I HEAR YOU, LUCILLE!
Anyone who knows me and the way I’ve lived and thought – and, above all, taught – will recognize this as radical re-messaging. I’m the guy who has been showing and telling people how to plan, strategize, formulate, and establish long-term goals. The idea was to systematically put the present to work to achieve an ultimate future that is attainable and predictable.
Great stuff, until it actually wasn’t.
Now we’re all driving blind in this world-historic, political, economic, endlessly scary, and exhausting COVID blizzard. It’s like being behind the wheel in a winter whiteout, snow coming down and blowing so thick you can’t see past the hood of the car. There could be a jack-knifed truck just ahead or even a moose! There’s no way of knowing what you’re moving toward. But here’s something for sure: if you stop, you’re stuck. With snow piling up, deeper by the minute, you may never get moving again. Ever.
In the absence of surety, paralysis is a natural inclination. But it’s a disaster. However uncertain and uneasy, we’ve got to plan and make moves every single day. The trick is to do it in a manner beautifully expressed by a 102-year-old wonder of longevity and wisdom named Lucille Ellson. As a baby, Ms. Ellson survived the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic, the last global health catastrophe on the scale of our current COVID Pandemic. Having weathered the Great Depression, World War II, and sundry worldwide and national crises and her own 102 years of life, she gave this advice to a Washington Post reporter recently: “To cope with this virus, and all that’s going on, I would tell people to not get stressed about planning far ahead. You can’t do it. A long time ago, I started making a list every morning of what I had to do. It was the only thing I could control, and I stuck to it, you hear me?” Yes, Lucille, I hear you. And I believe you. We all need to hear and believe you. And plan short for long-term survival.
BREAKING DOWN THE BREAKDOWN
How could you not freak out? Beyond the immediate challenges facing dental professionals, which we’ll get to in a moment, there’s terrible uncertainty shared by all of humanity. The mind swirls with questions as urgent as they are unanswerable. What’s going to happen next? To me and my family? My career? Finances? This country? The world? What’s it all going to look like tomorrow? In a month? By the end of the year? When will all these horrible messes we’re in end?
A certain craziness really is forgivable, because it’s perfectly explicable. Just think about what we’re facing now – all of it really! Beyond burning questions about the future, near-term and far, that used to have answers but we don’t. We Americans have the looming Presidential and General Elections. We now approach a historic crossroads. Nobody knows which way we’ll go and what it will mean for the nation and ourselves, personally.
There’s no solid agreement about how bad things are, much less how much worse they can get, and when they might get better. The personal, emotional toll is enormous. People are worn out, exhausted, desperately needing a break when none is in sight. Looming over it all is fear of the dangers brought by COVID to loved ones, ourselves, and the trauma and loss it has brought. No wonder we’re stressed out!
MEANWHILE, HERE IN DENTISTRY
Not to get gloomy and doomy – as I am absolutely not – those of us who make our living in the field of dentistry have our own stressors. One of them comes up shortly, and it was a problem long before COVID.
For reasons I’ve studied but had never satisfactorily been explained or understood, September can be a dental dry spell. It can last into October, too. Gaps open up in the schedule. Production falls off. Absent prior planning and anticipatory efforts, which we strategize for with all of our ToPS clients and their teams, September lives down to its funny and vulgar nickname – Suck-tember.
The pandemic hits this September with a double, if not triple or quadruple, whammy. In the Insult-to-Injury Category, about a week ago the World Health Organization issued new interim guidance that routine oral care should be put off. The WHO’s guidance was really aimed at places where special COVID-related cautions and restrictions were in order, but media reports were not specific.
The ADA made a statement saying it “strongly and respectfully” disagrees with the WHO’s guidance. In my book, the WHO’s message as reported to the public was absolutely unfair and uncalled-for. Long before this pandemic, dentistry was showing the world how to do PPE and infection control protocols right. And dental practices have been uniquely COVID safe, compared to other health care environments.
For the public, though, feelings are every bit as important as facts. The WHO guidance hits at the same time as a big-picture trend we have noted before. In previous times of uncertainty, especially during the combination of Presidential Election and Great Recession of 2008/2009, people reacted by going into a sort of cautious tuck position and deferring action and personal expenses. This included dental treatment.
On top of all that, if you did not plan and schedule properly like we have been teaching and training for the last 90 days, the pandemic has created a one-off dental drought. Dentistry was shut down for roughly 90 days from March into May. In some areas care just ceased for three months, give or take. Ninety days without hygiene and non-urgent care. Then, when things opened up, dental schedules got packed with overdue hygiene and restorative work, which in turn threw off 6-month hygiene scheduling and created a new hole coming up in…September! Unlike a lot of things the pandemic has thrown at us, this was predictable. And somewhat controllable, or at least something we could mitigate. Those who listened and acted on the strategies that we presented in our many ToPS and Crown Council webinars and online sessions in March, April, and May are looking at very strong schedules coming up in the months ahead. Those who didn’t are looking down into the hole.
LUCILLE-ELLSON-STYLE LIVING AND THE 90-DAY-SPRINT
Even deep in the hole, you can make immediate plans and take action to start digging yourself out. You might plan a Crown Day, wherein you review records to see which patients have deferred restorative work, then make calls and announce the opportunity to schedule work at special promotional rates. Make your urgency, to fill the schedule and stay productive, the patients’ urgency to take advantage of preferential fees for a limited time, available to them only because they’re preferred patients. An Invisalign ™ Day can work, too. Or take advantage of the open time by training your team through one of our upcoming Total Immersion and No More Hygiene courses being held on-line in the months ahead. Click HERE for more information.
Whatever your particular solution, there’s something new to work out and discuss with the team during your next morning meeting or weekly team meeting. With dynamic leadership, team buy-in, and whole-hearted execution, it will give all involved a sense of control and a positive outcome when you take action. This is where you start beating paralyzing uncertainty.
Just like Lucille Ellson and her daily morning to-dos. When you start to get a grip on what you can control right now and then take action, panic goes out of the present. And more of the future becomes visible and controllable. For management and action-planning purposes, strategizing and making moves for the month ahead proves to be effective. It works, too, to get farther ahead and make plans for what we call a 90-Day Sprint. Planned and executed day-by-day, in quick solid moves, it’s a long reach into the future in the Time of COVID.
Looking and trying to reach farther might just make you crazy right now. But it’s crazy not to do days like Lucille and start thinking and acting on your own 90-Day Sprint. So make your list and start acting…NOW!
Thank you, Ms. Ellson.