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Stay Productive: Change the Way You Think About To-Do Lists

Have you ever gotten to the end of a busy workday and you think, “What did I even accomplish today?” You know you did a lot but you’re unsure if you made progress in the key areas of your business. This is common for many advisers.

To increase our productivity at work, we need to change the way we organize our most important tasks (see this Streamline My Practice blog post on the secret to planner productivity). What most advisers do is create a to-do list. But there are three problems with these lists that have caused high performers to find a better way.

Problem No. 1: To-do lists continue to grow as the day goes on. To-do lists quickly become an unending wish list of things we hope to get done. It becomes another burden in our already stressful life.

We have more to do than what can be done and we are guaranteed to have multiple fires show up every day. When those fires happen, we are going to focus on the urgent, rather than the important. Adding these things to our lists adds the extra mental stress of knowing that we won’t be able to accomplish it all.

Problem No. 2: We want to check of the shortest item on our list. It’s proven that people get a good feeling from checking something off on a to-do list. Our brain is getting a little shot of dopamine every time we do this. Checking more things off our list makes us feel better. We are prone to finding and accomplishing first the easiest things on our list, rather than tackling the big, most important projects.

Problem No. 3: To-do lists do not identify length of time for a project. Some of our highest value activities can be listed as one to-do item, which might take 90 minutes to complete. Looking at a to-do list will give us no idea how much time we should be budgeting to accomplish these things.Thankfully, there is something you can start doing today that will greatly increase your productivity.

Live from Your Calendar

Top advisers and other high performers don’t use to-do lists. Rather they focus all their energy on their calendar. If they want to accomplish something, they schedule it. They live from their calendar.

Using the calendar approach will free your mind. One of the best things about using your calendar as your project manager is that you will never have to have the feeling of wondering what you did all day. By starting the day looking at your calendar, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. You’ll be able to accomplish the most important thing you have on your list at the right time.

Here are a few helpful tips to test out this method of using the calendar:

  1. Schedule in chunks.
  • When do you do your best work? When are you most focused? If it’s early in the morning, then it makes sense to schedule time for your high-focus actions in the morning. Blocking all else out during that chunk will help you focus.
  • When do you enjoy talking to clients the most?
  • Think about what’s most important in your life: exercise, family, work, etc. Make sure time for these things is blocked off.
  1. Plan ahead.
  1. Reschedule when something gets in the way.
  • When a true emergency “fire” eventually does get in the way of one of your calendared tasks, reschedule the task for another time or day.

Take the next step and try using your calendar this week to schedule your most important tasks. At the end of the week, reflect to see if you got more done.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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Communication: The Foundation of Your Business Results

We all know what it feels like when there is a breakdown in communication—not being heard, not saying what needs to be said or receiving false information all leads to uneasiness. For your business to function at a high level you must have a consistent communication plan and all associates must commit to it.

We all know the importance of client communications, but do we neglect this vital need for our own employees? It is easy to get caught up in the day’s responsibilities and forget to effectively communicate with our team. Yet, when internal communication breaks down, challenges brew. Efficiencies decrease, errors increase, stress levels rise and employees can become dissatisfied.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; you need to create a plan that works for your business. Be sure to include the following critical elements:

  • In-person and electronic communication
  • Frequency and location
  • Ownership, attendance and participation
  • Purpose and agenda
  • Priority system
  • Action plan and follow-up

In-person gatherings should be purpose-driven—having meetings for the sake of having meetings is a waste of everyone’s precious time! Monthly and quarterly meetings are often more project-driven and strategic in their purpose, whereas daily and weekly huddles are more task-driven and tactical in nature. Consistency is vital to effective communication; if a team meeting is established for Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m., then no associate should schedule anything during that time frame. As to location, planning sessions should be conducted off-site so you can focus on strategy and eradicate interruptions.

