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Dentist Money: Getting More Out of Working Less – Episode 4

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Have you mastered the art of balancing work and personal life? Or are you like most professionals who are leaning a little too far into the work side of things? In this episode of the Dentist Money show, we discuss why working more doesn’t always mean earning more, the importance of optimizing your time away from work, and how New Year’s resolutions became a thing.

Podcast Transcript:

Reese Harper: Welcome to the Dentist Money Podcast. I’m your host, Reese Harper, here with my co-host Ryan Isaac. Happy New Year, Sir.

Ryan Isaac: Happy New Year, Reese. How are you doing?

Reese Harper: It’s one of those New Years I’m kind of excited for.

Ryan Isaac: Yeah, big plans?

Reese Harper: Midnight, gonna happen. I’ll probably be eating a pizza, potentially. Definitely food is going to be in the mix.

Ryan Isaac: A craft root beer?

Reese Harper: It depends on if the kids are sick. I may be staying home with the kids.

Ryan Isaac: Are you a resolutions guy?

Reese Harper: Yeah, probably a little over the top—as with most things in my life.

Ryan Isaac: It’s a big list. There’s like five categories and twenty subcategories.

Reese Harper: There are some drawings. There are shapes and pictures.

Ryan Isaac: Well that’s fine. So do you normally prepare this ahead of time? How do you do your resolutions? Do you wait until the night of? A few months before?

Reese Harper: It’s not something I’m thinking about in February. Just usually it’s a couple days before. Someone makes me feel like I’ve got to get in the obligatory mood. I’m getting them resolutions down. I probably should do them more frequently.

Ryan Isaac: You feel bad about something and then you say, “All right, I’ll make a goal.”

Reese Harper: All right, this is the time when I’ve got to recommit to my exercise goals. And then talk about my diet and how I’m probably not doing everything I should and being a bad father—those kinds of things.

Ryan Isaac: I always think it’s funny that we do this. It’s been going on for a long time. Once a year, we make a list that statistically studies show that it’s too big to follow—we forget about it; we don’t look at it again. But we do it once a year; we make a huge list of lots of life-changing goals. I do the same thing. My list gets smaller every year though. Give me two or three things; I’ll remember them.

Reese Harper: You’re definitely a disciplined goal setter. Give yourself some credit though.

Ryan Isaac: It’s true. Do you know how it started? The whole resolution thing?

Reese Harper: Only because you told me about it a couple months ago over lunch or something. It’s something to do with some ancient statue.

Ryan Isaac: It goes back a long time. It’s a really long time ago. It started with the Roman god Janus, who is a two-faced god. She’s this two-faced god who would look backwards into the year that just happened and then forwards into the year that’s coming up.

Reese Harper: She had two sets of eyes or just one set of eyes?

Ryan Isaac: No, she had a face in the back. Now we’re actually venturing into territory I don’t know anything about. Ancient mythology. I wrote down something from Wikipedia. And that’s where the name for the month January came from was Janus. There’s a little trivia.

Reese Harper: I’m going to bring that up sometime and look smart over dinner with friends.

Ryan Isaac: Yeah, when you’re out this New Year’s Eve just bring up the history of January and Janus. So anyway, that’s how it got started. People would make promises, and this happened in other cultures over thousands of years, but that’s kind of where we began. Does that help you?

Reese Harper: So, am I going to make goals now? Yeah. So the point is, she looks back and forward and that is where January came from.

Ryan Isaac: And there’s still a statue in Rome to this day near a river, and people walk by and they rub the head of Janus.

Reese Harper: And that’s where we started making New Years Resolutions, right there?

Ryan Isaac: Apparently somewhere close to that—a long time ago. They would make promises to return borrowed items in the next year. So my neighbor, if he would actually listen to this, he will think of me returning his saws and his hammers. Anyway, that’s the history. There’s still a statue to this day in Rome. They go rub his head. Here’s the bald joke.

