When I was in my mid-20s, I moved my growing family into a new home, our third purchase. Two features that really attracted me to the place were the pool and the yard, neither of which we had with our previous house.
Of course pools and yards require regular maintenance, a reality I came to know very well, very quickly. As it turned out, I actually enjoyed doing the pool work. First of all, I loved the pool and I was the only one I trusted to keep it just right. Not only that, I actually found the work enjoyable, even mentally therapeutic, so I kind of looked forward to my maintenance duties there.
The lawn was a different matter. By the third weekend of hauling out the mower and trudging back and forth, I had come to hate it. One day, when I was out there, I saw a neighbor boy mowing his family’s lawn and I thought, “I wish my kids were old enough to do that here.”
I approached the young man and asked him if he wanted a regular part-time job doing my lawn. To my surprise – and delight – he turned out to be a canny negotiator. I said I would need him once a week. He said he thought it would require two visits a week. I offered $3.50 an hour. He asked for $4.00. I said I would pay after each cutting. He said he preferred to be paid in advance. I offered to give him a month’s pay in advance – if he dropped his fee to $3.75. We had a deal.
That still stands out as one of the best deals I remember making in my life in business. And not just because I hate lawn-mowing that much. It’s also because that deal exemplifies a lesson I would come back to again and again throughout my life. It was a lesson about the value of my time.
At that time, I was making about $30 an hour, so the amount I was paying my new young employee was not insignificant for a young homeowner with a family. But I also realized that all I had to do was work an extra hour to cover the cost. And I would get a lot more enjoyment and fulfilment – and ultimately more leverage – out of another hour at work than I would get in an hour of pushing a mower under the sun.
Too many dentists, I find, insist on pushing a mower they don’t have to push. You do it every time you find yourself performing a task that you could easily outsource – a task that doesn’t require your expertise, that doesn’t improve your economics, and that doesn’t add value to your life.
I understand that many dentists like to be “hands-on,” detail-oriented people, but there comes a point where a commitment to details can turn into a situation where you are being penny-wise and pound-foolish with your time. Each hour of your professional life has a tangible value – smart dentists know how to leverage that time strategically by removing as many “hooks” from themselves as possible, so they can be laser-focused on the things that can make the biggest difference.
That doesn’t mean you have to constantly pursue greater economic returns on each hour you live. We all have things that add value to our lives that don’t “pay off” in a strictest economic sense – things like cleaning the pool, back when that was a source of relaxation for me.
But you should continually evaluate what you are spending your time on and ask yourself if there are things you could delegate or outsource. I heard someone awhile ago express this philosophy quite succinctly. “If it doesn’t make you money and it doesn’t make you happy,” he asked, “why do it?”
It’s a pretty easy exercise to do: take your hourly rate of revenue production and, using that as your benchmark, ask yourself, with each non-revenue-producing task you are performing, “Is this task worth as much as I earn in an hour, if I were to pay someone else to do it? Do I get a special satisfaction from doing it myself?” If the answer is no to both, you should probably look for ways to remove it from your list of concerns.