The majority of my one on one clients are dealing with a specific problem that spirals out of control and ends up impacting every aspect of documentation- poor time management.
There are plenty of reasons for this... avoiding documentation out of fear or resentment, not making notes a priority above responding to voice messages and emails, mistakenly thinking that they'll easily be able to remember everything that happened a few weeks (or months) ago... or my personal choice- good ol' optimism and procrastination, thinking you'll have plenty of time tomorrow.
I find these reasons become regular habit and are very difficult to battle. However, if you couple determination with proven strategy you can make great progress in overcoming this struggle.
The determination part I must leave up to you (although I do have some motivation for you in this blog post). However, I can supply the strategy.
So here are my top tips for saving time on writing notes (the large bulk of the paperwork you complete):
Schedule your notes
My very first tip is that you MUST schedule in time for writing notes. Otherwise, it will always be something to put off or a dark cloud looming over you. When it's scheduled you feel more secure knowing when the task will get done and you can focus on other things.
Unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as throwing it in your calendar every week and getting notes done. Many people still hit road blocks and that brings me to my next tip...
Choose the time of day that works best for you
You may have talked with a colleague who writes her notes religiously every afternoon before heading home. Or maybe a supervisor recommended doing them every Friday all day. Or perhaps at an agency you were required to write your notes between clients.
Well, guess what? Maybe that doesn't work for you!
Give yourself permission to try a few things out and determine what really works. For YOU. Trying to fit into someone else's box will never work.
The "ideal" would be to see a client, write the note, see the next client, write the note. But you know what? I hated that. It just didn't work for me. I need time in between clients to regroup and process without the time constraint and pressure. However, some counselors do this successfully.
You've just got to play around with a few things and see what works. I recommend when you're trying a new tactic that you do it for at least two weeks straight with all your clients. That way you really get to give it a fair shot (like I tried to do with running when I ran that half marathon).
But regardless of which schedule you choose for yourself I also have another tip that applies across the board...
Whether you're doing a marathon note-writing session one or two days a week or writing notes in between clients, make sure you take time out on occasion.
Productivity research shows that people perform better in work "sprints" than marathon sessions. That doesn't mean you need to take a huge break. Just 15 minutes every two hours can significantly increase your creativity and focus.
So make sure you either schedule breaks between clients or give yourself a break from sitting at your computer writing notes. Take care of yourself and you'll be better equipped to care for your clients.
And speaking of that, let's move on to some tools that can make the whole task easier...
Use a dictation software
If you've never been much of a writer and especially if English class was an ongoing struggle for you, I'm going to have a hard time getting you to enjoy writing notes. But you don't have to write!
Try a dictation software and speak your notes. This tactic alone is a life saver for some people. There are plenty of dictation tools out there but Dragon Naturally Speaking is the one I recommend. It's popular with college students who use the software to write essays and is very affordable.
Dictation does take some practice and you may need to go in and adjust things afterward, but getting the note out of your head and on to the screen (or paper) will give you such a fabulous freeing feeling.
Use an app on your smart phone
There are dictation apps on your phone so you could save "notes" for yourself if you're feeling inspired but not at your computer or with your files. There are also electronic record systems that allow you to write (or even speak) your notes directly into the app so you can be productive while not in your office.
Of course, I'd recommend you still take some time to reflect and make the notes meaningful but having the app gives you the freedom to write some notes while reflecting at the park or on the beach. Now that's a nice note-writing experience!
And my final tip for saving time is really the ultimate time-saver when it comes to notes, but certainly isn't for everyone...
Try collaborative documentation
Collaborative (or concurrent) documentation is exactly what it sounds like- collaborating with your client to write the session note. So when your client leaves the office your note is either completely or almost completely done.
You can read my more in-depth look at this strategy in this blog post but I will say that for the purposes of saving time and creating clinical meaning, nothing beats this tactic. It doesn't work for all clients or all therapists but if you really struggle with getting behind on notes, this can save you many headaches and sleepless nights. As with the scheduling strategy, it certainly doesn't hurt to try it out.
So there you have it! Plenty of tips to create more time for yourself while not sacrificing the meaningfulness or importance of documentation.
If you want to learn even more tips and cool tricks from me then check out my online program for therapists. It's called Meaningful Documentation and we cover everything you never learned in grad school, all within the confines of a supportive group of colleagues.
And don't forget to leave a comment here if you try out one or two of these strategies and let me know how it worked out!
Like the tips in this blog post? This blog is part of the compiled tips in the ebook Workflow Therapy: Time Management and Simple Systems for Counselors.