention to documentation like the other two priorities should not be an additional “chore” to the help you provide.  It is an integral part of the help you provide. Paying attention to all three of these priorities is helping.

There’s no guarantee that if you to address each of these priorities everyday that you will live a stress-free professional life – I’m not sure if that’s even possible. However, if you give equal importance to each of these priorities every day, it’s very possible that you will find that most of what you need to get done each day is getting done and that the person you are helping is actually getting helped because you are able to the pay attention to them you should be paying. That sounds like a win-win to me!