The Psychology of Getting Work Done

The Psychology of Getting Work Done

Remember back in the dark ages when our work spaces were cluttered with color-coded paper files? Many offices were literally piled high with work on every available surface. During that era I was working with an agency’s personal lines department to eliminate a never-ending work back log. I walked into Margaret’s cubicle. No, come to think of it, I stepped over a few piles of files on the floor to get to her work area. Margaret was close to tears. When she looked at me, they started to fall. “I can’t get my work done,” she sobbed. “Why?” I asked. “Because I get sixty phone calls a day,” she said. “My goodness, that’s a lot of phone calls! Who’s calling you?” I replied. Barely able to speak, Margaret choked, “The people looking for this work!”

Unfortunately, this scenario continues to play out fifteen years later. Only I think the problem is potentially worse today. We don’t see paper files and work sits invisibly in our computers. More often than not, downloaded policies aren’t checked for accuracy and policies sent directly to insureds aren’t reviewed for coverage gaps or inadequate values or limits.

For years I’ve been preaching and teaching the principles of time management. You probably know them by heart. Get to work on time. Make your to-do list at the end of the day. Organize your work to process similar work at the same time. Do the hardest task first thing in the morning. Break down large projects into smaller pieces. Make a call giving the status of work to avoid receiving an irate call from the person looking for the work. Sound familiar?

If people believe they know how to manage work, why is it that so many employees can’t handle what’s deemed a realistic workload?

The answer is psychology – the mental and behavioral aspect of a person. As human beings, it’s our perspective or attitude that dictates our ability to handle a situation as much as our capabilities or skills.

Who hasn’t cleared his or her desk of work prior to going on vacation? Or maybe you’ve permanently lost weight, given up alcohol, stuck with an exercise program or eliminated credit card debt. If you’ve ever made up your mind to really doing something, you’ve seen the result. Having an “I can do it” attitude enables people to accomplish what they set their minds on. Let’s examine the qualities and characteristics of the psychology of getting things done.

Be a doer not a feeler. Imagine two CSRs each beginning her day with a critical to-do list of tasks to be completed by day end. Within three minutes of settling in, both CSRs� phones start ringing. Calls come from policyholders, company underwriters, and family members. The feeler responds to all the calls immediately without assessing their place on her to-do list. Why? Her attitude is “Gee, I really didn’t feel like doing what’s on my to-do list anyway.” Before long it’s noon and the feeler has yet to accomplish a to-do list item. She heads to lunch complaining she can’t get anything done.

On the other hand, the doer, who also takes the calls, proactively asks, “When do you need this?” or “I have a couple of critical items to do this morning. May I get back to you this afternoon?” or to her family, “I’m slammed with work. Let’s talk this evening.” By noon, the doer has crossed off several critical items, added a few more with priorities assigned, and has a feeling of satisfaction as she heads to lunch.

Are you a feeler or a doer?

Be proactive in your work rather than at the effect of it. Working effectively with producers is a challenge for most CSRs. That’s true whether the producer is the agency owner or a commission salesperson. Why? Successful producers have economic drive, healthy egos, and high energy. These qualities can cause producers to over commit themselves and their team, juggle too many plates at a time, and not pay enough attention to detail.

Janice is a Commercial Lines CSR who lives in perpetual frustration. She complains bitterly about the producers she works with. Producer requests are last minute, voice mail messages are forwarded to her on items she believes the producer should complete, and renewal information is consistently late which creates unnecessary endorsements.

To uncover what was really happening, I questioned Janice about her work. How well did she know her clients? Why weren’t they calling her directly? What was her relationship with her underwriters? Did she and the producers have renewal strategy meetings to assign timelines and accountability? Was she proactive with policyholders to obtain missing information to complete tasks?

What I learned from Janice was this. She believed her position was that of a processor. She waited to be told what to do by producers, reacted to requests from clients and underwriters rather than taking charge, and did not view herself as personally accountable for the outcome of her work. Janice lived at being the effect of the situation rather than being in control.

After much discussion with Janice and the agency owner, Janice understood what was required to rid herself of her frustrations and victim attitude. A game plan was implemented to get Janice more involved with account strategy, clients, and underwriters to develop her sense of ownership and accountability.

Are you proactive in your work or at the effect of your work?

Stay focused on your work. “Leave your personal baggage at the door” is one of my Ten Commandments of Customer Service. And for good reason. Employers, coworkers, and clients count on you to get your job done. What doesn’t get done or done correctly makes work for someone else. And you’re being paid to do your job.

Everyone has a life outside of work. Life’s rollercoaster ride brings happiness, sadness, and everything in between. No doubt, some of life’s happenings require work time to resolve. Fortunately most employers understand and accommodate those issues.

What gets in the way of getting work done is the psychological drama brought into the workplace. Andrea is the queen of drama in her office. If something’s brewing, she’ll attempt to drag others into conversation and say, “Did you hear about?” or “What do you think about?” When non-work related discussions remain out of the office, employees are more productive and accurate.

Are you leaving your personal baggage at the door?

Traditional time management tips and techniques are a good start to get more work done. Make the psychological commitment to become a doer, be proactive, and stay focused and you will accomplish more and stress less.

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit

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