practical advice achieving productivity

Practical Advice for Achieving Productivity

This post was originally published on March 3, 2016 and updated on June 14, 2019.

When I originally wrote this post on productivity way back as a new grad in 2016, I thought that being a productive occupational therapist was one of the top things that made me a “good” OT. I now know just being productive is not the most important thing we need to worry about.

Providing quality care and doing the best therapy we can for our patients is the most important thing.

After working for over three years as an OT now, I’ve really stopped focusing on obsessing about my productivity, and instead started to live by the quote, “Your worth is not measured by your productivity.”

It does help that I now work in an amazing non-profit acute care setting where my manager doesn’t come down on us for not meeting our 60% productivity if we have a bad day or two. In fact, she pretty much never gives us any “lectures” ever, since she knows we’re doing the best we can.

But getting back to the main point: If you do work in a setting that does really focus on maintaining solid productivity, I’m going to keep this post as close to the original format I wrote as a new grad to show the strategies that helped me maintain my sanity and numbers (when it was possible).

I’ll soon be writing a follow-up post on what I really think about productivity and what we can do as practitioners to work against these crazy numbers that some companies come up with. But in the meantime, back to my 2016 self trying to keep up with the job requirements:

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If you’re looking for advice for achieving occupational therapy productivity targets, you’re in the right place.

Having worked as an OT in geriatrics, inpatient rehab, and SNF’s, I wanted to give this topic the attention it deserves. I feel it is SUCH a hard aspect of being an OT (maybe the hardest aspect!) and really seems to burn therapists out. Read more about it in this post titled 8 Reasons Why You Might Be Feeling Burned Out As An OT.

If you have not had the experience of working in SNFs/ALFs, targets for measuring a therapists’s productivity ranges from 80 to even 90% (95% for COTAs at times!). 

It is common to feel a lot of pressure from high productivity targets. You want to be sure you are as efficient as possible while on the clock so you don’t have to spend extra unpaid hours doing nothing but documenting.

While my experiences come from working in settings with productivity targets between 80% to 90%, I’ve been hearing stories of some companies going up to 90-95%, which in my opinion is unfair, unsafe, and basically impossible to achieve ethically.

Here are some quick tips that I’ve learned thus far to help me remain confident in my performance without the worry of getting in trouble in the form of write-ups or “talking-to’s.”

1. Hustle.

occupational therapy productivity hustle

And I literally mean, hustle. It’s so easy to get caught up in conversation with a coworker, supervisor, family member, etc. Whenever I become engaged in conversation, I try to reel it in after a minute or two and get moving because, literally, each minute of non-patient time is counting against you.

You may feel like you’re being unfriendly for appearing to be in a rush, but you are in a rush and you can always save chats for after work without the stress or pressure. 

Of course, it’s OK to have a quick chat. But it needs to be just that – quick. Try not to get too involved in long conversations if you can help it (trust me, I’ve done this too many times!).

We’ve all been there when someone is talking your ear off about nothing particularly relevant or interesting, but it’s still somehow difficult to find the right time to cut them off and end the encounter.

Here are some simple phrases to use in the moment, while turning away from the person:

  • “Well I gotta run, it’s been great to see you.”
  • “Yeah, definitely. I’ll let you get back to your day though. See you later.”
  • “I’m on my way right now to see a patient, but let’s chat later!”

I also make it a point to “hustle” to get my paperwork done since that is my biggest barrier for taking up time.

I find that having an email draft or Word document of my most-used phrases, goals, and interventions is helpful to copy into my notes and modify with each session. This can really cut down on typing time, but do make sure you make it is accurate for each patient.

I try to spend no more than 10 minutes on each note if I can help it. Evals, discharges, and weekly notes are an exception. 

2. Point of Service Documentation

This one is hard, I know.

If you’re working in skilled nursing or any Medicare-paying facility, you might already be aware that Medicare does not cover non face to face time, so once you get done with your patient to document, your productivity is already counting against you.

When you’re performing an intervention, it’s so hard to document and provide your patient with the best care. A good tip, though, is to save yourself five minutes at the end (with the patient) for them to rest and for you to document at least part of your note. You can also use this time to go over your patients’ progress with them.

3. Don’t Get Distracted

occupational therapy productivity distraction

This ties into the first point of hustling and avoiding long conversations, but many therapists can also get caught up when other therapists ask them for help with transfers, documenting questions, non-related patient questions, etc.

This can really eat into your productivity, unfortunately.

Other distractions include checking your phone/e-mail/voicemails too much during the day. Each distraction really adds up.

One good habit to get into is to either put your phone on silent or just turn it off all together.

Even if you’re not getting sucked into Facebook, Instagram or Googling things like you might do at home, just the simple act of checking your phone can be a constant distraction that eats up a lot of productivity time.

4. Stay Organized

This is of course easier said than done. As an OT working PRN at three ALFs, I have to work around the patients’ and physical therapists’ schedules. This makes keeping my numbers up challenging to say the least.

It helps tremendously to carry a day planner with you to write the patients’ day schedules so you know exactly when to attempt to treat them. The alternative is running all over guessing who may or not be available.

A great clipboard I’ve purchased myself opens up so I can store my most-used handouts and documents for later use.

Lastly…

Remember that starting a job with high productivity targets for the first time is going to stressful. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to challenge you to remain ethical, but you can dot it!

Having a job with high productivity demands, especially as a new grad, can add an unnecessary amount of stress as a therapist. If you can help it, I recommend finding a position with manageable requirements, like 75-80% if possible.

If you haven’t yet found a position like this and have higher productivity requirements, I hope that these tips can help you stay sane and keep your stress levels low. These tricks really helped me back when I was in that position, but I’d love to know what tips and tricks you use that keep you on track.

Please share anything that has worked for you in the comments below. 

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4 comments

  • erica March 11, 2017   Reply →

    Hi, I would LOVE to carry my day planner with me but i feel like having something extra to keep up with while treating is more stressful than it is worth. How do you handle that? My current system is to write my schedule on a folded up piece of paper each day and put it in my pocket so my hands are free.

    Thanks for the tips!!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 11, 2017   Reply →

      Hi Erica, I say do whatever works for you! I currently carry around a clipboard with my schedule just because I have so many random papers with lab values, my billing log, etc. but if I could help it I would probably just do the folded piece of paper to make life even easier!

  • Jessica July 18, 2019   Reply →

    Hi Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to make this page. I am a newly licensed OT and just started my first job at an ALF (also working PRN) where the productivity is 80% (and I know I should be grateful because most places are higher than this!). I have come in a handful of times so far (maybe 3 or 4) and have already had a talking to about productivity and it has been discouraging and stressful because I do feel like I hustle. I don’t want to do work off the clock because I don’t think that is allowed, but typing up evals and even simple treatment notes takes me longer than I’d like. But I have not tried typing them up while I’m with the pt so I’m hoping that helps. Thank you again for your tips.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L July 21, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Jessica, you’re so welcome! I actually wrote this article way back when I was a new grad, and was also working at an ALF with 80% productivity (which was bumped to 85%). It was a struggle meeting those numbers when so many residents were at activities, with PT, eating, or refusing, so the point of service did help when I could bring patients to the gym. It’s still hard though, especially when you’re doing quality ADL retraining. After being in the field a few years now, I like to go by the quote “Your worth is not measured by your productivity,” and I try not to sweat it if my numbers aren’t up to speed. If you ever have any other questions or need advice any time, please don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected] and I’m happy to talk with you more about it!

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