Coping with Time Pressure in an 'I Want It Now' World
by Dr. Kerry L. Johnson
John needed to process the paperwork on 5 more sales by noon and had another 10 issues to iron out in underwriting. He was falling behind in his client calls and couldn’t even get the standard paperwork done. His wife was getting ticked at him claiming he wasn’t the guy she married. He hadn’t spent more than 10 minutes with his kids in the last week. All this and he couldn’t even claim he was making more money.
John was feeling more stressed as the week went on. It didn’t make sense. He should be able to coast a little after all these years. But his business was more demanding than ever and he was enjoying it less. There must be a business out there that wasn’t so pressurized. He rationalized he would eventually make more money? As if money made up for the stress.
If you are like the majority of pros, your company probably isn’t considering hiring staff to support you. In fact, they are likely thinking of who they can fire to increase return. Can they get another 2% output and get more revenue? The same goes for the support people you work with. They aren’t getting back to you in a few hours. It’s now days or weeks. There are two ways to cope. Take a course on coping with stress or get smarter about getting things done. We all have the same amount of time. We just choose to prioritize it differently. You make time to get done the things that matter. Saying you don’t have enough time is an excuse. Australians have a quaint expression, “I’ve got time for her.” This means that someone is important enough to give time to.
The Chinese first demonstrated the idea of time to students in Temples. Inventors of the first clocks, they would dangle a rope from the rafters with knots representing hours. They would then light a flame at the bottom which would burn evenly indicating the duration of time. This representation would also show children once time was gone, it could never be recaptured. They burned a lot of temples back in those days. So the elders changed to measuring time using water buckets. Priests would punch holes in buckets to allow water to pass. But then the temples got water logged. So the early clock inventors finally created the mechanical clock.
We no longer have the sense of time escaping from a water bucket or being burned on a rope. But we feel the pressure of time as if we were being burned by it. But there are things you can do to maximize the time you do have to get more done.
Here are 7 techniques you can use today.
- Stop fighting self-created fires.
If you are spending more than 25% of your day fixing problems, you may be causing the difficulties in the first place. A few years ago, a broker called me to complain his business was hurting because he couldn’t spent enough time on gaining new clients. I analyzed his day hour by hour and determined that he indeed wasn’t spending enough time marketing. He was instead fixing computers, fighting overdue notices, and generally rectifying mistakes by his own staff. Surprised, I worked backwards and learned that he hired good people but only gave them minimal training and then sent the new hires to the wolves. Training after the first day was only when a mistake was made. The problem was those same wolves came back to bite him often. Poor training creates poor motivation. Poor motivation creates black holes of wasted money. When you hire, take 25% more time to train than you think is needed. Practice this plan. Tell your staff, show your staff, and then let them show it to you. Wait a day and ask them to show it to you again. Only then can you possess the ability to trust someone’s competence to get things done.
Also, fight fires only in the afternoons. This may not work for problems that will stop your business cold. But it will train your staff to bring an issue to you only during certain windows of the day. The alternative is to fight fires all day long. If they can come to derail you, they will. I believe in O’Toole’s law. O’Toole thought Murphy was an optimist.
- If you aren’t working daily toward your goals, you are helping someone achieve theirs.
Keep your monthly, 1 and 5 year goals on your desk in plain view. It is so easy to fall into the trap of maintaining your business instead of growing it. But I guarantee maintenance today will mean deconstruction tomorrow. By adhering to your goals daily, you will keep your business growing instead of dying. If this sounds trite and obvious, you’ve been jaded. The producers in your business who are regularly in the industry’s top 5% stick to their daily goals like glue. They review them in the morning before the day starts, and plan out the next day before the current one is done; Always with the goal in mind. They also hold planning sessions monthly, trying constantly to stay on track. This doesn’t mean they never derail. But when they do take a detour, it’s only a short distance back to the main track.
It is often difficult to do less appealing activities even though you need to get them done. Helen Gurley Brown, founder of Cosmopolitan magazine, said she always did the most unpleasant things on her list first to get them out of the way. Give the most undesirable jobs the highest priorities.
- Sharpen your Axe.
This is an era of constant improvement in both your sales and systems. I spoke at a large convention a few years ago in the mortgage business. Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in space, was the keynote speaker. My presentation was in the afternoon and I arrived an hour early that morning to a get a good seat in the auditorium of 1500 plus seats. 150 showed up out of the 3000 registered for the conference. What did Ms. Ride have to do to get an audience? Catch a bullet in her teeth? Compare that to the Life Insurance Industry’s Million Dollar Round Table annual meeting. I spoke at their June meeting of 6000. There were exactly 6000 seats in an auditorium. If you weren’t there by 8am, you didn’t get in. No one was late. None were in the foyer chatting. No one stayed at the hotels enjoying late breakfasts. People came to get an edge, to get better. To sharpen their axes. Incidentally, to be invited to the MDRT, your income level had to be at least $75,000 in first year commissions. Obviously most in attendance made far more.