Reese Harper: What about you? Do they rub your head?

Ryan Isaac: All the time, actually. They think it’s funny. And if it’s clean-shaven and it’s smooth, people touch it. But we’re bringing this up today because a lot of us are thinking of goals. A lot of the reasons we try to set goals is we want to accomplish things, but a lot of it is to maintain some better balance in our lives.

Today, what we wanted to talk about was how dentists specifically can think about trying to maintain a little better work-life balance between the office, the practice, and all the other things that ultimately make them a better dentist.

Reese Harper: Some people are probably wondering, isn’t this a financial planning podcast? Why are they talking about work-life balance?

Ryan Isaac: We’re emotional coaches today.

Reese Harper: For us, the reality is financial planning and life balance, from our perspective, have a lot to do with each other. The way we think about finance and the way we think about financial planning is to allow people to have a better balance in their life so that they are not accumulating aimlessly, but that there is an actual enjoyable path that they went through during their career and not just at the end. We don’t want them to feel like they are slaving away for this retirement point.

Ryan Isaac: I think about this, too. We hear a lot when we talk about retirement goals with some of our clients about the exit age or the point where a lot of people want to get out of dentistry. Sometimes there’s a tone of burn out—mental, physical burn out. They went all in to this practice for 15-20 years. You hear that message a lot, “I’ve got to be done by this age,” which tends to be quite a bit earlier than an average retirement age.

Reese Harper: I have a lot of friends who aren’t dentists. We work with people who are obviously only dentists, and at the end of the day the amount of time I hear from a dentist that they are burned out and ready to retire is much more frequent. I don’t know why, but I hear that a lot more from my dentist friends than I do my construction-worker buddies. It’s interesting how much burn out there really is in dentistry. I don’t know how to measure it. I just know anecdotally I hear it more often.

Ryan Isaac: You hear it a lot, and it’s mental as much as it is physical.

Reese Harper: Yeah, I think everybody struggles with figuring out how to balance their work-life—be a high achiever and make sure things happen at the right level and then keep a decent home-life balance. Actually, last night I was talking to my wife about this again. A few months ago, I went home and my wife had already told me earlier that day that she had this big phone call with her extended Japanese relatives and her family from California. So we are talking people from Japan and New Jersey. I think they had seen me at the wedding, which was almost two decades ago, so this was kind of a big deal for them. They wanted to have a phone call with the American. My wife’s half Japanese for those of you who are not catching this. Anyway, I go home, and I say “yeah sure, I’ll be there for the call.” She said, “I need you there because they want to talk to me and you, and the kids are kind of wild.” We’ve got four kids, and a couple of them are still really young. I took a phone call, and it was about 7:30. I was pretty work-life balance there for a minute, and I just totally lost track of time.

Ryan Isaac: Was the phone call business related?

Reese Harper: It was business related, as it usually is. I was trying to improve some stuff. I went down the rabbit hole to figure out how we are going to solve this major problem and make things better. Basically, I walk back into the house after an hour and a half phone call and she’s pretty emotionally distraught there looking at me like, when do you want me to leave you? Now or next week? It was bad. I felt so bad—of all these things, I couldn’t just detach for an hour and a half? I hope I’m not the only one that happens to, but it is definitely something I’m very conscious of how all-consuming work can be to the point where sometimes I’m missing very important moments for people in my life. I’m working on that; it’s a New Year’s Resolution. Let me rub your head real quick.

Ryan Isaac: Why do you think that is though? We’ve got some thoughts on why it’s easier to focus on that business phone call. It seems like a problem you can solve and get an instant solution to that’s maybe more impactful than a phone call with family.

Reese Harper: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that work provides some instant gratification—you’re checking things off your list; you’re getting things done; dentists are good at what they do. They see immediate results as they plow through work, and it’s a lot easier to see the impact of things we do at work sometimes than it is to see the impact of things we do at home. The benefit of investing in our relationships, especially close personal ones, we don’t always see that benefit right away. It feels like you can put that off a little bit, maybe you just don’t get the bang for your buck.

