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Want to Be a Better Dentist? Take More Time Off

Article

Vacation refreshes, recharges, and makes us better when we do return to work.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series.

It is now August, the month that we in America call “the dog days of summer.” In France, they call it “vacation.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the entire country pretty much shuts down. French workers are

required

to take 31 days off per year. Yes, you read that correctly.

Few of us in the States have the necessary vacation time to replicate this model. But dentists who own their own practices are in a unique position to do so. Your overall productivity and effectiveness may significantly increase if your downtime expanded.

Of course, this goes against our instincts. Entrepreneurs—and most dentists are, indeed, entrepreneurs—consider rest not as a necessary component of life, but as a luxury for the lesser beings who need it. “We’re tougher than that,” the thinking goes. “We’ll rest when we’re dead!”

This attitude doesn’t work, because studies have shown that the longer we work, the less productive we become. There is even a name for it: Parkinson’s law. This isn’t exactly news; no less an entrepreneur than Henry Ford cut the work week for his factory workers in the 1920s after discovering that his workers’ output precipitously declined after 8 hours a day, 5 days per week.

Yet, dentists often drive themselves to exhaustion, seeing patients at multiple locations, opening every day of the week, double- and triple-booking appointments and so on. Reasons why may include need for business growth, personal and professional drive, a belief in the nobility of work, and a feeling that if patients can’t be seen when and how often they want to be seen, they’ll switch to Dr. Always Available across the street.

But would they? Would patients who know and trust you switch dentists if they could no longer make appointments on Sunday or in August? If they knew in advance about the schedule change and could be scheduled accordingly?

Noted philosopher Aristotle wrote that “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” Some dentists might say that work is their leisure, but for others, work must surely feel like, well, work. Many who work long hours do so because it feels irresponsible to work less. But what about the idea that leisure time isn’t time wasted on a trivial pursuit, but time spent recharging for the next round of labor?

Easier said than done for most dentists, you may be thinking. In part 2, we’ll look at how a structure that includes more time off could work.

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