To accommodate those new "to-do" items you must constantly evaluate how you are using your time. A "to-do" list alone will not enable you to effectively manage your time. You also must keep a "stop-doing" list.
Your "stop-doing" list will be made up of several categories of tasks you perform on a daily basis.
First, for practice principals, any non-revenue generating task is a "stop-doing" task. This includes all administrative and clerical work. Tasks that are not a core competency for you should be assigned to the "stop-doing" list. If you are not skilled at a task and gaining skill at it will not generate revenue, stop doing it!
Also, add to the list tasks you do not like to do. You procrastinate on these tasks making them take much longer to complete than necessary. Finally, stop doing any task that can be automated. For example, do you create reports by finding and manually entering information? Stop! Pay someone to figure out how to automate that task.
You can identify specific tasks for your "stop-doing" list by conducting a task analysis using a time log. For two days every quarter, log your activities. Write down every task you do, no matter how small.
Record how much time you spend on the task. At the end of each day review your log. Assign a category to each task. For example, assign "$" to each task that directly generated revenue. Or for tasks that you are not skilled at doing, assign a "NS" and so on. Add up the time you spend each day on "stop-doing" tasks. Select the three non-revenue generating, unpleasant and/or unimportant tasks that are taking the most time and put those on your "stop-doing" list.
Of course, putting a task on your "stop-doing" list is just the first step. You need to effectively delegate that task to your support staff. Delegation only works if you do it correctly. When delegating a task to your staff, first consider the best medium to provide the instruction. Complex tasks are best communicated in writing. Less complex tasks can be communicated verbally. Choose the right moment to provide instruction. Do not interrupt your staff or try to provide instruction while they are distracted by other things. Explain clearly the steps to completing the task as well as the "why" behind the task.
Adults learn and retain information best when they understand the reasoning behind a task. Describe your ideal outcome for the task and set a deadline for when the task is due. Check in with the person within 24 hours of providing the initial instruction. This will reinforce the initial instruction and provide the opportunity for the person to ask clarifying questions. Finally, once the task is complete, provide feedback, recognition and reward.
A third tactic to complement your "stop-doing" list is called time lock. Consider this your "stop-doing" time each week. Set aside time each week to complete important tasks that get pushed aside by unimportant tasks. That is, lock down that time for planning, professional development or work that requires uninterrupted concentration. Be sure to "time lock" this period on your calendar and inform everyone in the office about the rules of time lock - no interruptions for any reason. Have your staff pick-up your phone calls during time lock. Turn off your e-mail during time lock - it's too tempting to toggle over to the message screen. Stop the distractions and interruptions by removing them from your environment.
You will soon find your "stop-doing" list enables your "to-do" list to get shorter and shorter. Take a slow approach to this exercise. Add three things to your "stop-doing" list each month. Give yourself 30 days to stop doing the task and your staff 30 days to take on the task or better yet - to automate it.
Chris Kirby, Senior Business Consultant, Securities America Financial Corporation. Chris is a business consultant for Securities America's Practice Management Group and serves as a consultant/coach for the firm's Business Consulting Service, helping advisors manage a more efficient, profitable and satisfying practice.