Are you happy tired or sad tired? It makes a difference

chris barrow dental business coach explains how to tell if you're happy tired or sad tired

Do you know the difference between happy tired and sad tired? Chris Barrow explains how you can tell which you are and what to do about it.

Here’s a trend I’m spotting for May 2024. Clients are once more sharing with me the symptoms and consequences of being overwhelmed and burnt out.

Choose your own metaphor/statement/situation from this list:

  • I’m spinning too many plates
  • It’s like playing whack-a-mole – as soon as one issue is dealt with, the next one pops up
  • Cash flow is slowing down and I’m worried about making payroll this month
  • There are not enough hours in the day
  • White space is back in the calendar for the first time since lockdown
  • My manager/team/self-employed clinicians are pecking on my head for a pay rise – we don’t have the money, but I’m scared that I’ll lose them
  • I’m really struggling with my clinical recruitment because dentists don’t want to deliver UDAs
  • I’ve listened to Chris Barrow’s Dentistry Webinars, done the calculations, and I’m losing money on some of my clinicians!
  • I’m delivering 35 hours a week of clinical time and another 25 hours a week of admin and management – and I’m exhausted
  • Patients seem to be getting more demanding and belligerent
  • I have a young family – they don’t have me.

The list, of course, is much longer but here I’m sharing the comments I hear most often – FMCs (frequently mentioned complaints).

These are frequently followed by ‘what do I do?’ and ‘where do I start?’.

Where to start

Before we start looking at tactical solutions to the individual problems (which I won’t be doing in this article), it’s normal for me to ask some questions in order to help me determine the strategic background to the client’s burn out.

This is where we get to the title of this piece: ‘Before we start working on the causes of your burn out, can we please first establish whether you are happy tired or sad tired?’

An explanation follows.

Happy tired

If you are happy tired, you might have:

  • Vision for the future
  • Mission statement
  • Core values
  • A staff and clinician’s handbook on standards of performance and behaviour
  • A business plan for 2024, with targets denominated in time and money
  • Regular feedback meetings, measurement, analysis, course changes
  • Innovation.

These people are motivated to chase a compelling target, celebrating their wins along the way. They have a clear answer to the question ‘WIIFM?’ – ‘What’s in it for me?’

At the end of a happy tired week – you are exhausted but have a sense of achievement.

Sad tired

A sad tired person might have:

  • No vision of the future
  • No mission statement
  • No core values written down
  • No staff and clinician’s handbook on standards of performance and behaviour
  • No regular feedback meetings, measurement, analysis, course changes
  • No innovation.

To perhaps put it another way: your business is a series of groundhog days, with everybody just turning up for the same stuff on a different day.

At the end of a sad tired week, you are exhausted and wondering what the point of it all really is.

What can be done?

It was business author Harry Beckwith who wrote one of my favourite phrases: ‘There is no performance without accountability, no accountability without measurement.’

I’ve written before that dentistry always has and always will have a list of the top 10 reasons to be happy and to be miserable. Columns on this platform have been written to share the current lists.

So, we all need to get over ‘busy being busy’ – it’s always going to be like that.

When I’m working with burn out clients, my three steps are:

  1. Establish whether they are happy or sad tired
  2. If they are sad, get them happy
  3. When the client is happy, start working on tactical solutions.

There’s no point in giving tactical solutions to sad people. They will see it as ‘just more work to do’ when they are already drowning.

Focus on being happy tired – and you’ll be OK.

Catch up on previous Dental Business Coach columns:

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