We all have millions of things to do. Maybe it's not really millions, but it's certainly a lot. In and among all that, we have phone calls and e-mails. Or do we have it reversed? Do we try to do our work in between phone calls and e-mails?
Besides not overscheduling meetings, there are ways to control your technology to help give you the uninterrupted time to actually finish projects.
To make this work, you must accept one basic rule: You don't have to answer every phone call and e-mail immediately. This might seem like an obvious concept. Yet, many of us fall into the trap of jumping on each communication as if waiting an hour could result in the loss of the client. To accept the rule, you must truly believe that no client will think less of you if you return their call later in the day rather than answering on the first ring.
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The goal is to group your phone calls and e-mails into two or three sessions each day, preferably after you've completed some of the tasks you had planned. To do that, you will need to put off answering your clients. Start by managing your technology by getting rid of pop-up e-mail notifications and put your phone on "do not disturb."
Now, how can technology help you without upsetting clients? I actually think technology can help give clients a positive impression. The way most advisers put off a phone call is with a voicemail message that says, "I'm away from my desk at the moment, but your call is very important to me. Please leave your name and number and I will call you back as soon as I'm able." I'll bet your clients roll their eyes and sigh when they hear this message.
My "standard" voicemail message says "I'm finding more ways to help you reach your goals. Please leave your message and I'll call you back today." This is a nice touch, and even if a client has heard it before, they like it and they know when I'll be calling them back.
If I am on vacation, I will refer them to someone else in the office. However, my message won't begin with "I'm on vacation and will return on ..." I make it more personal. "I'm celebrating my 30th anniversary on a cruise with my husband." If I'm at a conference, I want my clients to feel good about it. I'll say "I'm attending the AICPA's Personal Financial Planning Conference to hear top speakers and get the latest ideas."
Out-of-office e-mails work the same way. When I'm in the office, it's no big deal to delay answering an e-mail by a couple of hours. If I know I will be in a meeting most of the day, I set an auto-response rather than an out-of-office message. The advantage is it can look like an actual response if worded well. For example, I might write "Just wanted to let you know I got your e-mail. I'm tied up meetings for a while, but I promise I'll get back to you before the end of the day. Thanks!"
I know that these are just a few simple pointers. Yet, I promise if you try this, you will be more productive and your clients will still like you!
Sheryl Rowling is chief executive of Total Rebalance Expert and principal at Rowling & Associates. She considers herself a non-techie user of technology.