While all should be encouraged to participate, team meeting responsibility should be owned by one individual and should be agenda-driven to maintain consistency and organization. This helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that all associates stay knowledgeable about specific project updates. Some agenda items will remain constant while others will come and go depending on the business focus.

In today’s changing world, it is critical to include standards regarding electronic communication. Using a networked contact management system (CRM) and calendar should be a foundational element of your plan. Multiple calendars and different systems to capture notes waste time and create confusion. Every associate should update the CRM as activities are completed or new ones are assigned, and all should be expected to enter client updates daily.

One of the most frequent communication challenges is not understanding priorities. We recommend establishing a simple system to ensure that all team members know what the real priorities are for the day or week. Use three simple words with clear definitions in order to be efficient and to meet expectations. You might choose words such as urgent, important and low to represent the priority, or simply be sure that every task is assigned with a specific deadline.

People are the most important element of your business, and a lack of good communication is the number one reason problems occur. A consistent communication plan can make a difference to both the revenue and efficiency arenas of your business; the plan can even mean the difference between associate retention and departure. So ask yourself, what actions do you need to take to drive more effective internal communication?

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

krista_sm

 

Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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Conquering Time and Organization Management

Philosopher William James once said there is “nothing is as fatiguing as the continued hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

It’s quite simple—doing the same things in the same way yields the same results. It’s not rocket science. Working harder at doing the same or ineffective activities is self-destructive, zaps your energy and enthusiasm, and steals away precious time, yet we often persist in doing things our “old” ways.

Why? Because it’s often easier; change takes effort and not everyone wants to change. In fact, many people are so frightened of change that they’ll often settle in life rather than face their fears.

In order to conquer your time and organization management problems, improve your practice or experience personal and professional growth, you must do things differently.

I recently assembled a research and development team of advisers to explore the problems associated with poor time management and organization. We identified six categories that included at least 30 obstacles to effective time and organization management.

The six categories and a few examples include:

Organization: Clutter distraction, poor file/information retrieval and no repeatable system.

Goals: Lack of clear, measurable goals; a lack of belief in your ability to achieve goals; and a lack of specific, measurable action steps to achieve your goals.

Habits: Poor listening skills; poor work flow; “seat of pants” approaches; no sense of urgency; and a lack of balance between personal and business needs.

Practice Management: Lack of delegation; lack of effective delegation; no repeatable processes; solving the same problem over and over again; and crisis management being the norm.

Technology: Faulty equipment; not leveraging time-saving tools; and poor or no training.

External/other: Not knowing how to deal with interruptions; being a slave to emails/voicemails; can’t say no; negative attitudes from self and others; and poor health.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Let’s look at some actions you can take to conquer organization and time control issues.

Time wasters. Discover all of your time-wasting activities and what gets in the way of organization. For each time waster, create an action plan to either totally eliminate it or reduce its impact.

Define your workflow. Determine all of your necessary activities each week and allocate the ideal amount of time it takes to accomplish each one.

The perfect week. Create an ideal workweek. Physically block off time in your calendar each week to accomplish each activity you identified above along with the amount of time necessary to accomplish each activity.

Reserves. Block off reserve time to catch up on excess work, uncompleted tasks or, if you’re totally caught up, head home early.

Laser planning. Set aside time every day to review today and plan for tomorrow.

Follow-Through Strategies

There are strategies to employ to help you follow through.

First, create bold, compelling reasons why you need to follow through on your goal of getting more organized. Make it more painful to not move forward with your organization plan than to do so.

Second, get into the habit of getting started, then add the required actions to achieve your end result.

Third, reward yourself for both getting started and staying on track. It takes energy to create new habits. You might experience some mental soreness. Be prepared for it.

Motivation Strategies

Some additional suggestions to help you stay motivated in conquering time and organization management issues.

Don’t delay getting started.

Tough it out. Do whatever it takes to stay on track for the first few weeks.

Focus. Consider cutting back on the number of projects you want to undertake.

