ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

TIME MANAGEMENT - THE IMPOSSIBLE TASK

Can you manage time? If so, great! Do me a favor. Give me one more hour in each of the next 365 days. That would give me 25 hours in each day and grant me almost another half-year of productive life in the next ten years.

Of course that is ludicrous! No one can give us 25 hour days. No one can stretch the clock except, perhaps, Einstein in his Theory of Relativity. But it makes my point.

TIME is not manageable. Only WE can manage ourselves and even that is a great challenge for the best of us.

How often have you been told that the work day is over only to realize that you haven’t accomplished anything that you set out to accomplish – but you were busy for a full eight to ten hours? You make lists. You ask that all calls be held. You ask for no interruptions. Yet, at the end of the day, you are frustrated that you still haven’t cleared your list of “things to do”.

Everyone is responsible for and can only impact what they do. Many times, outside influences either impact our priorities and activities which allow us to shift our concentration from those important tasks to the mundane but voluminous list of “other” things that need to be addressed.

Managing Others

So if the only person we can manage is ourself, how do we as owners manage others?

It’s a difficult task managing others. You may know exactly what task you want completed, when and how the task should be carried out, but you can only exert a limited amount of influence on them. You cannot make them line up in tandem and march to your drum. And if the employee has another agenda, your grand plan for them goes up in smoke.

The only influence we can exert on others is to give them incentives to do what you want or disincentives to not do what you don’t desire. This can be a Pavlovian response (you do this task and I’ll pay you so you can eat) on a basic sustenance level or it can be the more esoteric “doing the right thing” for the sake of righteousness, itself i.e. finishing a client’s request before leaving for the day because that’s what the client expects. More likely, in a business sense, managing is finding the person’s driving motivation and supporting that motivating factor to accomplish your business goal. And, worst of all, “personal motivation” is not stable or stagnant. A person’s motivation changes frequently. So you have to identify what currently motivates the person being managed and make sure your approach matches the employee’s motivational factor.

Complicated? You bet! But is it impossible? No. It just requires you to be much more sensitive to the person you are managing than to the objective or your need. This is probably the most difficult thing for a manager to accomplish and, while this trait can be taught, it comes naturally for very few people and the skilled people-manager is a gift from God.

The best managers will explain the essentials until they feel that the employee understands. They then get the employee’s commitment to accomplish the required task. The manager then follows up to make sure the progress of the task is acceptable, providing positive reinforcement along the way. Remember, delegation can only be of authority to accomplish something. The responsibility for the task remains with the manager. That’s why we must follow up. We will use lists, diaries, calendar entries and interim reports as management tools to accomplish the monitoring.

Managing Ourselves:

This is infinitely more challenging than managing others. You can see clearly what you delegate to others. Your results will depend on whether someone else does what is expected. We generally know what needs to be done and which priorities are higher on the list than others. Yet, if a task is difficult, distasteful, or could cause disharmony or rejection, we will consciously or subconsciously procrastinate and yield to the temptation to do something that has less priority or non-productive. And how do we tell ourselves to get back on track. No one manages the manager! Even if your staff advises you of the priorities, procrastinators always do other things first. How do you influence yourself to do that which you know needs to be done?

Dessert – As children, our parents might have rewarded us with sweets if we cleaned our plate or accomplished a task. Many adults will create a “dessert” for themselves and set a task before themselves to earn their rewards.

Guilt – Many of us were weaned on guilt and, when our guilt is burdensome enough, we will do a task, regardless of how difficult it may be.

Financial – Many of us in the insurance business who want to remain in a production role will continue to pay ourselves exactly as we pay our producers. Not only do we strive for more sales and retention but we also compete with the other producers. It keeps us young and vibrant and selling.

Ego – Some of us are sufficiently ego-driven that we will publicize our priorities to our employees and then set out to accomplish our goals in order to avoid failure and the ramifications of others knowing that you did not accomplish that which you set out as your priority.

The Four Quadrants of Time Management

This approach has been re-created in a number of ways over several decades under different names. It permits you to list your tasks in order of importance and urgency. Draw two lines as shown below. Quadrant 1 is assigned to tasks that are BOTH Important and Urgent. Quadrant 2 is assigned to tasks that are “Important”, but not “Urgent”. Quadrant 3 (the Squeaky Wheel Quadrant) is assigned to tasks that are Urgent but unimportant. Quadrant 4 is left to all of the things that we want to do that are neither Important nor Urgent. The highest priorities will be those items that are in Quadrant 1 followed by Q2, Q3 and, finally, if any time is available, Q4. The key is the common sense approach that we will always benefit by directing our efforts toward the most important things we have to do, leaving the least important and least urgent things until last (if we have time to accomplish them at all). Otherwise, unimportant and less urgent efforts are backlogged until we have time with no Q1, Q2 or Q3 items pending. If you follow this approach and simply spend your time in Q1 or Q2, you will always accomplish the most important tasks before you.

“Knowledge about oneself is the key to understanding and self-improvement” -- Al Diamond

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