Ryan Isaac: There’s more urgency when someone calls about the business or a patient walks in the door than maybe some other things. Like you said, we all do it.

Let’s talk about some of the consequences we see. We kind of already touched on this. There’s this undertone, these are conversations we hear frequently from dentists that feel like they have got to be done a lot sooner than most normal people retiring because of mental and physical burnout. What are some of the consequences of not having this balance?

Reese Harper: I think the obvious risks are that you’re going to get burned out and not be able to be productive for as long of a period of time. I think there’s a real risk that dentists face when they go through periods of hyper production mode where they are wanting to go five days a week and push nine-hour days. Some even work Saturdays and a couple nights especially early in their career. There’s a lot of support for having a longer career that’s more balanced and sustainable. It’s pretty common meeting guys in their late fifties or early to mid sixties that have gone from doing a million in collections to $400,000.

Ryan Isaac: And it’s hard because that’s usually the transition time when people are looking to sell a business, and they’re selling a business in the years where there is the smallest amount of mental and physical energy going into the practice and the business.

Reese Harper: And collections have declined so the valuation is poor and you’re trying to exit this thing that’s beat up and equipment is beat up. I think the bottom line is there is a risk to focusing too heavily on work and burning out. A longer, more balanced career—one where you could work for a few more years at a higher production level.

Ryan Isaac: And you bring up a good point, too. Bringing some of the financial stuff into this, I’m just thinking how some of those later years of the career are some of the most productive and some of the most profitable because debts are gone and income is the highest it’s probably ever been. Being able to take advantage of those high-income, low-debt years at the tail end of a career is crucial to retirement.

Reese Harper: Yeah, especially when the age of the dentist and the employee ages are such a big disparity so your ability to put bigger contributions away towards your retirement plans that are not available to you at a younger age because of the census in your practice. It’s just really important to maximize those earning years. And on the flipside, this is a life-balance kind of podcast as well, and there’s a book a Harvard business professor named Clayton Christensen wrote called How Will You Measure Your Life? And he talks in there about a concept of the risk of sequencing life’s investments; I think that’s what he calls it. And basically, it’s this idea of compartmentalizing when you are going to put effort into various areas of your life. I’m going to read you a quick excerpt from that because I thought it was important.

He says, “One of the most common mistakes that high potential young professionals make is believing that investments in life can be sequenced. The logic is, for example, ‘I can invest in my career during the early years when our children are small and parenting isn’t as critical. When our children are a bit older and begin to be interested in things that adults are interested in, then I can lift my foot off the career accelerator. That’s when I’ll focus on my family.’ But guess what? By that time, the game’s already over. If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late. But as you are getting your career off the ground, you’ll be tempted to do exactly that—assume you can defer investing into your personal relationships. You cannot. The only way to have those relationships bear fruit in your life is to invest long before you need them.”

I think that’s super important because my oldest is turning into a teenager now; he’s a year shy or two now of actually being one. But it’s interesting how I really have tried to invest in my family relationships, and I think that it’s hard looking back to know, would I be able to start now if I didn’t have a foundation? Could I pick up?

Ryan Isaac: It’s an interesting thought because I think sometimes we feel like at some distant point of the future that feels more unknown, that it’s for some reason going to be easier to stop. So you’re ten years plus into this career and business. Ten years ago, if you would have said, you know in a decade Reese you’ll be able to slow down. The business will be doing okay and you’ll be able to slow down and focus more on some other part of your life. You probably would have thought, “Yeah, that sounds reasonable.” But if today you had to do that cold turkey… You don’t really feel like you’re at a point where it can coast.

