The Practice Doctor is IN
Let's Hear It for Mono-tasking!
by Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH
Practice Management Consultant
Enough with multi-tasking! In practice management consultations over the past few years I've become more aware of telephone conversations with advisors in which the advisor is seemingly distracted. I'll ask questions and get, "Could you repeat that?" as a reply. I'll detect the subtle clicking of the keyboard as I ask for an opinion and receive, "Hmmmm, let me think about this," in return.
What's happening, of course, is that the advisor is multi-tasking. Emails are being responded to, calendars are getting annotated, associates are shoving paperwork under their noses for signatures, and sports scores and events are being scanned (and commented on) online.
Yes, I used to be guilty of completing the last few items of a task while picking up the phone and beginning a conversation with someone else. I would be distracted and start chatting about the weather—a good no-brainer topic—until the task was completed and I hit "send" or "save." Once I realized how distant and uninvolved I sounded in these multi-tasking transitions, I began answering the phone at those times with, "I'm nearly finished with a memo. Would you mind if I called you back in two minutes?" The person on the other end was only momentarily put off, but did feel better that they would have my full attention when I called back.
Now I open my consulting calls with, "Are you ready for some focused practice management work? Is this still a good time?" Most calls are just fine and the advisor has blocked out the time for dedication to the material. I do encounter postponements and reschedules about 20 percent of the time. Almost always the rescheduled call is held with the advisor's complete attention.
I often use Stephen Covey's time management matrix as a tool for determining my prioritization of time usage. It's from the chapter, "First Things First" in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey shows four quadrants with permutations of "Urgency and Importance."
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent – these to-do items must get done today.
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent – I should get to these items sooner rather than later. These are usually items that get postponed time and again.
Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important – these items may seem urgent to others but really are not that important to me.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important – no hurry to get to these items during business hours.
My consulting work fits into Quadrant 2: important material for the growth of the advisor's business but certainly not urgent. Calls with me can be postponed while the advisor deals with Quadrant 1 issues. This is okay with me. However, when an advisor does talk with me at a scheduled time and proceeds to multi-task with Quadrant 3 and/or 4 items, I protest.
Would you talk to a good client while multi-tasking? You've probably gotten away with it in the past (or think you have) but what if that client senses they don't have your full attention? There could be a crack in the relationship that you aren't aware of.
I've compiled a best-practices list of the activities you, in your advisor role, should mono-task. These require full focus and attention and cannot be allowed to be interrupted. In the everyday world, driving and texting don't go together—they both require full attention and thus are two mono-tasking events. The same is true with driving and trying to navigate using your iPhone GPS. Driving is best suited for multi-tasking with passive activities: sipping coffee, listening to audio books or music, and conducting hands-free calls that don't require note-taking. However, even those seemingly simple tasks can be distracting.
Here are the mono-tasking items in the normal financial services practice, listed by the core business systems.
- Center-of-influence and client meetings
- Networking in business, public, or personal groups
- Phone time blocked to call prospects
- Prospect research time—developing lists of people to approach
- Reviews held with clients
- Keeping in touch with top tier clients on significant dates and life events
- Initial interviews with prospects
- Discovery meetings
- Presentations and closes
- Delivery meetings
- Studying first drafts
- Analysis of scenarios
- Research and consultation
- Preparing/rehearsing the presentation
With your help we can bring back the lost art of mono-tasking! Let me know your thoughts. I promise to focus only on your reply when I receive it.
The Doctor is OUT
© 2014 Al Depman
Al Depman, CLU, ChFC, CMFC, BH, a.k.a. "The Practice Doctor", is MitchAnthony.com's Business Practice Consultant, and contributor to "The Wall Street Journal." He is the creator of "The Practice Management Assessment" tool and materials and has authored numerous articles in professional publications on practice management, and author of the book, How to Build Your Financial Advisory Business and Sell It at a Profit, available from McGraw Hill. Al combined his Liberal Arts studies with 10 years of management experience with McDonald's Corporation to enter the financial services world 25 years ago. Since then, Al has evolved from an MDRT-level sales rep into a full-time consultant specializing in helping others engineer their business practices to the next level. Contact him at email@example.com.
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