Customer Service Focus
Follow these steps to take—and keep—control of your workday
You come to work with the best of intentions—you will be efficient, productive, and provide excellent customer service. Eight hours (or likely more) later, you leave work, feeling frazzled and knowing you are further behind than you were when the day began.
Developing good time management skills takes a commitment to forming new habits but pays dividends again and again.
How often does this happen to you? Some simple time management techniques can help you make the most of your day.
Planning. A minute of planning can save six to ten minutes of time in your day. Before leaving work,spend ten minutes planning what you want to accomplish the next day. Not only will you save an hour or more of time, but when you come to workin the morning, you will be ready to jump right into your first task.
This brings me to my next key to success, a thoughtfully prepared to-do list.
The To-Do List. Take an objective look at what is probably a very long list. Are there activities on it thatdon’t need to be done? If so, delete them. Can some tasks be done by someone else? If so, delegate them.
Break down larger projects into smaller activities. Marketing an account, for example, involves many steps such as collecting information, contacting insurers, preparing applications, and so on. It usually can’t be done in one sitting.
Next to each activity on the list, write down an estimate of how long the activity will take. Knowing how long tasks should take allows you to schedule an appropriate amount of time to do them.
For most people, reality will set in right about now. There isn’t enough time to do everything on your list, and choices need to be made. Prioritize the items on your list, making a conscious decision to focus on the highest priority items first.
Armed with your timed and prioritized to-do list, you are now ready to make the important decisions about when you will tackle each activity. Don’t wait until you “have time” or are in the mood to do something. Neither is likely to happen. Add each activity to your planner with a specifically assigned time, e.g., on Tuesday between 9:00 and 10:00 I will update the business auto application for my commercial renewal.
It is important that the top-priority items on your list get top priority in your planner. The first hour or two (or more, where appropriate) of each day should be devoted to your highest priority items. These are your “frogs.”
In his best-selling book Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy cites a quotation often attributed to Mark Twain: “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”
A frog is your number one priority, Tracy tells us—the most important thing you need to do. Eat it first thing in the morning so you don’t get sidetracked and won’t be tempted to procrastinate.
Too often, to shorten the to-do list, people spend time on the easier, lower priority items. The problem with that approach is that one can spend an entire day completing less important tasks while the highest priority item (the frog) remains unfinished. I put a big sticker of a frog on my computer monitor as a reminder that I should eat my frog first thing every day.
Email. Many would say that email is the one thing that stands between them and reaching their goals for a given day. Take control of your email with a few simple techniques.
- Turn off email notification features. If you are alerted to each incoming email, you will be drawn to the alert. Even if you choose not to act on the email, your attention will have been diverted from what you were doing, and it will take precious time to get back to your original task.
- Set regular times to check email. Although I love the idea of checking email only the often-recommended twice a day, I know this won’t work for everyone, myself included. If you are currently seeing each email immediately, start by checking email only once every 30 minutes. In a few days go to once per hour, then once every two hours. In a short time you will train yourself to realize that most emails don’t require immediate action, and you’ll develop a schedule that works for you. And whatever you do, don’t look at your email until you’ve eaten your morning frog!
- Respect others’ time by using appropriate email etiquette. Using subject lines that are clear and concise helps the recipient decide when the email should be addressed; it also makes it easier to search for the email later. Keep messages brief and to the point. Use CC and Reply All sparingly.
- Take decisive action on all emails once you open them. Too often people read an email, decide to deal with it later, and mark it unread, leaving it in their inbox so they don’t forget about it. Instead, choose one of these actions:
- Delete it if it is unimportant.
- Forward it to someone else if it is something that can be delegated.
- Act on it immediately if it is a new priority.
- If it is not a new priority, schedule a time to work on it, and file it in an appropriate folder for later action.
Reducing Interruptions. Email is not the only thing that can interrupt the plan we have made for the day. How we handle interruptions can make the difference between staying on track and losing control of the priorities we previously decided on. Here are a few tips:
- Carve out interruption-free time. Let people know you are unavailable, and when you are working on a high-priority task let calls go to voicemail. Most matters can wait for an hour or two, giving you time to focus on your most important activities.
- Ask “When do you need this?” People ask for something at a given time because that’s when they think of it. Ask your customer, coworker or boss when something is needed. You may be surprised to find that people don’t usually need things right away. Now, with a clear due date, you can schedule time to work on the task.
- “Do you have a minute?” When a coworker asks this question, you both likely know he or she doesn’t want only a minute. If you simply say yes, you have given someone free reign over your time. Instead, try this: “I have five minutes now, and if it will take longer than that, we can schedule more time this afternoon.” Usually the person asking for your time will want to resolve the issue right away and will make it fit the five-minute window you provide.
- Don’t be your own distraction. Before starting on a task, make sure you have everything in front of you that you need. Put your cell phone away so you’re not distracted by it, and resolve not to get up for whatever period you’ve allotted to the task. And remember to turn off your email notifications!
Feeling in control of one’s time is a key to success. Developing good time management skills takes a commitment to forming new habits but pays dividends again and again.
Catherine Trischan, CIC, CRM, CPCU, ARM, AU, AAI, CRIS, MLIS, is director of commercial underwriting for the E&K Insurance Group in Eatontown, New Jersey. She is also a National Faculty member of The National Alliance and speaks on commercial property and casualty topics in the CIC and CISR programs.