Reese Harper: Most people in their career, it just continues to advance and become more complicated. The influence you have is greater; the number of patients you’re servicing is larger; your network is much bigger. As a dentist, it’s not easy to just turn things off at the peak of your career. You usually have more responsibilities outside of work that start piling up. You’re asked to volunteer in stuff; you’re asked to dedicate time to other projects, and it’s not easy to invest late term in those family and close personal relationships. I do regret that a little bit looking back at how much I’ve paid attention to certain friends or relationships. But you look back and you wonder, Have I missed out on nurturing relationships at the expense of being all-in in my career? And I think that our financial planning paradigm really is about how to minimize stress level with finance and get organized to the point where things really are starting to be on autopilot at some level. Outsourcing as much as you can so that you can really dial in the things that are going to pay dividends in your fifties and sixties because that’s when you really want things to be not stressful. And they typically are the most financially stressful at that point.

Ryan Isaac: I like this topic, though. I think it has a lot of similarities with the way that we would encourage someone to start good financial habits early on in their career. Try as early as you can in your life to have balance, even in small increments, because it will be easier to maintain that then change that at some point in the future.

You started to talk about some of these things people can do—you mentioned outsourcing; I know that was one thing you wanted to talk about. Let’s talk about a few tips that could actually help create a little bit of balance.

Reese Harper: Yeah, I think one thing I wanted to talk about that I thought was interesting is a story that one of the guys at work was telling us. He’s actually not just a guy; he’s the guy that runs the show around here. Can we name drop? Everyone knows Justin. So, this guy at work is a really good golfer and such. He was telling me that he has caddied with a few golf pros, and he was telling us about some of the things he learned from a couple of the golfers out on the course. So it’s time to hit a shot; these guys are uber dialed in. They are hyper-focused on the action—the wind, the pin placement, the loft, the spin on the ball, the height of their golf swing. They know exactly how far away from the hole they are and everything. So they go through this very calculated routine before they actually hit the ball, and what’s interesting is the second they get done hitting the shot they start talking about something entirely unrelated to that hyper-focused moment.

Ryan Isaac: They’re not talking about the shot as soon as it’s hit.

Reese Harper: No, they’re talking about movies and their kids and how their air conditioner broke down and what hotel they’ve been staying at. In other words, they’re not thinking about golf in between shots, which I think is really the point of the story. If they did, they would be mentally drained by the end of the round because you kind of have to be hyper-focus when you’re taking the shot.

Ryan Isaac: It’s just really mentally taxing and exhausting.

Reese Harper: Yeah, it is. I go home at night after I get done with work, and I’m so zapped. My wife asks why I am always so dead when I come home. I don’t know! It’s really hard. And she feels the same way. And so I think maybe I’m just not as good at handling it as she is. I feel like I’m on the low end of what I can handle after a nine-hour day. So if you keep pushing past that point, if you don’t have any time between shots, I think you really run the risk of not performing as well. A lesson that entrepreneurs can take from this story is they should become really good at not working. It’s a skill that all of us have to develop. Our natural tendency is to allow work to stay on our minds even when we’re not at the office. But if you do that, you’re running the risk of not being at the top of your game during that swing.

Ryan Isaac: That’s why you hear the comments about burnout.

Reese Harper: Nobody wants to go to the dentist. I don’t think anyone is excited about going to the dentist, so it’s critical that you’re giving your patients the absolute best experience possible by giving them all of your focus. You can do this by making the most of your off time. When they are there, they want to feel your energy. They want to know that you care about them, and they want to have a decent conversation with somebody to keep their mind off the fact that there is a giant needle about to go into their gum. They need your energy, and they don’t need you to be burned out by working in between every patient visit on whatever it is that you’ve got to do and after hours. I guess that’s the point of where out sourcing comes in.

Ryan Isaac: That was the next point: outsource where it makes sense. One of the points of outsourcing is to free up mental time and energy. The question is: what are things I can offload on my plate? What can I get rid of? Is there someone that can do this job better than I can?

