Spend your time wisely: Prioritize, plan, delegate

Many advisers struggle with how to make time for tasks that they know are important, such as additional communication with clients, networking and marketing

Feb 17, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

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When Miye Wire reaches her Reston, Va., office, the time-strapped financial adviser is immediately handed a list of her most important tasks for the day.

Those highlighted items are calls to make or duties to complete before she opens a single e-mail.

Ms. Wire, the only adviser at the eponymous firm that she started 12 years ago, has trained her clients to call other staff members unless their questions are advice-related.

She also tells her staff that she considers it their job to keep her on task.

“It makes it harder to push off the priorities if someone is saying to you, "You need to get this done now,'” Ms. Wire said. “It helps to have someone hanging it over my head.”

Many advisers struggle with how to make time for tasks that they know are important, such as additional communication with clients, networking and marketing. They feel bogged down by activities essential to meeting client and compliance needs. Then there's the constant stream of e-mails.

Time management experts say that prioritizing better, blocking off time to focus on the most important activities and having a skilled staff — as well as a few technology aids — can make an adviser more efficient and productive.

“Time management doesn't have anything to do with time,” said Keith Johnson, vice president for practice management at Curian Capital LLC. “Top-tier advisers are making small adjustments in how they manage priorities and daily tasks.”

Veronica Aaron, an adviser in Fullerton, Calif., doubled her client base and profits by upgrading the qualifications of her employees and delegating more tasks to them. At the same time, she cut her work hours to 20 to 25 a week — to improve her personal life.

Each evening, Ms. Aaron compiles a list of her most important tasks for the next day and e-mails it to her staff, letting them know what she expects help with so she can dedicate 90% of her time to clients. She also builds in time for interruptions.

“I'm keen on time management because it's important to me to be a good parent, as well as the best adviser to my clients and to give them the time they need and deserve,” said Ms. Aaron, an adviser with The Householder Group.

MULTITASKING IS INEFFICIENT

Dan Sullivan, a strategic coach who has worked with about 4,000 financial advisers since 1974, said one of the biggest mistakes they make when they try to be more efficient is to multitask. It takes time and concentration away from the most important thing they do for their firm, which is building relationships, he said.

Mr. Sullivan preaches a time system in which advisers categorize and plan each day to focus on one activity, such as client meetings, marketing or planning for clients; rejuvenation; or preparation for the focused-work day.

“It's all about momentum during the focus days,” he said. “There is a crazy-making quality about modern life that interferes with people's sense of confidence and their focus.”

Technology, it seems, can be viewed as the culprit or a solution when it comes to time management.

“The problem is that technology demands a faster turnaround, and our plans have to be more flexible and adaptable,” said Peter Turla, founder of the National Management Institute and a time management specialist. “We end up in a start-stop mode because of electronic interruptions.”

Mr. Turla recommends that advisers avoid the impulse to check every single e-mail and leave time for dealing with the unexpected.

Bill Winterberg, a former financial adviser who is a technology consultant to financial services firms, said clients who call him for help feel as though they should be accomplishing more each day.

TO THE RESCUE

Along with blocking out time for top priorities, Mr. Winterberg recommends that advisers use RescueTime, a software tool that collects data on the programs a computer uses each day. Advisers can review its analysis and decide if they really want to be spending 20% of their day on social media and only 10% planning for clients, for example.

Such software also can temporarily block Twitter, Facebook and other programs to cut down on interruptions, Mr. Winterberg said.

“In the past, it may have been easier to manage the interruptions because they only came in by phone,” he said. “Now there are many different methods, giving more opportunity for interruptions that take you away from the task at hand.”

Adviser Kevin Williams of Williams Financial Services Corp. in Bowie, Md., said he often feels torn between spending more time helping clients — such as checking to make sure they have followed up with their attorneys or thought about long-term-care insurance — and completing administrative paperwork.

He has worked with two coaching programs over the past six years to help him learn to delegate more duties to staff members and to spend more time on marketing activities.

At first, Mr. Williams was hesitant to pay for a coach. Then he considered the fact that he was paying someone to throw baseballs to his 9-year-old as an investment in the boy's future, so certainly he should be willing to invest in his own.

YOU HAVE TO LET GO

Ms. Wire found that improving her time management meant ceding some control of her business.

“Most advisers and business owners are total control freaks, and it's hard to let go,” she said. “But realizing that you don't have to do everything — and learning to let go of some control — makes a huge difference.”

lskinner@investmentnews.com Twitter: @skinnerliz

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