Leadership

Peer-to-Peer: How do others manage the problem of so many demands on their time?

Written by PROFIT-Xtra

Question

“I get so many phone calls and e-mails it keeps me from getting to my work,” writes the owner of an insurance agency in Calgary. “Yet I don’t want to lose potential business from failing to get back to people. How do other people manage the problem of having so many demands on their time?”

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Reader responses

Deb Carpenter:

“Isn’t responding to phone calls and e-mails part of your work? You need to assign priority to both of these tasks and then schedule them in accordingly. You want to minimize the interruption factor. Some experts say it takes 20 to 30 minutes to get back to what you were doing.

Use call display and/or voicemail, or have your admin assistant screen your calls when you have something really important to do. If you have a new e-mail alert, turn it off. Only check your e-mail at designated times during the day, or delegate the task to your admin assistant. Urgent requests shouldn’t be arriving via e-mail (they’ll call if it is).

The trap is responding to each e-mail or phone call immediately. If you can respond quickly (once and done), you might want to do so. Otherwise, look at each as a new work assignment, and add it to your to-do list appropriately. As long as you get back to people when you say you will, this should keep your potential clients happy.”

Grant Robertson, president and CEO, MediaWave Communications Corp.:

“As entrepreneurs, most of us are faced with this problem from time to time, or even constantly. While answering phone messages, e-mails and otherwise dealing with day-to-day tasks is unquestionably important, it forces one to take time away from projects that might be necessary for business growth.

The best advice I have is to schedule time away from the office to work on special projects at least once every two weeks. If you can, work at home where there are no distractions — no phones ringing, no e-mails coming in, no employees knocking on your door — just you and your work

If working from home is not an option, block out three- to four-hour intervals where your phone is unplugged and all of the employees know you are not to be disturbed. Then get busy. While you will have a small backlog of e-mails and calls to return when you are done, your mind will be clear to work on them because you will have peace of mind knowing that your other projects are complete.”

Sabine Schleese, managing director, Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd.:

“You don’t open every letter as it crosses your desk, so why would you open every e-mail as it comes in? Set yourself an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon (or however much time you need) to address e-mails. Leave a voice message that tells your clients you will be returning calls between such and such a time, and then do it.

This will go a long way to organize your day and leave you considerably more time. I have cut down on my time spent with callbacks and e-mail by quite a bit, but it does take self-discipline. Turn off the notification for new e-mails on your computer, which removes the impetus to continually check what’s new.”

Aimee Lavallee, marketing manager, SBLR Acumen Corp.:

“One of the most effective strategies for managing an influx of voice mails and e-mails is to set aside certain times during the day to check them. For instance, first thing in the morning, immediately after lunch and shortly before the end of the work day, I take a few minutes to sort through everything that has come in. It is absolutely critical that you manage these things when it is convenient for YOU, rather than jumping to access your inbox each time you see that daunting message ‘you have mail.’ The biggest mistake you can make is to constantly check e-mails and voicemails throughout the day, causing an interruption to the work that you are doing.

If you are concerned that your clients require an immediate response, arrange for your e-mail software to send out an automatic message for each incoming e-mail you receive. For example, ‘thank you for your e-mail. I will review it shortly and will respond as soon as possible.’ This way, at least the client will be reassured that you have received the e-mail and will act upon it.

One last strategy: never plan for more than 20% of your day. If you book meetings constantly throughout the day, you’ll find that you fall behind and get overwhelmed quickly. Unexpected things come up in business that you can’t always plan for. Leave yourself enough time to deal with them effectively.”

Moscou Cote, general manager, Voyages Constellation.:

“DELEGATE! Seems simple enough, yet we just can’t seem to let go!

I categorize e-mail (and the equivalent in phone calls) into three categories:

Spam: Get a GOOD anti-spammer and stop wasting that part of your time. If you can’t find a good one, switch your e-mail system to a Yahoo! paid account (the ones that seem to be anything but Yahoo! to your correspondents. Their anti-spam (and anti-virus) technology works, period. And it almost never classifies a good e-mail as spam.

Sales leads: Unless you take care of every aspect of your business, these should be handled by your sales staff — all the time. This includes the big deals that you would like to take care of yourself, just in case. Your sales staff will never be able to have the experience needed to take care of these, unless they actually start taking care of these!!

Also, have a general sales e-mail account (such as sales@yourco.com) and have your sales staff respond to those e-mails. If you get an e-mail sent directly to you, reply to it saying you transferred it to such and such along with a cc to that person. This way your correspondent will know not to bug you in the future about their request, but also knows that it was received and that it is being looked after by someone you feel confident about.

Supplier offers: Those include regular suppliers, of course, but also potential income savings on capital purchase or regular expenses (such as long-distance offers and such, excluding spam). Take care of these yourself, since the income/saving potential is worth your time. And, because it is not usually a regular offer, each one needs to be looked at individually, and it will be hard for you to delegate them.

Same goes for the phone calls, but a receptionist or an auto-attendant will do the separation for you.”

For his answer, Moscou Cote will receive a copy of Help Wanted: The Complete Guide to Human Resources for Canadian Entrepreneurs, by Margaret Butteriss.

Other questions.

Watch for another Peer-to-Peer Poll in the next PROFIT-Xtra.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com