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The Innovative Workplace

It's just a matter of time

Managing your time better will lead to a better bottom line

By Don Phin

If there is one fact of life that is a great equalizer, it's the fact that we all have the same amount of time. The multimillion-dollar insurance executive has the same amount of time as the one who is broke. How we use our time defines us. How you collectively use time defines your agency.

Each year, we do a poll of our HR That Works membership. This year, 87% said that time was the biggest issue getting in the way of further improving their HR practices. Unfortunately, few of them ever get any time management training! Our poll found that only 7% of respondents were with a company that provided any type of formal time-management training; 30% of respondents said they had attended a time management program on their own. I have no doubt that a similar survey of insurance executives would deliver the same results. Do you know anyone who is trying to be successful who is not running at 75 miles an hour? What time management training do they have?

Because of the impact that time management has on our program members, I ended up studying everything possible about time management and, as a result, have produced a time management training program as well as a book titled Time and You. In this article I will summarize some of the key points and talk about how they directly impact both you and your agency.

One. Know where your time goes. I recently re-read Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive. It was first written in 1964 and then updated just before his death in 2006. If you have not read that book, you and all of your executives should. Drucker stresses the importance of executives knowing exactly where their time goes. He states that when put to the test, most executives don't fully understand where their time goes and are often shocked at the findings. In my experience of coaching executives about using their time, I came to some conclusions. It is recommended that you track your time for at least two weeks every six months. If your job is like mine and has a great deal of variation, as it does with most executives, two weeks feels right. I require my staff to do it for one week twice a year because their jobs have less variance.

According to Drucker, a business and an executive do three things: 1) produce value, 2) engage in administrative activities, and 3) waste time. Once we capture our time, we then summarize that time (e.g., answered e-mails for 15 hours this week) and then rate the activity as an A activity, B activity, or C activity. A activities, those that add value, should take up at least 80% of your time if you wish to be highly effective; 20% or less time should be spent on administrative tasks, and no time should be spent wasting time.

So, where do insurance agents fit into this formula? Here is some of what I've noticed:

Engaging in too many administrative tasks and not doing a good job of delegating them. For a sales executive the only A activity is selling. Everything else relates to administering the opportunity to produce a sale. "Paperwork," expense reimbursement, etc., are all tasks that should be delegated. Let me give an example. If you pay an account manager $80,000 per year or roughly $40 an hour, how much $10- and $15-an-hour work do you allow that person to do? For that matter, how much $10- to $15-per-hour work do you still find yourself doing? Or $25-an-hour work? Or even more than that? Remember, if you want to earn $200,000 a year, you have to average earning $100 an hour. For every hour you do $50-an-hour work, you have to do a catch-up hour of $150-per-hour work, and so on. Same for all of your staff.

• Trying to be everything to everyone. When you don't focus your time, your energy is dispersed and is not nearly as powerful. So the lesson here is to focus. The most highly successful executives are specialists. In professions like law and medicine, specialists out-earn their generalist counterparts 2-to-1. In my experience, this is true of insurance executives as well. Think of a target; are you spending 80% of your time trying to sell to the bull's-eye or are you easily distracted by any potential lead?

Every one of us is guilty of these sins, yours truly included. I find the best way to police myself is through process, process, process. Every time I see myself straying from the bull's eye, I go right back to focusing on getting more of my A clients.

Two. Stop doing something. I am constantly reminded that before I can possibly add one more thing to an already full basket, I have to stop doing something first. I may already be efficient. But if I'm a $200,000-per-year executive and wish to double that income, then I have to stop doing $100-an-hour work, even though it's profitable and I'm good at it. This is certainly a challenge. Sometimes the fear is that by delegating that work we'll upset someone or something will go wrong.

Let me share with you a lesson I learned from a good friend of mine, who was my senior by 30 years. One evening at his apartment he said, "Don, you always try to do so many things; don't you realize you have to stop doing things before you can do new things?" He then proceeded to pick up an exercise ball and put it in my hand. He then retrieved another exercise ball and asked me to put that one in my hand too. When I laughed and told him that I couldn't, he said, "Exactly." I got it! That lesson has stuck with me since. Think of it, you and I having the same conversation; what must you take out of your hands?

Three. Have a plan. It's amazing how few people have a plan for their career. There are even agencies that don't have a plan for their business. As the beautiful Mary Kay once stated: "Most people plan their vacations better than their careers." Here's an approach we take at HR That Works that will greatly benefit you and your team.

I begin with an annual plan. Then I break the annual plan down into "rolling 90-day plans," which means plan for the next 90 days every 30 days. I have found it's hard to control my time or results outside of 90-day windows. We have a vision and long-term plan, but when it comes to managing towards results, we do it on an ongoing 90-day basis. I share that 90-day game plan for the business with my employees. Then all the employees produce their own rolling 90-day game plans.

Then every week we generate a "To Get Done List" for that week. There is a top part and bottom part of the list. The bottom part contains tasks we engage in on a regular basis (e.g., Monday morning huddle, answer e-mails, etc.). Then there are tasks above the line that are new for this week (e.g., put together a marketing plan, visit with this prospect, etc.). We all share our To Get Done List for the week and have a 15-minute Monday morning meeting where I solicit and provide feedback on those lists. At the end of the week, my employees and I check off in red ink each of the tasks that was completed. If a task was not completed, we ask why, and we share that list too. It helps drive accountability.

I have found that this discipline is good for me, and for my employees. It helps eliminate excuses all around. I then keep a Daily Time Sheet, as do the employees. On that document are six or seven critical items that need to be done on that day and when they will be done. We are all encouraged to decide what energy we'll have during the day to best manage each task. For example, I don't like conducting Webinars after lunch.

Four. Give it time. As Malcolm Gladwell reminded us, it takes roughly 10,000 hours to become a real expert at anything. Jim Collins reminds us that great businesses have to wait for the "flywheel effect" to kick in. Because success doesn't come overnight there's a lot of room at the top. The point is: It may take you years to be highly successful when it comes to managing your time. Then once you get really good at it, it becomes a constant improvement process. Given enough time, you eventually become consciously competent in your time management.

Final note. If you'd like a PDF or e-book of Time and You, simply e-mail me at and I'll send you a copy. If you'd like to know more about the time management program, I could tell you about that too.

The author

Don Phin is president of the Employer Advisors Network, Inc., and the author of the "HR That Works" series of compliance and management products. He is the editor of "Employment Practices Liability Consultant" (EPLiC) published by IRMI. He can be contacted at or at


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