Forget scaling down to a four-day work week. Sometimes it feels like I need an eight- or nine-day week just to stay on top of my workload. It’s never been easy to keep up with the demands of being a financial advisor, and as you take on more and more work, there’s less and less room for other important parts of your life.
In a perfect world, you’d reduce your workload and hours worked without impacting your business – and stay healthy without needing time for things like rest and relaxation. This is not a perfect world. You can’t add more hours to a day. You can’t decrease the amount of work on your plate. Your only option is to try to save time by increasing your efficiency.
The question is how.
Time blocking: A three-step blueprint to an efficient schedule
Most of us are multitasking all the time. You probably have a dozen different tabs open on your browser, Outlook running in the background or on a separate monitor, CNBC playing on a screen in your office, two or three running text conversations on your phone, and a spreadsheet or two that you’re working on.
For me, those are understatements.
We’ve all come to accept multitasking as a way of life, but it’s not nearly as efficient or effective as we think. It takes time for us to fully engage with a task. Research done by the American Psychological Association found that repeatedly switching between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone’s productive time. If we were to draw our schedules out task-by-task, we’d see that we typically only spend a few minutes on a task before switching to something else, guaranteeing that we lose minutes or hours of productivity every day.
Time blocking is a scheduling method designed to concentrate on one thing at a time, thus greatly reducing the number of wasted hours. The way it works is simple.
Step 1: Grouping
A Kitces study reported that financial advisors spend, on average, 5.3 hours per week prepping for client meetings, 8.8 hours per week conducting client meetings, 6.6 hours per week managing client accounts, and another 6 hours on follow-up tasks for clients. And that’s not to mention the time spent on prospecting, research, management, and professional development.
All these task groups require different skills, levels of concentration, and parts of the brain. If, as an advisor, you’re rapidly switching between these tasks all day long, you’re eating up productive time and burning yourself out.
Many tasks can be separated into distinct groups. Answering and sending emails can be one group, as can activities like financial modeling and portfolio planning or meetings and phone calls. Anything that feels like it fits in a similar section of your brain can be grouped together.
You have some idea of how long each task will take. You don’t need an exact figure, but it’s helpful to know that you’ll need at least an hour for email, a couple hours for planning, an hour for client calls, etc. This also extends to “tasks” like eating lunch, exercising, conducting staff meetings, and anything else that takes time out of your day.
Step 2: Scheduling
Once you have an idea of what types of time blocks you need, the next step is to plan your week in detail. Sunday evenings are usually your best bet.
Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time for specific tasks, with a special focus on tasks with the biggest impact. Stay committed to your predetermined responsibilities during these time blocks. Only answer emails during your email answering block. Only focus on presentations or portfolio strategies during their respective blocks. Block out time for breakfast, lunch, exercise, and dinner.
You’ll find that there are still gaps in your schedule after accounting for every task on your plate. These empty blocks can be used for miscellaneous tasks or to absorb overflow from blocks that run long.
Step 3: Adjustment
Perfection is impossible. There will always be hitches, one-off occurrences, unexpected client calls, and unpredictable market events that demand your immediate attention and throw off even the most intricately blocked schedules.
At the end of each day, take stock of what you accomplished, what you still need to do, and what that day’s schedule couldn’t accommodate. Once you’ve taken a full account, spread those leftover tasks across the rest of the week.
Time Is your greatest asset
Reducing the amount of time wasted switching between tasks and recalibrating your focus will help you find time in your day that you never knew was there. Every hour saved is one you can put toward prospecting for new clients, analyzing new strategies, and looking for new ways to create value for your clients.
Time blocking isn’t the only way to save time without cutting down on client-facing activities, but it is a simple and powerful method to help move you toward a more efficient work schedule.