Get the balance right – How to reduce the stress involved with having more things to organise

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Locumming is attractive to many GPs because it gives them greater  freedom and flexibility, particularly if they have many outside interests. Dr Ishani Patel, a recently qualified GP is involved in numerous projects including writing a blog for Pulse magazine about her first 5 years http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/first-5-years. She tells me

“I wouldn’t be able to properly fulfil the requirements of a salaried post whilst I have so much going on, being a locum allows me to take on more.”

Dr Libby Hodges, a GP with many ‘hats’ including locumming, running her own business, being an appraiser, GP trainer and charity trustee tells us

“Locuming can give you greater freedom and flexibility, but if you're not organised, you get far less flexibility than you would do in a salaried job or a partnership role.”

Libby emphasises the importance of organisation and gives us some top tips for those considering 'going locum' to ensure they get the balance right.

Holidays come first

When you start out, it feels like you should take on everything, there is the worry that if you book holidays, you will put yourself out of opportunities and reduce your earning potential. Libby warns against this:

“If you don’t ringfence your holidays first you will end up getting completely booked up with no time for a break, in doing this, you are likely to burn out. To avoid this, you have to plan ahead and fit your work around this, rather than the other way around.”

Libby recommends that something as simple as getting a wall planner is a good way to force yourself into doing this.

‘Book’ regular time for admin

Although it is tempting to offer yourself to work 9 sessions per week to maximise your income, the likelihood is that you will be neglecting necessary tasks. Invoicing, pension forms, keeping your accounts up to date all need doing. If you don’t do them regularly you will feel overburdened. Libby suggests you should actually 'book' regular time in your diary to stay on top of things.

“If a practice asks you to work on Friday afternoons, but this is the time you use to complete your admin, It's OK to tell the practice you are already booked for that session, be strict with your time otherwise it is easy to fall behind.”

Keep a detailed diary, and make sure you can read it!

If you are locumming in a number practices, it is difficult to remember what will be required of you from one day to the next. Carole, a locum from West London recalls:

“All practices are different, one might involve home visits, the other, paid admin time, one has parking which is a 15 minute walk away – all of these things are important and if you don’t have that information you could end up disappointing the practice.”

Libby tells us that you don’t necessarily need a complicated system to succeed at planning:

“Keeping a pocket diary which is legible and includes all you need to know about a job is a really easy way to get yourself organised”

Invest in setting up a home office

If you are going to be locumming, you will most likely be doing all of your admin at home. Libby recommends investing in setting up a decent home office.

“It will really help you keep on top of the administrative burden if you have a dedicated area to work and store paperwork. Set up shelves and compartments for all of your paperwork near your computer - that way you can reach it easily when chasing invoices, filling out your pension forms or booking work”

Don’t be afraid to outsource

We know GPs often don’t like to spend money where they don’t have to, and a lot of locums that we speak to try to take everything on themselves in an attempt to save extra pennies. This approach though might actually leave you out-of-pocket. Libby advises that locums should think about the opportunity cost of taking on all the work yourself:

“If you spend a session a week doing the cleaning or filing your own accounts, you are foregoing however much you could have earned if you locummed that session. If a cleaner or an accountant is cheaper per session than you are (if they are not, you should probably revise your rates!) then financially, you are better off by outsourcing.  Some people even have personal assistants if they are really working as many sessions as possible”

She also recommends that locums should do an audit of all of the work they do during the week, this will help locums decide what work could be better done elsewhere allowing them to take on more.

- Dr Libby Hodges has previously worked as a GP partner and salaried GP, in addition to being an experienced trainer, appraiser and course organiser. She now works as a GP locum, creating the flexible lifestyle that allows her to coach and mentor doctors in finding their own perfect lifestyle. To find out more, check out www.libbyhodges.com

If you have any questions about the blog or to offer to contribute please contact Melissa - melissa.morris@lantum.com

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