As a multiline agent, one of the challenges you face each day is managing your time. Just the daily normal office flow—claims problems, service problems, etc.—can consume your entire day. At the end of the day, what have you done about growing your business? Are you working on the highest-priority task each day? How do you deal with interruptions? Do you spend time planning and scheduling and do you find yourself up against deadlines or asking for extra time because of procrastination?
These are some of the questions John C. Johns, Jr., LUTCF, an agency manager with Farm Bureau Insurance, asked at the 2009 NAIFA conference. Johns, a NAIFA member for 25 years and past president of NAIFA-Mississippi, shared some ideas on how multiline agents can implement certain practices designed to save time and improve their productivity.
Keep a time-management log. Knowing where you spend your time will tell you whether or not you’re focusing on the right areas. You can do this by using activity logs, which are easily available on the internet. These allow you to enter for a week, two weeks or maybe a month, each of your activities and the time you spend on them, as well as let you give them a priority. At the end of the period, you’ll find out where you’re spending most of your time. Is it on something that’s not important or on something that’s urgent?
Create a not-to-do list. Most agents work from a to-do list. Continue to do this but keep it short and make every attempt to complete it every day. Also, you need to set a specific time each day to review your list for the following day. Don’t wait until you arrive at the office to find out what your first task of the day is going to be. Your job is to decide which items on your to-do list are going to require your attention and which can be done by someone else—items for the not-to-do list. These include things that should be delegated to someone else or not done at all.
To help you do that, Johns described the “four-D decision-making process.” Look at your to-do list and decide when a task needs to be done, or delegate it to someone else, or just delete it and dump it.
Manage your interruptions. In spite of all the planning you may do, time pirates can rob you of productive time. Learn to take care of the urgent high-priority items and not the unimportant ones. “That auto change, that mortgagee change, that deductible change, and on and on—it’s urgent to that insured,” Johns said. “But in the scope of the things that you have to do, it’s really not that important. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values and your high-priority goals.”
You can know if a task is urgent or important by asking these two questions: Are you the appropriate person to be doing this, and is it the best use of your time? Many of the urgent activities can and should be delegated to a CSR or a secretary. And you should train your clients to trust your staff to handle those types of situations.
Learn to delegate. Delegating allows you to concentrate on high-priority tasks that will produce a much greater return for the time invested. If you’ve hired the appropriate office staff, many of your interruptions should be handled by them, leaving you free to attend to your schedule. Now, this may require you to hire additional office staff. If you’re in an office that shares secretarial staff, you may consider hiring your own staff person just to handle your work. You may get by with a part-time person or you may want to share a secretary with someone else in your office.
Plan in advance. In order to be successful in this business, planning is an absolute must. Johns recommended establishing a fixed time each week, with no distractions, for your weekly planning time. He prefers to do his planning at 4 p.m. on Sunday. “That’s a great time to be at the office—with no interruptions, no phone calls, nobody wanting to get in—to look at your schedule, see what you’re faced with the next week, and plan it out,” he said. “That’s so important. And it gives you an opportunity to deal with some of those unexpected drop-in visitors or those phone calls that you ordinarily get caught in the office with.”
Tackle procrastination. For many agents, procrastination is difficult to deal with, difficult to recognize and difficult to overcome. “And procrastination for the multiline agent is a two-edged sword,” Johns said. “Not only will it rob you of valuable time and create stress dealing with deadlines, it can also put you in an E&O situation?and does, very often. Procrastination will catch you in a trap every time. Nothing good ever comes from putting things off.”
How do you overcome procrastination? First, recognize that you procrastinate. For some people, that’s not easy to do. Then work out why you procrastinate and then get over it.