Tag Archives: time management

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work

Do you really think Richard Branson and Bill Gates write a long to-do list with prioritized items as A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and on and on?

In my research into time management and productivity best practices, I’ve interviewed more than 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students and entrepreneurs. I always ask them to give me their best time management and productivity advice. And none of them has ever mentioned a to-do list.

There are three big problems with to-do lists:

First, a to-do list doesn’t account for time. When we have a long list of tasks, we tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly, leaving the longer items left undone. Research from the company iDoneThis indicates that 41% of all to-do list items are never completed!

Second, a to-do list doesn’t distinguish between urgent and important. Once again, our impulse is to fight the urgent and ignore the important. (Are you overdue for your next colonoscopy or mammogram?)

Third, to-do lists contribute to stress. In what’s known in psychology as the Zeigarnik effect, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts. It’s no wonder we feel so overwhelmed in the day but fight insomnia at night.

In all my research, there is one consistent theme that keeps coming up:

Ultra-productive people don’t work from a to-do list, but they do live and work from their calendar.

Shannon Miller won seven Olympic medals as a member of the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and today she is a busy entrepreneur and author of It’s Not About Perfect. In a recent interview, she told me:

“During training, I balanced family time, chores, schoolwork, Olympic training, appearances and other obligations by outlining a very specific schedule. I was forced to prioritize…To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute-by-minute.”

Dave Kerpen is the cofounder of two successful start-ups and a New York Times-best-selling author. When I asked him to reveal his secrets for getting things done, he replied:

“If it’s not in my calendar, it won’t get done. But if it is in my calendar, it will get done. I schedule out every 15 minutes of every day to conduct meetings, review materials, write and do any activities I need to get done. And while I take meetings with just about anyone who wants to meet with me, I reserve just one hour a week for these ‘office hours.'”

Chris Ducker successfully juggles multiple roles as an entrepreneur, best-selling author and host of the New Business Podcast. What did he tell me his secret was?

“I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. Thirty minutes of social media–on the schedule. Forty-five minutes of email management–on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team–on the schedule…Bottom line, if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.”

There are several key concepts to managing your life using your calendar instead of a to-do list:

First, make the default event duration in your calendar only 15 minutes. If you use Google Calendar or the calendar in Outlook, it’s likely that when you add an event to your calendar it is automatically scheduled for 30 or even 60 minutes. Ultra-productive people only spend as much time as is necessary for each task. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is notorious for conducting meetings with colleagues in as little as five minutes. When your default setting is 15 minutes, you’ll automatically discover that you can fit more tasks into each day.

Second, time-block the most important things in your life, first. Don’t let your calendar fill up randomly by accepting every request that comes your way. You should first get clear on your life and career priorities and pre-schedule sacred time-blocks for these items. That might include two hours each morning to work on the strategic plan your boss asked you for. But your calendar should also include time blocks for things like exercise, date night or other items that align with your core life values.

Third, schedule everything. Instead of checking email every few minutes, schedule three times a day to process it. Instead of writing “Call back my sister” on your to-do list, go ahead and put it on your calendar or even better establish a recurring time block each afternoon to “return phone calls.”

That which is scheduled actually gets done.

How much less stress would you feel, and more productive would you be, if you could rip up your to-do list and work from your calendar instead?

6 Excuses Why Your Agency Didn’t Grow

It’s a brand new year. I hope last year’s numbers were where you wanted them to be: solid growth, increased revenue and expenses under control.

But for those agencies that didn’t add to their book, there’s always an excuse or six. It’s easy to rationalize why things didn’t go your way. Of course, sometimes, it really isn’t your fault; maybe you lost a major account for reasons beyond your control.

This column highlights a half-dozen common excuses and suggests ways to slap them down.

No time to sell. No producer ever has enough time to sell; yet it’s their most valuable commodity. There are innumerable ways to gain more selling time, including: wiser time management; more selective prospecting and quoting; using instant digital communications; shifting small, no-growth accounts to a skilled in-house agent or a less busy outside producer. Enact these approaches, and others, to extend the clock in your favor.

Not enough commercial prospects. Be preemptive. Work mainly with new business leads that align with your personal interests, plus pricing and underwriting strengths. Count the approximate number of prospects within each niche you want to target, and broadly pre-qualify them, before doing any actual solicitation. If you don’t, your sales results may not be adequate to offset your time and marketing expenses.

Our personal lines rates are too high. Competing head-to-head with direct marketing carriers isn’t entirely about price. Professional advice, a local presence, smart proposals, regular communications/reviews, plus a competitive premium, all generate appealing value. Besides, rates are fluid; they go up and down, relative to the competition. Focus on the elements that are within your agency’s control instead of lamenting about what is not.

No one has heard of our companies. If you tout your leading carrier as your agency’s brand, you are making your job harder than necessary. You are not your carrier. Besides, agency carriers never advertise as much as direct and captive-agent companies. Instead, concentrate on building your own brand through social media and traditional means. Adequately market and sell your agency, and people will buy from you — not the underwriting carrier.

Inadequate sales training. You can’t expect serious sales from unskilled salespeople. So, provide continuous sales training to every producer and front office staffer. To help, there are state association-sponsored programs such as the American Insurance Marketing and Sales (AIMS) Society’s CPIA designation for producers, plus a variety of sales training sources for in-house client reps. There are also independent vendors with worthwhile training tools (including my own Agency Ideas resources).

Too many rivals. Endless rivals, on all levels, challenge today’s independent agencies. Retailers, banks, captive and direct marketers, traditional competitors and more are all shooting for your business. Plus, the digital universe reduces the barriers of entry to anyone with an insurance license, a website/app and a willing policy writer. It can seem like you against the world. Don’t use this as an excuse. Instead, think of it as a clarion call to stop being a generic office and start being different — in terms of both marketing and sales.

Are excuses that important? 

As Jeff Goldblum’s character Michael famously said in The Big Chill, “I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex. . . . Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

Excuses are normal, everyday occurrences. It’s common to imagine them. Just don’t let them interfere with the growth of your agency. Let your endless competitors get lost in the rationalization maze instead.

This article first appeared in Insurance Journal