Even though I don’t have any gray hairs yet, I’m no stranger to burnout. In my first job out of college, I thought I was capable of being superwoman. I was director of operations and member services for The Garrett Planning Network. We grew from 30 to 150 advisors in two short years. My job required me to attend all the initial member meetings and trainings, and serve as network coordinator, coach, consultant, and operations manager to all those practices. I led group conference calls, updated technology systems, produced the annual conference, customized operations manuals, helped set up the bookkeeping and procedures, and answered dozens of complex questions via e-mail a day. I was running 24/7. An 80-hour workweek would have been a vacation.
I didn’t think I was burned out at the time, but I very much was. I started coming in later, took procedural shortcuts, pushed all the rules, and tried to squeeze out a little time wherever I could find it. I moved back home, and worked out of my house, but that only made things worse, because then there were no limits to the demands on my time. Eventually, something had to give, and the quality of my service dramatically fell, as did my motivation. By the time I left GPN, I wanted to go work in a different industry altogether.
Although it was miserable at the time, my experience has enabled me to spot burnout in others from a mile away. General George S. Patton once observed that his Third Army suffered from far more fatigued divisional commanders than fatigued divisions. In my work with independent advisors, I’ve found that to be true of most practice owners, too. Many advisors work long hours, day after day, week after week, including weekends, eating bad food (when they can find the time to grab a meal), and failing to exercise, take vacations, or spend time with their families.
Believe me, I understand all too well that when you’re the owner of a business, as well as the principal rainmaker and revenue generator, the demands on you often seem insurmountable. The only thing you can do is to keep on keeping on. At that pace, however, something’s got to give. In a crunch, you can work 100 hours a week, but not every week. Here are ten suggestions to help you keep it all in perspective, so you can continue to grow your practice, and get as much out of it as you put into it:
Number One: Remember why you got into the business in the first place–Most independent advisors are independent for two reasons: They felt they could serve their clients better if they had sole control over their advice and the products they recommend, and they wanted the flexible lifestyle that owning their own business would provide. If you’re chained to your desk 80 or 100 hours a week, slowly eroding your productivity, your motivation, and your health, you’re probably not accomplishing either goal. The whole point of being an advisor is to enjoy what you do, your clients, and your employees. Your ongoing mission should be to make sure that you do all three each, and every, day.
Number Two: Take at least two, two-week vacations a year–Unless your life is already a vacation, taking time off isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Moreover, the harder you work, the more necessary it is. Trying to steal a day here and a long weekend there isn’t going to do the job. To keep up their fast pace, people who work hard also need significant downtime. That means regular periods that are long enough to at least drop the office from your short-term memory, and regain some perspective on what’s important in your life. It also means no cell phones, Blackberries, or e-mail. Leave a phone number where you’ll be and they’ll call you, but only if it’s a true emergency.
Number Three: Take control of your schedule, rather than react to crises–All too often, we find ourselves putting out one fire after another, rather than making any progress. Being a financial advisor is going to entail a certain amount of emergency triage, but when that becomes all you do, either the client, or the practice, is out of control. Or both. The first step in forcing the cuckoo back into the clock is for you and your staff to have a clear understanding of which things constitute true emergencies, which do not. Next, you need to create a proactive system, so that you’re not continually creating emergencies by leaving things to the last minute. Finally, hire the clerical and professional staff you need to take everything that can be done by someone else off your plate. You’ll be surprised at how much more productive–and happier–you are when you can focus solely on tasks that require your training and expertise. You might feel that you can’t afford to hire that kind of help, but in my experience, most advisors can’t afford not to.