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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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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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Are You Maximizing Your ROT (Return on Time)?

Do you ever feel like you are living your life by a checklist? Do you feel like you are constantly running from one activity to the next and that there is so much more to do? How often do you find yourself asking, “When did life become so chaotic?”

We feel that time is the most precious commodity of today. With an increase in industry regulations and administrative requirements, financial professionals are finding that they are spending too much time doing the wrong activities. How wise are your choices on where you expend your time? Are you allowing yourself to be held hostage to the reactive? Below we provide some basic best practice reminders to help increase your return on time.

  1. Build a team to complement your abilities so that you can focus on what you do best and assign all other responsibilities according to the natural strengths of others.
  2. Learn how to fully utilize your technology resources to create capacity.
  3. Do, delegate, delete. For each daily task, consider whether it is something that you actually need to do, something that you should delegate or something that you can delete as it has no bearing on your goals.
  4. Utilize a priority system so that no task is ever assigned without a deadline attached to it. This helps all associates understand levels of urgency and better balance daily activities.
  5. Proactively block to create a balanced calendar. It is important to allocate time to all essential business functions such as prospecting, client management, planning, team management, continuing education and so on. Don’t let an area of your business suffer by ignoring it.
  6. Making a commitment to creating, documenting and utilizing processes so that every repeated activity is executed in the same way every time will substantially impact efficiency.
  7. Identify time wasters. Conduct a time study on where your time is spent so that you can identify what (and in some cases, who) tends to drain your time. Determine the best course of action to take back control of your time and set parameters and expectations to better manage these situations.
  8. Consistently execute effective team communication. When communication falters, errors and frustrations increase and a vast amount of time is wasted.
  9. Maintain an organized client base. Segmenting your clientele based on each relationship’s value to your business helps to create scalability to efficiently drive client deliverables.
  10. Train your clients. Help them understand what to expect from the practice, when to expect it and the roles of each team member. Set realistic expectations for your team to respond to your clients’ needs.

How each associate chooses to utilize time will dramatically impact your results. Review each of the practices above with your team and gain specific commitments. If you are looking to grow your business, you must make wise decisions every day. There should be no excuses and no procrastination, but rather an ongoing commitment to consistently and proactively manage your time. What is your ROT?

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

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

 

krista_smKrista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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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