Like most success factors in selling, time management depends largely on your attitude. Develop your awareness of time and how you use it. Make it a practice to ask yourself: “What should I be doing with my time right now? What is it that really needs doing now? Am I staying focused on the things that make a difference?” More than anything else, your attitude determines your success in managing time.
Time is a valuable resource. If you’re unable to resist giving away time or losing it during your workday, you’re in effect opening your pockets and giving away your earnings. The first line of defense in protecting your time is to identify precisely how it is eroded and learn effective means for managing it. Here are some areas to watch out for as you learn to manage your time effectively.
Procrastination is one of the biggest time wasters. It is the habit of needlessly putting off important tasks that should be given attention. This can cripple every phase of your job as an agent and is usually caused by inertia or lack of good planning. The following are some methods you can use to avoid procrastination.
- Establish your priorities and let nothing interfere with the execution of your most vital tasks. Be constructively selective in what you will do. You may find it hard to prioritize your first list of “to-do” items because this list is nothing but an accumulation of many promises made to yourself and others. To aid in your selection, keep in mind that it will probably take longer to do most things than you estimate. Review your work methods so that you can learn to get the job done more quickly and more easily while maintaining high quality and coverage.
- Always plan your day the day before. Keep your written, daily plan visible. It will rout out procrastination.
- Concentrate on the matters that should be acted on immediately, leaving less important ones for later. A general guideline is that anything that will affect someone’s pocketbook or welfare should be acted on immediately.
- When you start something, make sure you do it right the first time and finish it. The old cliché: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” still applies. Resist the temptation to leave a job unfinished. It takes more time to refamiliarize yourself with a project than to complete it the first time around.
- Dive in and get completely involved once you’ve set your priorities.
- Determine your most difficult job of the day and don’t do anything else until it is complete. Only decisive action can overcome procrastination.
- Work out a self-reminder system. Make it a practice to write out your daily/weekly objectives and check off each as it is accomplished. To help keep motivation high, many successful people have signs in their offices like “When?” or “Do It Now!”
- Work toward developing your knowledge and skills. People tend to focus on doing what they already do best. If you are procrastinating in one area of the job, it may be a sign that you are unsure of yourself. By developing and applying new knowledge and skills, you build confidence and overcome your resistance to taking action.
- Discipline yourself to do the little things. Another natural tendency is to do the easier things rather than the hard ones that are necessary for success. To counteract this tendency, discipline yourself to do something difficult each day. It may be something as simple as getting up a little earlier or making one more interview appointment.
- Decide what tasks you will not tackle. While setting priorities is essential, it’s just as important to decide items that are not high priority and sticking to your decision.
- Beware of perfectionism. If you tend to be a perfectionist, keep in mind that even by your standards, you need to do some jobs “quick and dirty.”
Failure to delegate
To use your time effectively, you should never do anything that can be accomplished by others. Here are several methods to accomplish this goal.
- Determine what is to be delegated, then assign responsibility and give authority to others.
- Set deadlines and make sure that they are met if you want specific tasks completed at a specific time.
- Give assistants increased responsibility that is commensurate with their ability.
- Provide thorough training and careful instructions to them. This important aspect is often overlooked.
Delays are sometimes the result of your procrastination or failure to anticipate a situation. Proactive methods for avoiding delay include:
- Set up a schedule for following up on details or projects within a specific period.
- When planning a project, anticipate delays. They’re inevitable, so don’t let them bother you. Do what you can and go on to something else if the delay cannot be helped.
- Communicate delays. When delays are caused by the actions of others, there may be a sense of anticipation or lack of control. For example, if an applicant’s medical history requires more information, the delay can’t be eliminated, but calling and informing the client will make him aware of it. This reduces frustration for everyone concerned.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no fires or crises? But if there were no problems, we would all be out of a job. The key is to avoid any tendency to actually create fires to fight. While it can give you a sense of feeling important and needed, and can distract your attention from more mundane but important tasks, firefighting is definitely an attack on your time. Obviously, some fires will always be with us, but they can be minimized. Proactive methods for fighting fires include:
- Build time in the day for fighting fires. Schedule perhaps an hour every day or whatever breakdown is appropriate based on your experience.
- Think before acting. In many situations, this may diminish the need for future firefighting.
- Analyze patterns. Every time you put out a fire, find out why it started and determine whether or not it could be handled differently in the future and how. List and categorize all “fires” over a period of time and write down specific methods of prevention.
- Do first things first. Stay focused on things that produce the desired results.
The telephone should be considered a servant, not the master. Yet, how often do you accept telephone calls from people you would not see at all, would refer to someone else, or would defer until later? It is surprising how much time can be saved by not being available at the end of a telephone at any given moment. Proactive methods for dealing with outgoing calls include:
- Schedule specific times to make calls.
- Make calls to your home office when most people you want to reach are available.
- Train your assistant to initiate calls on your behalf, then forward the calls to you.
- Use a timing device like a three-minute hourglass to remind you to limit the time you spend on calls.
- When leaving voice mail messages, specify a time you can be reached for a return call.
Here are some ideas for dealing with incoming calls:
- Never answer the phone yourself. Instead, train your assistant to answer and screen calls appropriately. If you do not have an assistant, activate your voice mail to answer all calls. “I am currently not available, please leave a message and I will return the call after 3 this afternoon.”
- Never allow the telephone to interrupt important meetings or face-to-face conferences.
- Again, use a timing device to remind you to limit your time on calls.
Time management is a lifetime activity. To be good at it, you must have the correct attitude, workable strategies and most of all, an adequate amount of self-discipline. You must have the discipline to do what you ought to do and the ability to delegate what you shouldn’t do.
William L. Moore, CLU, ChFC, is president of W.L. Moore & Associates in Dallas and is a member of NAIFA-Dallas. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.