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In our third installation of Key Notes On Travel, productivity expert and time management guru Neen James posed a question to our audience of travel advisors: “You live in a constant state of busy, but while you’re operating in overdrive, are you actually being productive?” Over the course of two webinars and a follow-up Q&A, Neen offered invaluable tips for setting priorities, leveraging technology, safeguarding time and making attention pay dividends.

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neen james

Get clear on your priorities

“You don’t have time to do everything; you only have time to do what matters,” James points out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and burdened by inbound requests from colleagues and clients, perform a time audit. Start by inventorying the tasks you give attention to in a given day. Next, list the responsibilities you must execute in your role. Cross-examine the two to see if your time is actually spent on deliverables with a demonstrable ROI. 
   

How to defend against distractions

Each morning, “choose three things you’re going to work on for the day; three things that are going to help you get closer to your goals,” instructs James. When used effectively, the goals become the filter through which you assess all other interruptions or requests that cross your desk. “When you use the goals as your filtering system, you’re more likely to invest your time in the most important activities,” James points out.
  

Safeguard your precious time

“Get in the habit of ‘talking time,’” suggests James. “I’m not talking about telling anyone who will listen just how busy you are. I’m talking about using precise language that communicates to others that you value time as a precious resource.”

  • Subtly remind participants at the beginning of a meeting how much time you have by saying, “I understand we have 20 minutes together, is that still correct?”
  • Wrap up a dragging call: “In the seven minutes we have left on this call, let’s agree on what our next steps are.”
  • When invited to a meeting, ask for an agenda. If no agenda is available (a sure sign the facilitator is not prepared), decline the meeting.

 

Practice better e-mail ettiquette

QUOTE

Truth bomb: “E-mail is a request from someone for your time to achieve their goals,” says Neen. “If you want a quick response, you need to create the reputation for sending easy-to-reply-to e-mails.” Here’s how:

  • Keep e-mails incredibly short. If you must scroll to read, it is too long.
  • Write action-oriented subject lines.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Where multiple people are CC’ed, bold first names next to action items so people can scan without missing what’s required of them.
  • Use separate e-mail threads for separate ideas to solicit quicker replies.
  • Leverage out-of-office reminders for non-travel absences

  

Leverage out-of-office messages

"I made best friends with out-of-office,” says James. “If you send me an e-mail you will notice I change my message daily to tell you exactly what I’m doing that day. The reason is it helps manage the expectations of people who send me e-mails.” Tips for writing out-of-office messages:

  • Include an approximate time you will return a recipient’s e-mail.
  • Keep it light or fun; let your message show your personality.
  • If you’re travelling abroad, let clients know. Use it as an opportunity to invite them to follow you on social media or promote a partner.
  • Need a quiet afternoon? Schedule your out-of-office message to run for just a few hours.

  

Systematize thoughtfulness to pad your bottom line

James outlines three types of attention: professional, personal and global. Personal attention, she notes, is about being thoughtful. She asks: who deserves your attention?

“We can profit from paying attention in a very intentional and deliberate way. I’ve created what I call ‘systematized thoughtfulness’ which might sound a bit crazy, but I think we need systems in place to allow us to focus on who is really important.” James explains.

To apply her strategy in the workplace, James tells KNOT members to first identify their brand advocates. “Advocates are people who love your service or product – and they tell others. They recommend people work with you. Advocates work with and for you even when you’re not around.” Next, “say it, send it and schedule it.

ANALOGUE QUOTE

SAY IT.  Using someone’s name is a simple, no-cost, attention-giving strategy that makes people feel special. Dale Carnegie once wrote “a person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” “Watch as people’s faces light up, they stand a little taller and they smile more often when you use their name,” explains James. “When you address someone by their name, the situation shifts from merely transactional to a transformational interaction.”

SEND IT. “I love sending written notes and lumpy mail,” James gushes. “The reason I use hand-written notes is because in a digital world, analogue systems get attention.” Be it a travel accessory, luggage tag, magazine subscription or postcard, send a personal touchpoint that says, “I’m thinking of you.”

SCHEDULE IT. Each month, James schedules a 20-minute appointment with herself where she sits down and pens hand-written notes, assembles packages and fires off e-mails to people she identifies as her advocates. 

  

KNOT subscriber question:

Question: “How often should I be checking and replying to e-mails?”

Says James: “E-mail can be the biggest time suck there is but we all need it to do our work; it’s the way we communicate. Now more than ever, we have to be super efficient with e-mail.”

Answer: four times a day
Schedule four daily appointments with yourself to check e-mail. Use the timer on your phone and reply to as many e-mails as you can in the time allotted. James suggests first thing in the morning, midmorning (about half an hour before going for lunch), mid-afternoon and before you leave the office.

  

4 Quotable Quotes from Neen James

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“NO” IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE.

WE ARE OFTEN DISTRACTED BY WHAT IS
URGENT RATHER THAN WHAT IS IMPORTANT.

FIGURE OUT WHAT TO SAY NO TO SO YOU
CAN SAY YES TO WHAT REALLY MATTERS.

IF IT’S NOT A “YES!” IT’S A “NO.”

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