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The Amazing Priority-erizing Machine

A simple tool that helps you build your therapy practice and stay focussed long-term

by Roger Elliott

The great thing about having a second office that’s a chocolate factory is it’s a wonderful excuse to meet up with people and have a blether (which is what we do in Scotland instead of ‘chatting’).

Roger and Lyndsay ‘working’ in the award-winning Oban Chocolate Factory

I was sitting with Eleanor, one of our local practitioners, the other day and as we gazed at the sun shining on the snow on the distant islands, she was telling me about some of her business challenges.

Eleanor has had a successful therapeutic career so far. But due to recent circumstances, things had become more difficult for her.

She was faced with building things back up again, almost from scratch. And she found herself being dragged one way, then the other, and clients weren’t increasing at the rate she needed.

Now, Eleanor is a highly capable woman, clearly good at business, and pretty experienced at marketing her therapy practice. So what was going wrong?

Too many opportunities, too little time

As we talked, it became clear that she was simply having problems deciding what to do next.

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There were multiple paths open to her, most of which looked like opportunities, but she was having problems deciding which to take.

Should she go and present a workshop she’d been asked to do?

Should she do one day a week in a clinic in a remote town?

Should she keep her clinic where it is or move it to a new, more populous town?

I realized as I listened to her that business decisions like these can be difficult as a solo practitioner. Within our business, we have a process that makes these decisions much easier.

Before I share our system with you, let’s take a look at how ideas or opportunities can seduce us…

Why does an idea look wonderful one day and woeful the next?

You know the feeling. You’re lying back in the tub, the aroma of the herbal essences soothing away the day. Your mind drifting away, gently turning over different ways to get more clients.

And, suddenly, a killer idea pops into your head! It’s so perfect, so certain-to-work, so exciting, you can barely stop yourself from leaping out of the tub to write it down.

This is it! The end to all your marketing woes, your financial woes, your woe woes!

The next day, you sit down at your computer, wade through some email, look at the stack of paperwork on your desk, cope with the stress by doing a couple of essential Facebook… er… things, and then you remember your idea.

But, somehow, it’s not the same idea. What before was shining Technicolor, fanfares, and lights now is drab, kazoos, and dull.

What happened?!

Context happened, that’s what.

Context Cartoon

At Uncommon Knowledge, we have noticed this phenomenon again and again. In the midst of a meeting, an idea pops up, everyone gets very excited, and it gets thrown on someone’s to-do list.

Then, some months down the line, we find we’re being dragged in all directions and some of those ideas are not only not-great, they are time-consuming, difficult, and out of line with the company priorities.

So, like good psychologists, we have adapted.

Any new idea has to go through our:


Okay, it’s not really a machine; it’s a document. And, actually, it’s a really simple document that you can create for your own practice, too. Here’s how:

How to create your own Priority-erizing Machine in very few minutes indeed

  1. Create a document. (We strongly advise doing this in Google Drive so you have access to it no matter where you are or what device you are on. There’s no point in having a Priority-erizing Machine if you can’t get to it when you need to.)
  2. At the top, write your business goal for the next three months. Like ‘Get more clients’.
  3. Write every major activity you do and are planning to do to get more clients over the next three months. You know, things like ‘print new leaflet’, ‘approach local health food shop’, ‘spend at least three hours a day trying to work out why my WordPress site won’t do what I want it to do’.
  4. Identify the top three things that have the best chance of moving you towards your goal in a big way and put them at the top of the document. We’ll call these the Top 3.

Here’s an example Top 3:

  1. Deliver a workshop on phobias at my local community college.
  2. Develop new marketing approach and branding.
  3. Get a new leaflet printed with my new marketing approach and branding.

Below that, you can have your ‘slush bucket’ of other stuff. Some of this stuff will never get done. This is okay. (Another way that context changes is with time, so after three months, some of this other stuff will look decidedly less important.)

How to use your amazing new priority setter

  1. Have new idea.
  2. Write idea underneath your Top 3 in your document.
  3. See how it stacks up to the Top 3.
  4. If the new idea has greater potential than any one of the Top 3, it gets to replace one. (Unless you’ve already started on it, in which case you finish it before your new idea gets to join the hallowed Top 3.)

Voilà! Instant context.

Over time, this will become a habit for you. You’ll instantly see new ideas and opportunities in the context of your Top 3, which will cut down on the distraction those pesky new ideas can cause.

With Eleanor, we were able to put her different ‘opportunities’ into context and make the way forward suddenly startlingly clear. Context can do that.

Putting different practice development 'opportunities' into context makes the way forward suddenly startlingly clearClick To Tweet

And it’s because I use this method that I get to hang out in the Choc Shop guilt-free. (At least, that’s what I tell the team.)

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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