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Stay Productive: Change the Way You Think About To-Do Lists

Have you ever gotten to the end of a busy workday and you think, “What did I even accomplish today?” You know you did a lot but you’re unsure if you made progress in the key areas of your business. This is common for many advisers.

To increase our productivity at work, we need to change the way we organize our most important tasks (see this Streamline My Practice blog post on the secret to planner productivity). What most advisers do is create a to-do list. But there are three problems with these lists that have caused high performers to find a better way.

Problem No. 1: To-do lists continue to grow as the day goes on. To-do lists quickly become an unending wish list of things we hope to get done. It becomes another burden in our already stressful life.

We have more to do than what can be done and we are guaranteed to have multiple fires show up every day. When those fires happen, we are going to focus on the urgent, rather than the important. Adding these things to our lists adds the extra mental stress of knowing that we won’t be able to accomplish it all.

Problem No. 2: We want to check of the shortest item on our list. It’s proven that people get a good feeling from checking something off on a to-do list. Our brain is getting a little shot of dopamine every time we do this. Checking more things off our list makes us feel better. We are prone to finding and accomplishing first the easiest things on our list, rather than tackling the big, most important projects.

Problem No. 3: To-do lists do not identify length of time for a project. Some of our highest value activities can be listed as one to-do item, which might take 90 minutes to complete. Looking at a to-do list will give us no idea how much time we should be budgeting to accomplish these things.Thankfully, there is something you can start doing today that will greatly increase your productivity.

Live from Your Calendar

Top advisers and other high performers don’t use to-do lists. Rather they focus all their energy on their calendar. If they want to accomplish something, they schedule it. They live from their calendar.

Using the calendar approach will free your mind. One of the best things about using your calendar as your project manager is that you will never have to have the feeling of wondering what you did all day. By starting the day looking at your calendar, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. You’ll be able to accomplish the most important thing you have on your list at the right time.

Here are a few helpful tips to test out this method of using the calendar:

  1. Schedule in chunks.
  • When do you do your best work? When are you most focused? If it’s early in the morning, then it makes sense to schedule time for your high-focus actions in the morning. Blocking all else out during that chunk will help you focus.
  • When do you enjoy talking to clients the most?
  • Think about what’s most important in your life: exercise, family, work, etc. Make sure time for these things is blocked off.
  1. Plan ahead.
  1. Reschedule when something gets in the way.
  • When a true emergency “fire” eventually does get in the way of one of your calendared tasks, reschedule the task for another time or day.

Take the next step and try using your calendar this week to schedule your most important tasks. At the end of the week, reflect to see if you got more done.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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Communication: The Foundation of Your Business Results

We all know what it feels like when there is a breakdown in communication—not being heard, not saying what needs to be said or receiving false information all leads to uneasiness. For your business to function at a high level you must have a consistent communication plan and all associates must commit to it.

We all know the importance of client communications, but do we neglect this vital need for our own employees? It is easy to get caught up in the day’s responsibilities and forget to effectively communicate with our team. Yet, when internal communication breaks down, challenges brew. Efficiencies decrease, errors increase, stress levels rise and employees can become dissatisfied.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; you need to create a plan that works for your business. Be sure to include the following critical elements:

  • In-person and electronic communication
  • Frequency and location
  • Ownership, attendance and participation
  • Purpose and agenda
  • Priority system
  • Action plan and follow-up

In-person gatherings should be purpose-driven—having meetings for the sake of having meetings is a waste of everyone’s precious time! Monthly and quarterly meetings are often more project-driven and strategic in their purpose, whereas daily and weekly huddles are more task-driven and tactical in nature. Consistency is vital to effective communication; if a team meeting is established for Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m., then no associate should schedule anything during that time frame. As to location, planning sessions should be conducted off-site so you can focus on strategy and eradicate interruptions.

While all should be encouraged to participate, team meeting responsibility should be owned by one individual and should be agenda-driven to maintain consistency and organization. This helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that all associates stay knowledgeable about specific project updates. Some agenda items will remain constant while others will come and go depending on the business focus.

In today’s changing world, it is critical to include standards regarding electronic communication. Using a networked contact management system (CRM) and calendar should be a foundational element of your plan. Multiple calendars and different systems to capture notes waste time and create confusion. Every associate should update the CRM as activities are completed or new ones are assigned, and all should be expected to enter client updates daily.

