Feel like you've lost control of your business? You're not alone

FPA report highlights the problem and potential solutions: Can you say time blocking?

By Liz Skinner

Apr 18, 2014 @ 11:33 am (Updated 12:01 pm) EST

control, time management, business efficiency, practice management

Advisers who feel like they've lost control of their business and don't know where the workday goes can at least take comfort in knowing they're not alone.

Only one-third of the nation's financial advisers feel they are in command of their business and their time, according to a new Financial Planning Association report on time management.

The solution for better business efficiency has a lot to do with workflow and planning. About 51% of advisers said they believe having standardized processes is the best way to boost productivity, while 47% said better delegation is key and 38% said better scheduling is necessary, the survey of 750 advice professionals found.

The report also detailed some practices that advisers perform as part of their routines to optimize the workday. Some advisers recommended scheduling more activities (not just client meetings), having a weekly schedule where advisers only hold client meetings on certain days, making time to think about the business, working with coaches, prioritizing activities each day and improving training for team members so more can be delegated.

One popular idea is time blocking, where, for example, advisers set aside a certain period of the day where they answer client phone calls and other hours for answering e-mail.

(Find additional time management tips for advisers here.)

About 72% of advisers answer e-mails as they land in their inbox, “reflecting the struggle of responding to the urgent rather focusing on the important,” the FPA report said. Advisers who feel in control of their business were more likely to block time to deal with their e-mail, according to the survey.

Michael Silver, a founder and senior managing partner of adviser-coaching firm Focus Partners, said time blocking is one of the most important things an adviser can do to boost productivity. The key is to schedule more operational tasks like team meetings, checking headlines and catching up on research and other reading before and after the business day of approximately 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“During the business day, advisers need to be working on managing money, managing client relationships and bringing new relationships in the door,” Mr. Silver said. “Everything else should be done during different times of the day, or be delegated.”

The survey found that teams who felt in control of their time hold one more client meeting each week than other advisers. This results in 50 additional meetings a year, suggesting that effective use of time creates more capacity to work with clients, the FPA report said.

Advisers' struggling to find enough time in the day is nothing new, but the association conducted this in-depth review of advisers' time management issues after a general practice management report in December found time management to be a major gap for advisers.

“This study probed further into the time management issue and exposed the unfortunate snowball effect poor time management has on [certified financial planners] and all advisers,” said Lauren Schadle, FPA executive director.

In the survey, advisers also described specifically what they think is hampering their productivity. About 36% said they try to do too much, 31% said their administrative burden has increased and 30% admit that it's procrastination.

Advisers can fight procrastination by making their hardest phone calls first, Mr. Silver said. Get the “bad news” of the way first so those calls don't hold up the day.

“We see advisers of all sizes suffering from analysis paralysis, where they are so busy that they do nothing because they don't know what to do first,” Mr. Silver said.

He also recommends advisers hold a five-minute team meeting before the start of the business day to keep everyone on task, a weekly half-hour team meeting for detailed reports about operation and administrative items and a monthly partner meeting offsite for discussing high-level firm strategy.