Two lumberjacks started work one day with a bet. Each wagered they could cut the most timber. Both started out well, but one clearly cut more wood at the end of the day than the other. The losing lumberjack accused the winner of cheating. He saw the victor take a two-hour lunch and loaf for much of the rest of the day. The winner said, “You didn’t notice during my break periods that I sharpened my axe. Most sales producers and business owners work extremely hard with dull axes that haven’t been sharpened for years.
- A messy desk is a sign of a messy mind.
If you were to clean your desk and find Jimmy Hoffa’s body, you may be wasting time looking for items you need right now. Much psychological research over the past decades has shown that we strive to be organized no matter how bad the mess. Has anyone ever straightened your desk slightly. And you became upset that you couldn’t find anything? Even a mess is organized somewhat. The problem is that you are sacrificing time to look for things that should be at your fingertips. Only handle messages once. Read an e-mail and file it, forward it or discard it. Take a sheet of paper and do the same. If you want to keep a paper, jot a post it note and stick it on the sheet, then file it. That way you won’t have to read it again.
- Stop sitting at your sit downs
Have you ever noticed how much time is wasted in meetings you didn’t want to attend in the first place? Start holding them standing up. Meetings stay on issue and end quickly when you don’t let people relax so much that they digress to other topics. Your meetings will end 50% more quickly if you keep those involved on their literal toes.
Another good idea is to schedule appointments and meetings at odd times. If you schedule a meeting for 10 am, most people expect it to last until 11am unless otherwise stated. But if the appointment is 10:20 or 10:17, you will seem very busy and I guarantee the meeting will have the expectation of being short unless you extend it. Also arrive early to plan your ideas. If you aren’t early, you’re late. If your mind isn’t prepared to start when your body is present, you are wasting time that could be spent doing more important things.
- Make time to sell every day.
It is so easy to come up with excuses to avoid marketing yourself or your business. The sad fact is, the landscape is littered with salespeople and business owners who think they are in the administration business instead of the sales business. There is a problem with an issue, so you avoid making phone calls that day. A staff dilemma and you procrastinate setting an appointment with a referral source. Do that for few months and your business looks like Oprah Winfrey’s weight loss plan. Do you sell when you are desperate and procrastinate making calls when business is good? A wise and wealthy sales pro once told me he loved to see his competitors get too much business. A sure sign of a downturn. This was his cue to sell harder to gain market share. This meant referral sources giving him business he didn’t have to pay advertising dollars for.
- Don’t get trapped into “Hurry Sickness.”
Do you rush around even when you don’t have to. Do you become impatient in lines even on Sundays? Do your thoughts turn to work on your time off? You are suffering from “Hurry Sickness.” Dr. James Dobson had a spot on his show a short time ago in which a prominent psychologist described this malady. He talked about a focus so intense that even your time off becomes “time on.” This is “Type A” behavior pattern gone wild.
Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame stated on his death bed that he blew it. The employee listening to his last statements thought he was about to hear a scandal the dying CEO regretted. Worse yet, a financial goal that went unrealized. Instead Walton said he blew it with his family. The only thing important in the final hours of one’s life isn’t the money or the conquests, it’s the people. Walton said he barely knew his youngest son. His wife stayed with him out of commitment. He even neglected his grandchildren. No one in the last stages of life has ever looked back to take stock and regretted not making more money. It is always the relationships they missed the most.
You don’t need to learn more about your products and services. You need to become more effective at doing the things you already know. This means discipline, focus and most importantly, making the time for the most important staff support group in your life, your family. You can do that and still earn a decent living. Utilizing these 7 steps will help you cope with time pressure instead of letting it control you.
DR. KERRY L. JOHNSON is a Tustin, CA-based professional speaker and author of Mastering The Game: The Human Edge in Sales and Marketing. You can order it by calling 800/883-8787.
Voice of the Editor
Which isn’t completely true. I mean, occasionally I drop by when I manage to sneak out of the nonstop frat party over at Going Concern, but I’m mostly a wallflower over there. I’m happy to say that I’ve been given express permission (or explicit orders, if you like) to wander over here to AccountingWEB more often.
Why is that, you might ask? My job is to replace the irreplaceable Gail Perry as Editor-in-Chief. What does that mean? I don’t really know! I think it’ll be fun getting a feel for things, throwing in my own thoughts here and there, and listening to the discussions you’re having about the accounting profession.