Don’t go it alone. Partner with associates so you can keep each other accountable.

Consider how bad you’ll feel by not getting organized. The more you exaggerate this consequence, the more likely you’ll follow through on your plan.

Believe in yourself. Belief in the attainment of any goal, whatever it might be, is a critical requirement in the achievement of that goal.

Identify what works for you. Whether it’s writing out affirmations, visualization or giving yourself rewards for incremental progress, figure out what works for you and employ it.

To paraphrase Tom Peters, business author and speaker, only those people who constantly re-tool themselves have a chance at sustained success in the years to come.

Look for that opportunity when embarking upon change. Good luck on your journey to success.

Bob Azrt
Robert Azrt, CLU, ChFC, LLIF 
CEO
Polaris One and InsuaranceCoachu.com
Alameda, Calif.

 

Editor’s note: Arzt is offering FPA Practice Management Blog readers a complimentary coaching session if you mention this article.


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The Value of Time and Experience

I recently visited an adviser whose business had grown very quickly. In a five-year period, he went from one employee to five and his production tripled, easily putting him in the seven-figure range. In comparison with many other advisers with similar businesses, this adviser is 15 years younger, on average and has a commensurate 15 fewer years of industry experience. Listening to his business challenges—especially those having to do with human resources—gave me pause. Did this adviser have more people problems than most or was something else going on?

Getting Better Vs. Getting Used to Things
In considering this young adviser’s situation, I believed one of two things was going on:

  1. He had not yet developed the skills necessary to manage staff, which was actually contributing to his issues.
  2. He had not yet recognized that people issues are an ongoing component of managing a business.

For example, the adviser felt that he needed to revise job descriptions and re-create a compensation system that would more specifically motivate the behaviors he desired. He wanted his employees to take more responsibility for producing error-free work, instead of depending on him to review their work and catch errors. The issue extended beyond his support staff. He had recently brought on a staff CFP® and discovered that the process of guiding and mentoring the young woman required a significant investment of time to help her understand how to apply financial knowledge and theory to clients’ reality. That’s not to mention the time he was spending helping her evolve business development skills. When I asked how much time he was investing in managing the business, he said 50 percent.

But is that really too much? Comparing his story with that of other advisers with similar business scale and capacity, I found that they were far less verbal and seemed less frustrated with their human resource situation. What was particularly thought provoking was that the young adviser had assumed he must be doing something wrong or that there was something wrong with his organizational model.

We’re Never Done
There is no doubt that if we make the effort to improve, we get better over time. We learn how to manage resources—time, money and people—more effectively. What this young adviser had yet to learn was that he was doing just fine as a manager. The reality is that just when we have things lined up to achieve the perfect organization, a lot can change—someone gets sick, leaves for a different job or needs to implement new technology or procedures, which actually causes him or her to be less effective and may even lead to performance issues.

The longer we spend in a leadership position, the more we learn that when things are going well, all we have to do is wait a bit—they’ll change! The good news is that the reverse is also true. When things are not going right from an HR perspective, focusing your attention on the issue can help improve it. The fact of the matter is that we are never done managing our people. And that’s the real value of time and experience.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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What Comes First—Changing the Tech or the Staff?

Firms are struggling with technology adoption because they believe their executives or staff can’t change or learn new methods of operating. So they stop implementing the tech (aka the change) and instead start interviewing potential hires to replace their current staff who appear unwilling to change and learn. This stoppage and hiring effort creates a dark cloud over the mood of the staff. It sends a message that the firm isn’t prepared to improve nor invest in change management. Rock star-quality staff take this stoppage as a sign and ultimately stop recommending improvements and cease their championing of change. If the stoppages happen often, your best staff might even start interviewing at other firms or start their own firm.

