Who Calls the Shots: Urgent or Important?

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by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Do you treat your mental energy like the precious and finite resource that it is? If you’re like most Financial Representatives (FRs), probably not! The urgent runs away with the show while the important sits untouched.

You can more strategically direct your time and energy. Begin by choosing to do the most important items first each day. Every morning you wake up with the maximum mental energy (of all types) that you will have all day. If you burn up all of your energy on something that is urgent (at the time), you may not have the energy to later tackle the important things that will make the greatest long term impact on your practice.

I believe that the number one black hole siphoning time away in a practice is email. It can be a convenient way to look and feel busy while avoiding phoning or other activities that make you feel discomfort. It sure feels urgent, but it’s dictated by other people’s sense of urgency—not yours!

If you have staff, consider delegating them to write emails on your behalf. It can be helpful to communicate to your clients that your staff will often be in touch with them and that your staff is an extension of you. If you do not yet have staff, consider planning to delegate most emails once you hire, but apply the tips below that can help you right away.

First, use technology to your advantage! There is an inexpensive software called TextExpander. You create a labeled “snippet” for commonly written sentences, paragraphs, phrases and other common wording that you use. You can create a shared library of snippets that can populate any software (included web based) with a quick keystroke. (No more cutting and pasting!) You can pull language from your existing sent emails. This would allow for you or your AFR to “write” emails in your voice or expedite your own email writing. It can create a consistent approach in the way common questions and requests are handled.

Technology can also help reduce emails (we often think the opposite!). Unsubscribe to emails that you do not read or send them to a different email account to reduce the overall volume of email you receive. You can even set up multiple email accounts for different purposes. For example, one email account could be used for all personal online purchases. Leverage Microsoft Outlook’s rules to automatically funnel emails into folders.

Eventually, you may be at a point, if you are not already, when your team can start tackling email on your behalf. Consider timing carefully to avoid creating overwhelm or burnout in a new staff person by asking for too much, too quickly. If you have not yet tried this, here are some ideas to make the process smooth.

Start with a training period. Set up a system together. Have the person sort your email into agreed-upon categories. Let her organize them and then check in to see if you agree. Use Outlook tools to organize email (labeling using color to designate urgency or to delegate, for example).

When your staff begins writing emails to clients, have him or her save them as drafts. Check them and send them if they are okay. Review the ones with him or her that need corrections to complete the feedback loop. Continue this process until you feel confident that most of your emails can be answered the way you wish.

Reduce email on your team overall by fully using CRM or other tools to communicate and delegate.

Schedule times to check your email and stick to it as best you can. Turn off preview panes and audio cues that “you have mail!” Communicate what constitutes an “emergency email” to your staff. If a truly urgent and important email comes in that needs your attention, equip your staff to have good judgement and to notify you. This will help you to trust that nothing needs your immediate attention or you would know.

If your objection to asking for help with email is a desire to maintain control or a fear that no one will write as effectively as you, ask yourself if control is serving you. What is the payoff of answering all of your emails yourself? What is the payoff of delegating appropriate emails to staff? What is most important to you and your practice? You may need to practice the art of letting go. (Feel free to take a deep breath. You’re human.)

What kind of practice would you have if you were focused most on revenue-generating, important activities? I’m guessing you’d be producing at the level you say you want. Consider embracing the philosophy that everything that doesn’t work toward the goal works against the goal. There is no Northwestern Mutual ribbon for “Most Emails Sent & Received” and I hope there never will be!

Coaching Tip Most humans tend to think in black and white terms. This tendency may show up when you think about sharing the responsibility for your email with your team. What middle ground can be created? Can you transition SOME of your email now and benefit from some relief versus feeling like you are totally responsible for answering all or none of your email? Communicate and collaborate with your team to develop a system and a plan that works for everyone. Consider choosing just one tip and implementing that as a start if you do not have staff yet. For example, take the time to set up email rules or unsubscribe to emails that are not helpful now. See if you can make email at least a little better and enjoy the improvement!