How to Catch Up on Paperwork

Did you know it's common for therapists to get behind in their documentation? And I'm not talking about one or two weeks! From conversations I've had with therapists across the country, I'd say most of us get 1-2 months behind at some point in our career.

While I obviously wouldn't recommend this as a regular practice, it doesn't have to be the end of the world, either. The key is to make a realistic plan to catch up on notes as soon as possible. Here's how to do that in a few simple steps:

  1. Ask for help! Talk with a colleague or friend and get some accountability so you'll stay on track. Remember, it may feel a little embarrassing at first but my experience is that almost every therapist has gotten behind in their work at some point. Your colleague is way more likely to agree and relay their own similar experience than to look down on you.
  2. Take the time to create a realistic plan first. It may feel like a waste of time initially but taking an hour to sit down and create an action plan will save you so much time and stress in the long run. Sit down and look at each client record. How many notes do you need to write for each client? How long does it typically take you to write a note? Add it up and calculate how much time you'll need to get caught up. It doesn't have to be lengthy or complicated, just realistic (hint: the further back you need to write notes, the longer it will take you per note because there will be some memory searching).
  3. Don't neglect your current notes. This is key to creating that sense of relief once you're caught up. If you spend all your time on catch-up notes and neglect this week's notes then you just perpetuate the cycle and the mountain of paperwork grows. Your catch up plan has to be in addition to your regular hours or you'll keep spinning your wheels. Prepare yourself, put your battle gear on, and spend 1-2 weeks getting those old notes done for good!
  4. Spend time 3-4 days a week on your catch-up plan. Your plan has to include consistent time for a short duration (1-2 weeks) until you're totally caught up. If you space it out and spend about one hour for four days over two weeks that gives you eight total hours of note-writing. Most therapists spend about 10 minutes on each note so even if we allow 15 minutes (taking into consideration it may take longer writing older notes) that's 32 notes you could write in two weeks! 
  5. Start with the oldest notes first. If you follow the above plan, starting with the oldest notes allows you to write chronologically. This makes things easier to remember and track. You can do this one of two ways... maybe start with Client A and write all your notes for her, starting with the oldest first, and then move on to Client B. You could also just go by date and write all your notes for Feb. 19th, then all your notes for Feb. 20th and so on.

And voila... you're all caught up on notes! Trust me, being honest with yourself and creating a realistic plan will give you a huge sense of relief and accomplishment. Don't forget about step one and get that accountability so you follow through. Decide you'll do it, take action, maintain consistency and then celebrate! 

Share with your colleagues... what are some things you've done when you get behind on notes? And if you need more tips, feel free to check out my free training, the Private Practice Paperwork Crash Course.

Happy writing!

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.