From the May 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Stop Dithering

Why are 90% of financial professionals struggling? Because they simply don’t know how to get things done

There are a fair number of challenges facing financial advisors—burdensome and ever-changing regulations, media intimidation, timid clients and prospects—but the biggest enemy facing most advisors may be the person who stares at them in the mirror.

Are you your own worst enemy?

There are two simple reasons why most advisors are not very effective: They do what they enjoy, rather than what is most important, or they don’t control or fail to stop interruptions. Here are seven simple techniques you should implement today to start increasing your productivity:

1. Become a list maker and task ranker. Write a list of all the things you have to do. Write this list every day, and add new items to the list as they arise. Each morning rank tasks as A, B or C. A-ranked items must get done that day, B items should get that done that day and C items are items you’d like to get done. Then rank the A items from most important to least important (A1, A2, A3, etc.), and then the B and C tasks, too.

2. Do the most important tasks first. Most people do what they are best at first and what is most important last. But the people who are most effective are those who start out tackling the important items.

3. Post these signs on your wall next to your desk. “What is the most important use of my time right now? Do it now.” The first question laser focuses your mind on your highest priority tasks, and the statement orders you to perform now.

4. Empower your assistant to punish you. Create a painful penance for each task that you fail to do and have your assistant hold you accountable. For example, put a glass jar on the office refrigerator and put $20 in per day for every A task you don’t get done. If you think $20 is too much, then you really don’t understand the true cost of your failure to get things done. Is it possible that every task you fail to do costs you $200 in lost revenue? Or $500 in lost revenue? More? You bet.

5. Hire an accountability coach. Executive or business coaches are probably one of the best investments that you can make, but most financial professionals only stay with their coaches for a couple of months. My company used to perform over $1 million worth of coaching each year. Most clients would quit after their one-year contract expired and I’d call them to ask why. Their businesses were almost always up 20% or more, but they would say, “I think that I can do it myself without a coach now.” Their results would almost always stagnate thereafter. Like a fitness coach, I think that people just get tired of paying for an intangible benefit and get tired of doing the work. I have a coach. The No. 1 financial advisor in the country has two coaches. Why don’t you?

6. Stop the interruptions. As most advisors are very social beings, they absolutely adore interruptions, whether it’s the phone ringing, an incoming email or their assistant asking them a question. Use these simple techniques to stop the interruptions:

a. Utilize your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” feature.

b. Turn off all email alert sounds and visual indicators.

c. Close your office door.

When you are in client meetings do you answer the phone? Check email? Or allow frivolous interruptions? Probably not—and you shouldn’t when you are getting things done, either. For certain periods each day, when you need to focus and work, eliminate all distractions.

7. Let your to-do list dictate your hours. What work must get done in order for you to leave today? Rather than focusing on your office hours, focus on tasks. Rather than programming your brain to work until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. each day, program yourself to get the job done, and then … simply leave. If you can complete your work by noon—go home, go golf, go enjoy your life.

Another great thing about this industry is that the secret to success isn’t a secret. The most successful advisors have already shared their “secret sauce.” Everything you’d ever want to know with regard to organizing and running your practice has been written in the pages of this magazine, in books and on the internet.

Remember, the key to success is simple, but not easy: Stop dithering and focus on getting things done.

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