One of the most frequent communication challenges is not understanding priorities. We recommend establishing a simple system to ensure that all team members know what the real priorities are for the day or week. Use three simple words with clear definitions in order to be efficient and to meet expectations. You might choose words such as urgent, important and low to represent the priority, or simply be sure that every task is assigned with a specific deadline.

People are the most important element of your business, and a lack of good communication is the number one reason problems occur. A consistent communication plan can make a difference to both the revenue and efficiency arenas of your business; the plan can even mean the difference between associate retention and departure. So ask yourself, what actions do you need to take to drive more effective internal communication?

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

krista_sm

 

Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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Conquering Time and Organization Management

Philosopher William James once said there is “nothing is as fatiguing as the continued hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

It’s quite simple—doing the same things in the same way yields the same results. It’s not rocket science. Working harder at doing the same or ineffective activities is self-destructive, zaps your energy and enthusiasm, and steals away precious time, yet we often persist in doing things our “old” ways.

Why? Because it’s often easier; change takes effort and not everyone wants to change. In fact, many people are so frightened of change that they’ll often settle in life rather than face their fears.

In order to conquer your time and organization management problems, improve your practice or experience personal and professional growth, you must do things differently.

I recently assembled a research and development team of advisers to explore the problems associated with poor time management and organization. We identified six categories that included at least 30 obstacles to effective time and organization management.

The six categories and a few examples include:

Organization: Clutter distraction, poor file/information retrieval and no repeatable system.

Goals: Lack of clear, measurable goals; a lack of belief in your ability to achieve goals; and a lack of specific, measurable action steps to achieve your goals.

Habits: Poor listening skills; poor work flow; “seat of pants” approaches; no sense of urgency; and a lack of balance between personal and business needs.

Practice Management: Lack of delegation; lack of effective delegation; no repeatable processes; solving the same problem over and over again; and crisis management being the norm.

Technology: Faulty equipment; not leveraging time-saving tools; and poor or no training.

External/other: Not knowing how to deal with interruptions; being a slave to emails/voicemails; can’t say no; negative attitudes from self and others; and poor health.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Let’s look at some actions you can take to conquer organization and time control issues.

Time wasters. Discover all of your time-wasting activities and what gets in the way of organization. For each time waster, create an action plan to either totally eliminate it or reduce its impact.

Define your workflow. Determine all of your necessary activities each week and allocate the ideal amount of time it takes to accomplish each one.

The perfect week. Create an ideal workweek. Physically block off time in your calendar each week to accomplish each activity you identified above along with the amount of time necessary to accomplish each activity.

Reserves. Block off reserve time to catch up on excess work, uncompleted tasks or, if you’re totally caught up, head home early.

Laser planning. Set aside time every day to review today and plan for tomorrow.

Follow-Through Strategies

There are strategies to employ to help you follow through.

First, create bold, compelling reasons why you need to follow through on your goal of getting more organized. Make it more painful to not move forward with your organization plan than to do so.

Second, get into the habit of getting started, then add the required actions to achieve your end result.

Third, reward yourself for both getting started and staying on track. It takes energy to create new habits. You might experience some mental soreness. Be prepared for it.

Motivation Strategies

Some additional suggestions to help you stay motivated in conquering time and organization management issues.

Don’t delay getting started.

Tough it out. Do whatever it takes to stay on track for the first few weeks.

Focus. Consider cutting back on the number of projects you want to undertake.

Don’t go it alone. Partner with associates so you can keep each other accountable.

Consider how bad you’ll feel by not getting organized. The more you exaggerate this consequence, the more likely you’ll follow through on your plan.

Believe in yourself. Belief in the attainment of any goal, whatever it might be, is a critical requirement in the achievement of that goal.

Identify what works for you. Whether it’s writing out affirmations, visualization or giving yourself rewards for incremental progress, figure out what works for you and employ it.

To paraphrase Tom Peters, business author and speaker, only those people who constantly re-tool themselves have a chance at sustained success in the years to come.

Look for that opportunity when embarking upon change. Good luck on your journey to success.

Bob Azrt
Robert Azrt, CLU, ChFC, LLIF 
CEO
Polaris One and InsuaranceCoachu.com
Alameda, Calif.

 

Editor’s note: Arzt is offering FPA Practice Management Blog readers a complimentary coaching session if you mention this article.