Travel advisor David Andersen worked in IT for many years, so he is super-focused on efficiency. But Andersen’s efficiency hacks are less about tech tools than about adhering to core principles that can work for anyone – even you (and possibly even this efficiency-challenged reporter).
Andersen, a travel advisor with Blackhawk Vacations in San Clemente, CA, said he is guided by four efficiency principles:
- Touch it once;
- If you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist;
- Own your day;
- Paperless is myth.
We asked Andersen to share his efficiency tips and strategies.
1. Clear out your inbox
Andersen practices what’s called Inbox Zero, meaning the only items in his inbox at any given time are newly arrived emails he has not yet read.
Maintaining a clean inbox requires having the discipline to do one of three things with incoming emails: 1) respond to quick-action items immediately, then archive the emails; 2) archive or trash emails that require no immediate action; 3) create a follow-up reminder or action item for emails related to larger projects, then archive the email.
A big reason to adopt Inbox Zero is that it frees advisors up to travel. “If you’ve got Inbox Zero, it’s easy to skim through and archive quickly, so you can do a minimal amount of work while on the road,” said Andersen, who last year spent nearly 12 weeks traveling.
2. Take control of your time
We’ve all had the experience of working flat-out for 10 hours, only to feel at day’s end like we haven’t done a single thing of importance. The solution is to “own your day,” Andersen said. “Don’t let whoever’s emailing or phoning be the one who takes control of your day.”
Andersen recommends identifying three things that you must get done on any given day then making it a priority to accomplish them. Do this either first thing in the morning or at day’s end for the following day. “At the end of the day, you’ll have those done and you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.”
3. Use email efficiency tools
One great way to take control of your time is limit yourself to checking your email inbox just several times a day. But for many of us there’s a catch: When we need to open our email application at other times to send an email, invariably we get sucked into reading incoming emails.
Andersen recommended tools like Boomerang’s Inbox Pause or G Suite’s Do Not Disturb, which allow you you to dictate that your inbox download incoming email only at specified times, with exceptions for priority senders. That way you can send an email without being distracted.
(Andersen likes Google’s G Suite tools for managing email and other tasks. He particularly likes a function that allows users to tag emails in multiple categories, making it easier to search and find specific items.)
4. Make things easy to find
This one falls under Andersen’s core efficiency principle that states: If you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.
To explain, he recalled the first year he participated in Virtuoso Travel Week’s speed-dating meetings with suppliers. Over the course of dozens of one-on-one meetings, he took copious notes in a binder, then cross-referenced them to numbered supplier business cards. The problem? He had no system, other than leafing through his binder, for locating notes later in the year on, say, the Maldives hotelier he had met there.
Now he takes notes electronically so he can use his computer’s search function to locate files by topic. The same advice holds for any seminars you attend. “There’s no point in taking all those notes if you have no way to get back to them,” he said.
5. Synch your devices
Another way Andersen makes things easy to find is by using the file storing and sharing service Dropbox, one of his favorite tools. “It automatically keeps my laptop and my desktop synchronized, so when I go on the road I’m not wondering if I have the latest copies of things. The laptop is a mirror image of my desktop.
“Anything I’ve got electronically I can access everywhere. I had a client text me yesterday when I was out; she wanted to know her train time for a trip two months from now. I looked at Dropbox on my phone and answered her in five minutes.”
6. Use checklists for everything
Like many travel advisors, Andersen relies heavily on checklists. One area where checklists save him critical time is on supplier phone calls. “I have a checklist so I know all the questions to ask. What’s inefficient is calling that cruise line a second or third time. If I have to sit on hold and wait to talk to somebody, I’m going to ask questions that I may not care about a year in advance [of a client’s trip] like what’s the dining time.”
Andersen’s cruise checklist reminds him to find out things like whether his agency has any groups on a specific cruise before he books it, whether a cruise line is offering extra incentives or agent loyalty programs, and “more obscure things” like whether the client is a military veteran who can take advantage of cruise line extras for vets.
If you’re an independent agent, your checklist should also remind you to take the necessary steps with your host agency to ensure you get paid for your bookings, emphasized Andersen.
Recommended reading: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande.
7. Use paper where it counts
Unlike some efficiency buffs, Andersen is not opposed to paper; in fact one of his core efficiency principles is, “Paperless is myth.”
While he saves many client items electronically, when planning a specific trip he prints out relevant emails and documents and stores them in a hard copy folder. “I need that all printed together so I can think about it as a group.”
The tactic also saves him from the time-consuming task of searching through confirmation emails for each trip component and making sure he’s looking at the most recent versions.
8. Maximize your tools
Take the time time to learn the tools you’re currently using. “There are free webinars and videos on YouTube about how to use almost everything. If you’re not learning how to use the tools, you’re doing things the hard way.”
9. Analyze your efficiency challenges
Andersen cautioned against adopting new productivity tools just because they sound good. “Don’t create a solution looking for a problem. Figure out what is making you inefficient. Be as specific as you can with the problem, then say, ‘What’s my solution?” Many of the best solutions, he added, may be those you learn from other travel advisors.