How do I know if my staff are able to learn new systems?
The easiest way to test the team’s ability to learn is to sell the change before implementing it. As the firm owner, you must believe in the change, know the benefits, and persistently encourage productive feedback. Remember that the administrative person might care about reducing data entry work, while the adviser will want this change to help them onboard a new client more efficiently. Staff that can’t adopt the change will stand out immediately. If they are your key team members, have your executive team talk with them and explore why they are resistant to the changes. Then, and only then, will you know if it is time to search through the resumes and start to recalibrate the staff with a new hire.

Do I lay off a loyal staff person when they can’t learn?
We all know it is very expensive (money, energy, time) to lay off and hire someone new. Any new hire requires you to use energy and time to train them on your firm’s method of operating, philosophy regarding client service and expectations. It is best to NOT lay off those who seemingly can’t embrace change and instead invest in training and change management first. Training can be in the form of scheduled weekly webinars, paying an outside expert or software provider to provide customized training, or having a staff person train his/her peer. Change management comes from the top. If you are not sure you are managing change properly, you can hire a coach to learn how to do this effectively now and in the future.

While you invest in training and management, you should also be scouring the earth for potential hires. A great employee, successor, or partner hire won’t fall into your lap the minute you decide you want to re-calibrate your team. It is never too soon to start networking and doing informational interviews and building your pipeline of candidates. If the training and change management does not produce the results you want, you know you can call upon a pool of qualified candidates.

Change isn’t easy—if it were, everyone would be doing it! Remember that any meaningful technology change—even implementing a new software program—takes more than 66 business days to adopt. Give your staff time to embrace the new tech and provide continuous training, positive reinforcement and examples of the long-term benefits. Most importantly, be sure to give yourself time to lead the troops with a positive attitude and realistic change management goals. Progress may be slow but as long as you’re seeing change transpire, rest well knowing your firm is on the right track.

Jennifer Goldman

 

Jennifer Goldman
Founder
My Virtual COO
Boston, MA

Editor’s Note: FPA members receive a $500 member discount on a My Virtual COO consulting engagement. You can find more information here


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Create Time Budgets to Produce Results

An adviser’s time is precious. For each available work hour, there are countless ways to consume it, and with each hour productively applied, the adviser and his or her business prospers. However, advisers are not machines that can simply be programmed for completing tasks. There is a person at hand, a person with talents, skills, histories, ambitions and preferences.

Professional services firms connect an adviser’s work effort (see the blog “Your Product is You”) to the business. Essentially, the adviser and the business become one.

Important Business Work
An adviser’s direct client service—the firm’s product—can be captured within the broad categories of wealth and investment planning such that a client’s plan leads to investment execution. Advisers trained for these specialties find these activities intellectually appealing and personally fulfilling; it is a pleasure to do this work.

The business connection to these services arrives when a client pays the fee and the firm’s revenue increases. So far, so good.

A vibrant operating business requires much more than service delivery. Sales calls must be made to fill a sales pipeline; client reports must be produced; bills must be paid; employees hired, managed and nurtured; technology vendors evaluated and selected; investment research conducted; compliance requirements completed.

This list comprises many important activities that many advisers do not like to do. They are chores and are often held in limbo due to procrastination or even neglect.

Budgeting Time for Business Advancement

Like a financial budget that allocates limited monetary resources to the most important priorities, a time budget ensures that a business’s essential tasks are completed on time and within the optimal operating range. Tasks are linked together in order for efficient use of every employee’s time. Greater efficiency means less time on a task, and this is a worthy trade-off for important tasks, but those that are not personally fulfilling.

How a Time Budget Works
Foremost, a time budget is a planning document that considers specific allocations of time (i.e. a time block) according to business priorities, job responsibilities and task sequence. While similar to a project plan, a time budget integrates a person’s assigned tasks into a single view based on a rolling week-to-week evolution.

