Learning how to manage your time effectively is essential if you want to grow your practice and still lead a balanced life. Part 2 of our series on protecting your resources identifies additional activities that can waste your time—and the steps you can follow to manage them.
It is almost impossible to read all the material that comes across your desk, but to prevent obsolescence it’s vital to learn about new methods and approaches in the industry. The problem may be discerning what to read. Hours spent reading about the latest “corporate dollar sales techniques” may not be the best choice when you are a promising new agent and need basic sales skills.
Here are some proactive methods to help manage your reading time:
- Allocate a specific time for daily reading, preferably nonproductive time. Limit reading to a specific amount of time, then move on to other tasks. Read in order of importance. Decide on a few subjects or books rather than becoming bogged down with too much material. For example, spend 30 minutes to an hour early in the morning before going to the office, or at the close of the day to avoid rush-hour traffic.
- Focus on studying materials that can enhance your ability to relate to others or that can help you stay motivated and contribute to your growth.
- Take a rapid reading course. This can save time and allow you to read additional material. Learn to scan quickly to determine what is worth reading more thoroughly, what you should read and take action on, and what can be passed on to others.
- Train your assistant to sort your mail by category: Important, Urgent, Important and Urgent, and Routine. If necessary, have your mail put in separate envelopes.
The No. 1 objective in dealing with visitors is to conduct the business of the interview as quickly as possible, with the utmost concentration on what’s being said. You then terminate the visit as soon and as graciously as possible.
Effective methods for handling visitors include:
- Schedule visits by appointment when possible.
- Set a dollar value on your time so that the visitor will not “spend too much time,” which translates into dollars. Limit socializing.
- Prepare adequately for client visits.
- Develop techniques for closing conversations with others whenever appropriate. For example, you could look at your watch or have your secretary buzz you at a prearranged time.
Thinking about something else is the greatest thief of concentration and effectiveness.
These business functions can waste chunks of your valuable time if they are not put in perspective and kept under strict control.
Proactive methods for managing paperwork include:
- Concentrate on getting correspondence out of the way. Sure, it takes work and practice, but spend an hour or two a day to concentrate on drafting correspondence and dealing with paperwork. You’ll be surprised how much time you can save when you are disciplined in your approach.
- Use preapproved word processing correspondence to answer much of your correspondence with clients.
- Guard against preoccupation. Thinking about something else is the greatest thief of concentration and effectiveness.
- If there is a secret for effectiveness and good time organization, it is concentration—doing first things first and doing one thing at a time.
- Ours is a business of many functions, and if you do not develop the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, you will constantly be preoccupied.
- It can be a challenge to jump from one task to another without the previous task affecting your ability to concentrate. For example, if you’ve just returned from a discouraging sales interview and start to work on paperwork, it’s easy to let your mind wander back to the interview. It’s worth the effort to discipline your mind; the reward of concentrating on the here and now is that your valuable resource is wisely spent.
The time we spend driving and waiting to see clients is very valuable. This is referred to as transition time, which can take up to three to four hours each day.
Proactive methods for managing your transition time include:
- Make the most of your transition time. You can gain a remarkable amount of information and inspiration if you listen to tapes during your “in-between” time. Turn your commute into a learning experience.
- Use your cell phone effectively.
- Schedule breakfast and luncheon appointments. You will discover that “working meals” can be a great time saver.
- Become clock-conscious. Set your watch 10 minutes fast; it will make you time-conscious and keep you punctual.
- Take advantage of waiting time. Plan ahead to make this time productive.
- Skim books and magazines for ideas. Learn to skip unnecessary details. Take a speed-reading course and establish a system for retaining usable ideas and quotations.
- Have your assistant confirm all appointments. This saves time by improving your “batting average” on appointments kept.
- Schedule personal visits to doctors or dentists only when you can be the first patient of the day. Many professionals do not value patients’ time as much as they do their own.
- Use PDA for quick access to important numbers and other resources.
In Stephen R. Covey’s bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he defines habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge is the what and why, skill is the how to do, and desire is the motivation of wanting to do. All three factors help to develop the habits of time management.
Here are a few proactive methods for developing self-discipline:
- Be on time for appointments and expect associates to be also.
- Make note-taking a habit. Don’t trust your memory to record appointments, activities, details, ideas, etc. Many successful agents maintain calendar diaries or daily planners to help make this process automatic.
- Respect the power of momentum.
- Have a place for everything so that you don’t spend time looking for lost files and information.
- Set aside a period when you are not available. Plan a “quiet hour” each day for concentration and creative thinking.
- Define the ideal week. This serves to reinforce discipline, eliminates decisions on what to do next and ensures that you will schedule key, high-payoff activities.
- Place more emphasis on what you do each day than on how much you do.
- Earn the reputation for being busy. Others will show more respect for your time.
- Establish deadlines with plans you make. Set time limits for doing certain jobs. You may have an hour to do a job, but don’t take that hour for a 30-minute job.
- During meetings, have an agenda to save time. Hold “stand-up” meetings to get certain business handled efficiently.
- Avoid the false economics of overworking and underexercising.
William L. Moore, CLU, ChFC, is president of W.L. Moore & Associates in Dallas and a member of NAIFA-Dallas. You may reach him at email@example.com.