Do you feel like your business controls you (instead of you controlling the business)?
Do you reach the end of every week and still have far more left on your to-do list than you’d like?
If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then you’re not alone. These are common problems for financial advisors at all stages of their careers.
Meetings run over their scheduled times, phones and texts and emails keep pouring in, and it seems like last minute details are always landing in your lap.
The answer to taking back control of your time is undoubtedly in using your time more efficiently. But what can you do to turn things around in a hurry?
Traditional Time Blocking is Outdated
There are a lot of bad articles on time management for financial advisors out there. But this isn’t one of them. This isn’t because time blocking doesn’t work. And it’s not because advisors don’t need help in this area. Because in fact, research from the FPA Research and Practice Institute shows that just 13% of financial advisors feel like they have complete control over their time (which is a shockingly low number!). It’s because the traditional methods of time blocking are outmoded. So, forget everything you think you know about time blocking and follow these tips instead.
Some of these tips you may have heard before. Others may be new to you. But instead of rewriting another article on different time blocking methods you can find anywhere on the internet (The Pomodoro Technique, the Director/ Doer Schedule Method), I’m sharing my 25 years of experience struggling and finally finding ways to take control of my day!
Take Back Control of Your Time Today
1. Allocate specific days or times of the week for work on the business, client prep, and client meetings.
The most important step in blocking out your work week is in figuring out which days or times you will take client calls and which days you won’t. We recommend scheduling the equivalent of at least one day a week where you do not do client-facing work. This isn’t doable for some folks, but if you know you have at least one day without meetings, it can make you feel a little calmer about your ability to get everything done.
So, deciding which day or equivalent amount of time you won’t take calls will be the critical first step. Some advisors like to use Mondays or Fridays for business related (non-client-facing) activities. Knowing you are not meeting with clients allows you to focus on the deeper work that tends to get pushed to the backburner when the client workload increases.
I would also recommend starting by time-blocking non client-facing activities in 30 to 45 minute blocks throughout the day specifying the exact task you will be working on. If you block 2-3 hours, for instance, and something gets in the way, it will derail your time blocking. As you get more used to blocking your time, it may be easier to schedule longer blocks.
2. Carve out time to plan.
Planning for planning time? Sounds like double the work. But when you have an idea about how your planning time will be spent, it helps you feel a deeper sense of control and ultimately to be more productive when that planning time arrives in your schedule.
3. Buy a timer and schedule work into chunks—30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, or more if needed.
On days without client meetings, set timers to delineate chunks of time you will dedicate to deeper work without checking your phone or email during them. These should be focused blocks of time with zero or minimal interruption. Setting a timer to block out this time is especially helpful for tasks you do not want to perform. Mentally, you know there is an end point and that the discomfort of the task won’t last beyond the timer.
After each chunk of focused time, take a short break of 5-10 minutes. After a few focused sessions in a row, take a more restorative break of 15-30 minutes. At the end of each focus session, record what you have done whether it’s crossing it off your to-do list or noting your progress in your project management software. This helps you solidify progress and gain confidence over small wins that can fuel productivity for the rest of the day.
4. Schedule your most productive activities around your most productive times of day.
What are your most productive activities? Schedule these at the time of day when you have the most energy to dedicate to them. For you, these could be business planning, preparing for client meetings, COI meetings, or even prospecting. Most advisors identify these activities as those that help them generate the most revenue and place them in a hierarchy according to that measure. Your most important activities should get your most focused attention.
5. Schedule your least productive activities around lower energy times of day.
Answering emails, posting to social media, or checking in with your outsourced vendors are great activities to schedule in at times when you aren’t your most productive. What you do (and when) all basically comes down to energy management. You don’t want to waste your high energy windows on tasks that require less from you. Reserve those windows for high-value, high-engagement tasks.
6. Write out your schedule, but remain flexible (on some things).
Advisors with a set schedule feel a greater sense of control and ease throughout the workweek than those that do not. Writing out your schedule helps to reinforce this sense of control and confidence over your ability to accomplish everything you want.
Choose the method that works best for you. You may prefer to use paper and pen (which is totally OK) to write out your schedule, or use an app.
If you’re new to time blocking, remember to remain flexible on some things, but not on others. For example, understand that you might find you are more productive at different times of day than others, in which case you’ll want to adjust your blocks. But you also need to protect your time for business planning and marketing—the activities that tend to get glazed over or glossed out when client work becomes more cumbersome.
7. Develop a morning ritual.
Once you have a clear idea what your week is going to look like, you’ll want to create a morning ritual that energizes you to take on the day and stay on track. Your personal ritual could start as early as when you roll out of bed, or not until you arrive at the office, depending on your work situation. Some advisors will include “planning for their planning” time in their morning ritual or perhaps writing in a gratitude journal. Whatever activities fill your tank are what you should incorporate into the beginning of each day. The ritual alerts the mind that the day is about to begin and reinforces consistency in your efforts day after day.
8. Block off time for yourself.
Don’t forget to block off time for yourself including family vacations, daily down time, daily exercise, holidays, major events, or even conferences. Block these times off in your online scheduling tool so that people cannot infringe on these commitments. It all goes back to the old saying about filling your own cup before being able to help others. Without a sense of autonomy from your work, you are far likelier to experience burnout in the workplace.
Even though using these time management techniques will help to free your time, you want to be careful you aren’t filling that time with tasks that are “below your pay grade.” Be sure to delegate tasks that (1) aren’t revenue-generating or (2) aren’t your strong suit that can be handled by a staff member (or outsourced vendor) who can handle that task better. A virtual assistant, for example, could handle a number of planning tasks to free up space on your calendar. Delegating reduces stress and frees your time to do the things you are uniquely qualified to do.
There are many ways to be more efficient with your time. The key is to find what works for you and do it with focus and consistency.