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Cal Newport, a distinguished computer science professor at Georgetown University, has become a leading voice in the realm of productivity and professional fulfillment. His notable contributions to this field include the influential book, Deep Work, where Newport explores the transformative power of focused, undistracted work in an age of constant connectivity. Published in 2016, Deep Work gained widespread acclaim for its insights into cultivating profound concentration and delivering exceptional results in various professional domains. Newport’s work challenges prevailing norms of constant busyness, urging individuals to embrace a more deliberate and immersive approach to their tasks. As a precursor to his latest exploration in Slow Productivity, Newport’s research sets the stage for a broader conversation about redefining work practices and priorities for a more meaningful and sustainable professional life.

In Newport’s latest book, he addresses the challenges of knowledge work in modern offices. He argues that the current focus on performative busyness has replaced true productivity standards. Newport suggests countering this with a new mindset, emphasizing doing fewer tasks, working at a natural pace, and prioritizing quality.  Newport advises taking control of one’s time, preserving meeting-free hours, and incorporating rest periods akin to the seasonality enjoyed by tenured professors. He advocates for evaluating achievements on a broader scale and encourages a shift toward a more sustainable and humane approach to knowledge work. Newport’s narrative style incorporates biographies of various figures, attempting to elevate the conventional advice manual with lessons from the lives of Jane Austen, Jewel, Richard Feynman, and others. While some may find these anecdotes contrived, Newport’s optimism about fostering creativity and accomplishment through deliberate, thoughtful work is both energizing and crucial.

For dentists and orthodontists seeking to implement “Slow Productivity” principles in their practice, here are a few tailored strategies:

1. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity in Patient Care:

If you think high quality and high quantity can’t coexist in the service industry, visit Disney, Costco, or Apple. Buy from Amazon, Samsung, Coca-Cola, or Proctor and Gamble. Most dentists who complain that their high-volume competitors “must be providing” poor quality are really saying “I haven’t figured out how to do both.” And that’s OK. Keep the main thing the main thing. Only scale up when you have sufficient resources and systems in place to ensure thorough, effective, quality outcomes for all patients. Yes, you can do both, but you must prioritize quality, then quantity.

2.Establish Controlled Work Hours:

Set boundaries on your work hours to prevent burnout and maintain a sustainable pace. Preserve certain hours as meeting-free to allow for concentrated, undisturbed work on complex cases or planning. Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach teaches his clients to structure their months in thirds with one-third of all days devoted to productivity, one-third devoted to planning, and one-third taken as personal days, away from the office for relaxing and recharging. Early in my career, I was guilty of putting too many production days on the scheduled and only taking personal days when I had gone past the point of burnout. If you have some extra personal days on the calendar and you don’t need them, great! You can switch those to planning or productivity days. But if you don’t have any personal days on the books and you really need one, that’s when you get into trouble and at high risk of burnout.

3. Create a Task List and Update Co-workers:

Develop a publicly accessible task list for your team, reducing the need for constant updates and interruptions. Clearly communicate your priorities and progress, promoting a more organized and efficient workflow. Put them up on a big dry-erase board in team areas where everyone can see your focus areas for the month and quarter. Give frequent status updates with visual progress queues and feedback.

4. Incorporate Rest Periods and Seasonality:

Introduce rest periods or breaks between demanding procedures to recharge and avoid fatigue. Implement a “rest project” concept after completing a significant treatment plan, allowing for recuperation and reflection. Here are some tips reported by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, on taking better breaks: Do not pick up your phone on breaks. Research shows scrolling through social media during work breaks can lead to emotional exhaustion. Instead try these:

Moving beats stationary. Physical activity can improve the quality of your breaks. An hourly five-minute walking break boosts energy levels and improves your overall mood while reducing fatigue in the afternoon. Plus, short walks increase motivation, concentration and creativity.

Try to avoid isolating yourself during your breaks. Research indicates that taking breaks with others helps reduce stress and errors while improving mood—especially when the topics being discussed aren’t work-related. So, when taking a break, take it with a few other people. But don’t talk about work.

Get outside. Immerse yourself in a bit of nature. Find some trees, plants, rivers, and lakes. Research shows, once again, that outdoor environments improve moods and help us to replenish more effectively. Ethan Kross and I spoke about this on his podcast interview. It’s like a detox of sorts from the indoors. Put yourself around some actual living things before sitting back down in that office chair and submerging yourself in devices, screens, and other digital/electronic stuff under the glow of mostly artificial light.

These were shared by Pim de Morree at Corporate Rebels and highlighted by Daniel Pink at an event in Copenhagen, Denmark. During his talk, Dan shared some powerful insights into taking better breaks at work. Or, as he said in his book, When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, a growing body of science makes it clear: breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength.

5. Encourage Lifelong Learning and Development:

Adopt a five-year plan for professional development, setting long-term goals for the practice. Embrace a mindset that values continuous improvement, innovation, and staying updated on the latest advancements in dentistry. Put this in the budget. Work with your CPA or CFO to preserve and protect this investment long-term.

6. Evaluate Achievements on a Comprehensive Scale:

This is probably the most important principle. Instead of focusing solely on daily appointments, assess your practice’s success over a more extended period. Warren Buffett has long admonished CEOs and boards who think too short-term. They’re so focused on quarterly earnings and month-to-month results that they sacrifice future strength and long-term positioning. Most readers at Burleson Seminars do not have public investors to appease. Your board is likely made up of you and a few business partners or a spouse. You must resist the urge to make short-term decisions. Instead, consider patient satisfaction, quality outcomes, long-term relationships, lifetime customer value, career milestones, and referrals as integral components of your practice’s achievements, not just revenue and profit.

By incorporating these strategies, dental professionals can streamline their work processes, maintain a sustainable pace, and foster a more fulfilling and humane approach to their practice. Newport’s book serves as a guide for dentists and orthodontists to cultivate a balanced, focused, and effective work environment, ultimately improving patient care and professional well-being. The book is highly recommended.

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