Block It Out

Distractions are a major issue every financial professional must battle.  Although technology is pigeon of distraction, it can also be used to help you regain focus.

Bombarded by interruption technology while trying to give clients individual attention and run a successful practice, many advisors feel overwhelmed.

Interruption technology comes in many forms such as e-mail, text messages, Tweets, and Facebook pokes.  While these tools have helped us gain effectiveness in some respects, it has diminished productivity by other measures.

 Think you are multitasking?  Think again.

As its name implies, multitasking involves completing different tasks simultaneously, with the end goal of increased productivity. If you can generate a proposal while on hold with a client, you have successfully multitasked. While we used to extol multitasking abilities, the term falls short in describing what most advisors are doing today.  They are not multitasking.

Most of us switch-task, not multitask.  Our attentions are pulled from one task and drawn, most frequently by interruption technology, in another direction.

If you are composing an e-mail explaining a complex financial strategy and you impulsively toggle over to ESPN.com for last night’s scores, you have switch-tasked.  It could take several minutes to regain your focus on the e-mail, hence a decrease in productivity.  If you are Tweeting while talking to your client on your cell phone, your client is probably aware that you are listening with only half an ear.  Eventually, your retention rates will suffer.

It’s easy for us to think we can seamlessly jump from one task to the next and give everything our full attention, but we cannot.  Our brains are not hard-wired for switch-tasking.

The University of Kent sought to establish the impact of switch-tasking.  They set up an eyeball-tracking camera to monitor eye movements of 100 people.  The participants read passages on computer screens and while reading, they were interrupted with one-minute tasks, such as phone calls or e-mails.   After the interruption, they went back to their reading.

Once interrupted, it took participants 17% more time to read the original passage than if they read it straight through.

Block Distractions

There are many ways you can shield yourself from distracting digital stimuli.

You can tend to e-mail only at certain times, turn-off your mobile device, and schedule your social networking engagements. You can download productivity software to block Internet distractions.  Programs such as Freedom, Isolator, LeechBlock, Menu Eclipse, Think and Turn Off the Lights, and Anti-Social serve much like parental controls.  For many of these programs, you set an amount of time that you want to work uninterrupted, and the software blocks unwanted content during that time period. Also, many word-processing packages like Ulysses, Scrivener, WriteRoom, Dark Room and Writespace, offer full-screen, no-distraction modes.

The rationale behind these is a clear computer helps clear the mind.  If you are shielded from interruption, you can tackle the task at hand.

The bottom line is this:  if left unchecked, technology can get the best of you.   Exert control over your technology so that it adds value, helps you improve the client experience, and makes you more productive.

Personal and Time Management by Beverly D. Flaxington

Do you ever have a day where you sit and wonder, “What shall I do with all of my free time?” If you are like most financial professionals, that day hasn’t come along in quite a while! Running a financial advisory firm requires client management, investment management, people management and general business management. And with your free time, you can always add in some business development, too!

At the end of the day, you want to feel like you did the most with what you were given in terms of time and effort. Unfortunately, in many cases, the time seem to have slipped away and you are left with a to-do list that has only lengthened!

How do successful people best manage their time and get the most accomplished? Here are 7 tips for maximizing time and personal efficiency for financial advisors:

  1. Have written plans. You need an overall business plan, a marketing and business development plan, a client management plan and an employee development plan for each individual. If you didn’t have a plan for investing a client portfolio, you’d be hard pressed to know which investment selections were right for that client. Similarly, you need a plan for each aspect of your business. Make sure it is written – not just “I know what I need to do.”
  2. Set priorities for the week, and then for each day. Take time to pick out the top three, four, or five most important things you want to accomplish each week, and then for each day. Keep focused on what’s most important.
  3. Eliminate the “fire drill” culture or mentality. If you or your firm seems to constantly be in a reactive, fire-drill mode, it’s time to examine your processes. Employees should have their priorities clear, and your firm should have a standardized approach to dealing with daily events. The unexpected always happens, but if you have processes and priorities in place, they won’t disrupt your firm such that nothing else happens while you respond to them.
  4. Schedule those things you know you need to do, but perhaps don’t want to do. Hate giving an employee negative feedback? Don’t like focusing on sales and business development activities? Hate balancing the checkbook for your firm? We all have something we’d prefer not to do but that needs to get done. Don’t wait for the right time to do it – schedule it in and put it on your calendar.
  5. Outsource and delegate. Find those things you are not particularly good at or don’t enjoy, and find a competent resource to assign them to.
  6. Know your own Achilles heel. We all have behavioral preferences that get us in trouble. Some of us are too quick to act and don’t think enough. Others get into analysis paralysis. Identify your own weakness and plan for it. Don’t be surprised by something you know is going to happen!
  7. Break down your to-dos. Don’t keep a general list with lots of high-level things that need to happen. Break them down into a manageable, step-by-step plan with assigned resources, timeframes and costs. The smaller the task, the more likely you are to do it!

Try just one or two of these things this week and see if you don’t experience more productivity. Keep adding one in each week until you are running your advisory firm like an efficient machine!