Reese Harper: Ask yourself that question. Dentists need to be able to delegate really effectively, and something I’ve had to go through the first five, six, seven years of my business is that I don’t want to pay for people to do things for me because I don’t have enough money to buy the things that I need. You mow your own lawn. I haven’t mowed my own lawn for a long time now. It costs some of my income—it means I might retire slightly later. It could be seventeen weeks; I don’t know. I think at the end of the day, you have to determine which things are really worth outsourcing. There’s some pretty crucial things. We will have to go through them in another episode.

Bookkeeping is an area where you really need to look at having that done confidently by someone else that is not you. You need the mental energy, if you have any left, to be able to look at the books and analyze the financials not just get them done. And don’t get them done poorly. If your P&L and your chart of accounts isn’t organized well enough for you to make decisions based off of it. If you have one line item that says payroll and it’s $427,000 in there and it’s a one line item— how do you know whether your front or your back or your associate is being compensated correctly? Your chart of accounts needs to be really detailed. We can help you get a better chart of accounts or your CPA can. Most CPAs will have a good sample chart of accounts for dental. Just make sure it’s not generic and you don’t have a bunch of random stuff.

Marketing outsourcing is another really important area. Dentists need to market, especially in a world that’s becoming increasingly competitive where you have a large corporate dentistry push.

I think the other area that you need to consider outsourcing is personal finance—not to put a plug on what we’re doing too much. I don’t think you should dabble a lot in personal finance unless it’s an absolute joy for you. I think there’s a lot of dabbling in that area that can cost people. Investment management and financial planning—the cost of outsourcing that is not what is stopping people from retiring. What’s stopping you from retiring is that it doesn’t get done or that you’ve outsourced it to incompetent people. That’s the same thing with marketing, tax prep, or bookkeeping. Just outsourcing is not enough; it needs to be outsourced to the right person. The more you retain, the less life-balance you’re going to have. I think outsourcing is a good concept.

Ryan Isaac: Yes, and we’ll hit that another show another time. The last point we wanted to make is that you have to ask yourself, “Who am I trying to become? Does my work define me completely? Are there other things that define me; do I have other hobbies, interests, passions, and relationships outside of this?” Is work the means to the end, or is work the end?

Reese Harper: You think about professional athletes who spend their whole life training and competing and being told that they are one in a million. If it’s all they have ever really known—if it’s how they define themselves, and they get into their mid thirties where their bodies start breaking down and all the sudden they can’t be an athlete anymore. You hear about all these guys that go into depression or go bankrupt or heaven forbid there’s unfortunate suicides even. I think that can happen a lot for people who have lived to work and then don’t know how to handle retirement because they haven’t worked on their relationships or developed any other passions. They don’t have anything outside of work that’s their identity.

Ryan Isaac: I’ll end that with a quote I love that actually talks about that. It says, “Don’t ever confuse the two—your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.”

Reese Harper: That’s a great quote. I think that’s a great way to wrap up.

Ryan Isaac: Thanks for the thoughts. I do need to mention this because no one will know this. Neither of us have shoes on right now, and we actually wore the exact same socks today. Do you see that?

Reese Harper: No way, classy.

Ryan Isaac: The exact same pair of socks—the unofficial, non-sponsored Stance.

Reese Harper: Now I feel awkward.

Ryan Isaac: Thanks everybody for listening today. A reminder as you listen to these, if you can remember to leave us a review on the podcast. You can do that right in iTunes. That’s really helpful for us; it gives us good feedback. If you want more information you can go to our website We have tons of resources, articles, videos, and more of these podcasts on there. You can sign up for our free newsletter on the website, and as always if you’d like to chat with us, the phone number is on the website. You can click the link and get on our calendar. We love meeting people and talking to people; we’re happy to answer any questions you have.

Reese Harper: Carry on.

Ryan Isaac: Happy New Year!

Work Life Balance

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