A time budget is not for regimentation but to be a guide as executed using these steps:

  1. While formal tools are available, an Excel or Word table suffices. Or, your CRM can be used to schedule activities through the workflow function.
  2. Divide the rows into one-hour time blocks and the columns into the days of the week.
  3. List the week’s tasks to be completed keeping in mind these parameters: tasks related to the firm’s strategic and operational priorities need to be given precedence.
  4. Batch related activities together.
  5. Without considering whether a task is loved or hated, ask yourself this question: what is the best time for this task to be completed optimally? For example, schedule sales and client service activities for the peak periods in the day. Place planning tasks at the beginning of the week (for assignment) and the end (for reflection).
  6. Place each task into its best time block day by day.
  7. For unappealing tasks, spread out the work over several consecutive days in order to have bursts of focus and avoid drudgery.
  8. Important tasks are scheduled when execution will be crispest such as in the morning or the beginning of the week.

Connecting Time Budgets
At the end of each week, evaluate the results from the time budget with these thoughts in mind:

  • If a task wasn’t completed, determine if it was from procrastination, interruptions or insufficient allocated time.
  • For repeating tasks week to week, consider if the results could have been better if allocated to a different time block.
  • For the next time budget, experiment with different sequences and time periods.
  • At the end of each month, compare the previous weeks’ time budgets and summarize the results achieved and the nuggets of learning.
  • Take the monthly summaries and use them with the chain of command for the next period’s business planning as well as employee reviews.

Time Budget Warnings
A time budget is a guide to reinforce results (good behaviors) and to inform about weak spots (procrastination).

Few things are more satisfying than looking into the rearview mirror of a year’s set of time budgets and seeing significant business results, on-time delivery, improved efficiency, personal growth and the absence of regret.

Kirk Loury

Kirk Loury
President
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey


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Fiduciary Rule for the Modern World

On April 6, the U.S. Department of Labor unveiled the fiduciary rule that has been six years in the making.

Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that the new rule ensures that financial advisers will act in the best interest of their clients. Gone is the suitability standard and replacing it is a fiduciary standard.

“A consumer’s best interest must now come before the adviser’s financial interest,” Perez said.

The Financial Planning Association will be there for its members throughout the process of compliance, said FPA President Pamela Sandy, CFP®. Firms are required to comply by Jan. 1, 2018.

Sandy said the organization is working with the Financial Planning Coalition—which includes CFP Board and NAPFA—to analyze the rule and figure out exactly what it means for FPA members.

“FPA, as your professional home, will be helping you understand the rule and assisting you in adjusting to the impact the rule will have on your clients and your business,” Sandy writes to FPA members.

Members now have access to the organization’s newest Knowledge Circle on Public Policy and Regulation, which is now available to help members navigate the new law and discuss information with peers. The Knowledge Circle will temporarily be headed by FPA Chair Edward W. Gjertsen, II, CFP®.

Perez said the change in regulation is long overdue.

“The regulatory structure that protects people’s investments has not kept up with the changing landscape,” Perez said at a press conference. The rules that were in place were sufficient for days when pensions dominated the retirement field and Leave it to Beaver was popular on television, he added.

But we live in a Modern Family world now, IRAs and 401(k)s rule the roost, and people are losing $17 billion annually in fees for bad products and advice, according to a 2015 White House report.

Perez said the streamlined rule addresses concerns that many opponents had with the first versions of it, which were proposed in 2010, withdrawn, then re-proposed in 2015. The new rule has some flexibility for firms that sell proprietary products, has extended the deadline for compliance four months, and streamlined the mechanics of the contract, among other things.

“Today’s rule ensures that putting clients first is no longer simply a marketing slogan, it’s now the law,” Perez said.

Proponents of the new rule are expecting a fight from the rule’s opponents, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said at the press conference on April 6.

But Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, “We are not going back. This rule is too important for seniors, it is too critical for workers, and it is one more step to making sure our economy can grow from the middle out, not from the top down.”

Join the discussion on FPA Connect, and see below for a list of helpful links to help you arm yourself with the most current information.

 

AnaHeadshot

Ana Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.

 

Helpful Links for More Information