From the June 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Whacking Moles?

Time management, not multitasking, gets things done.

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Of course you played the game. A silly face pops up, WHACK. Then another. WHACK. No matter how good and how fast you are, there’s always another mole leering at you, begging to be whacked.

Odds are you also lead a whack-a-mole business life.

Let me ask you a question, which may not appear to be, but is related to the whack-a-mole lifestyle. Do you think you suffer from ADHD? It’s a question I often ask groups. Generally a significant number of hands go up.

My reply is always: “No you don’t. There is no such thing. There’s not a shred of evidence that such a disease exists. What you suffer from instead is bad work habits.”

Specifically, those bad work habits are: (a) multitasking; (b) unstructured day; and (c) little or no administrative system.

I recently read a marvelous McKinsey Quarterly article, which I recommend strongly to you. You can get a copy of “Recovering from Information Overload” from my time management website. The article was subtitled, “Always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy.”

I could not agree more.

Just consider what your day looks like. You come in with the goal to write an important proposal. Your biggest client, Nellie Nirvous, calls. She needs handholding.

Just as you start talking with her, you get an alert on your cell phone about some investment or other you’re following. Your cell phone dings with a text message from your assistant, reminding you that your proposal is due this afternoon. The multitasking activity stream now reaches flood stage.

And then you wonder why you can’t sleep well at night, why you’re so tired and why you feel at the end of the day you didn’t accomplish what you wanted.

Multitasking’s Opposite

Even before tweets, instant messaging, emails and Facebook, I nailed down some vital time management principles. I incorporated these into what I called “The Model Day.”

When I studied what advisors (then called “brokers”) did with their time, I discovered that an hour of time was worth $1,000, so long as it was spent meeting with and talking to clients and prospects.

But most advisors were barely spending any time doing what they came into the industry to do in the first place. By working backward from this fact, I discovered that by grouping similar activities into their own time frame, I could dramatically increase client contact. And that of course, resulted in increased revenue. There is no doubt whatsoever about the correlation between face time and revenue.

I called each one of these time blocks a “mini-day.”

A mini-day is a block of time devoted to a single type of activity. It has a start and an end, much like a 24-hour day. When it’s over, it’s over. When your two-hour “Proposal Writing Day” is done, it’s done. When you know you can’t have any more time to complete that proposal than two hours, you will get it done.

By grouping similar activities into their own time frame, and by excluding dissimilar activities (text messages, alerts, emails, calls, people dropping by your office, tweets, calls from your daughter), you now have the luxury to create momentum.

You have heard the expression, “So-and-so is on a roll.” What does that mean? It means that he or she is focused and is doing one similar action right after another.
With a whack-a-mole lifestyle, you cannot get or stay on a roll.

The Unstructured Day

The second in the cast of characters for your whack-a-mole lifestyle is the unstructured day. Imagine a spectrum, similar to a color spectrum. Somewhere on the spectrum is your day:

Proactive — Some Structure — Little Structure — Mostly Reactive — Whack-a-Mole.

A proactive day is planned. With the exception of genuine emergencies, the plan is followed. Everyone on your team knows the plan and is committed to its success.

At the end of the day, most if not all of the objectives have been accomplished. Your workspace is tidied up. When you go home, you leave in the office what belongs at the office.

A day with “some structure” might have a couple of “mini-days” set aside for vital tasks. Your team would screen phone calls, putting through only those that properly belong to you. But you would have a few rounds with the hated whack-a-mole.

Interestingly, it does not take much loss of structure for an entire labor of moles to run in uncontrolled abandon through your office and life. (Yes, a group of moles is called a labor — most apropos don’t you think?) Not too long ago, I talked to someone whose assistant was out on pregnancy leave. The description he gave of his day conjured the image of a “labor of moles.”

“The secret” of bringing structure into your day is to start with a single “mini-day.” It hardly matters which. Pick a type of activity: planning, calling clients, cold walking, whatever. Start on time. End on time. Then add another “mini-day.”

No Administrative System

With no administrative system, moles come and go at will.

Your administrative system would consist of: (a) one or more support staff; (b) job descriptions for yourself and your support team; (c) processes for handling recurring events; (d) a documentation system for keeping notes on what did happen, setting actions for what will happen and writing down ideas that occur to you in the normal stream of your day.

I want to say a few words about the administration system I use.

I have an excellent assistant. Lisa’s job is to screen my calls, ensure I keep my commitments, and liaison with other members of my team. Her primary mission: Buy me time.

She has an extensive job description that details exactly how I want my time managed. It covers everything from arranging travel itineraries to booking telephone appointments to interacting with other staff, clients and prospects.

We have lots of processes. Right now, I’ve been working on processes to set up and confirm conference calls and do a better job tracking tasks that have not been completed. As processes get completed and implemented, moles get whacked — permanently.

My documentation system is simple. It starts with a cheap school composition book. When I am meeting with or talking to people, I am taking notes in that book. It is the only place I write down notes. No scraps of paper, no post-it notes, nothing typed into the computer. When I make exceptions to this process, mistakes multiply at an alarming rate.

When I get an idea of something I need to remember, I start at the back of the book. I’ll just flip it open, jot it down and go back to what I was doing.
At the tail end of my Model Day, I have an “Admin Day.”

For each meeting or conversation, I dictate the notes to the Copytalk transcription service. For actions or demographic changes in my contact records, I have customized some record update forms. These are unique to me.

When I have completed all of the documentation from a given contact, I scratch through it in my notebook. It is done. I rarely have to refer back to it. But just in case, I keep all my notebooks.

Next, I go through ideas that have popped up. Some of them I will just eliminate. If some can be done by someone else, I dictate appropriate instructions. As I handle each, it is scratched through.

Do I still play whack-a-mole? Yep. On that spectrum I told you about, my day is at “some structure.” At times, a couple of key people have been out of the office. Their jobs rolled right up the hill and hit me. That released several labors of moles.

So let’s stamp out these moles. Study all of the materials on my time management page. Implement a Model Day that works for you. Sleep better and enjoy life more.

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