If you’re like many advisors, your biggest challenge isn’t finding clients or taking care of mishaps: It’s how to manage your time. To that end, we talked to advisors and experts uncover their best time management tricks. Of course, there is no magic bullet, and every advisor will come up with their own methods. “You have to do what works for you,” says Kevin Neal, an advisor with UBS in Coral Gables, Fla., who has combined his own approach with bits and pieces of other systems.

Here’s a look at what three advisors do:

First Things First

It’s all about getting your priorities straight. “I don’t think of it as time management,” says Mark  Little, who heads The Freedom Experience in La Jolla, Cal. “I think of it as priority management”.   

Little came to that conclusion some 12 years ago when he realized he was engaging in a version of the 80-20 rule: He was spending 80% of his time on things other people should be doing. Quite often, that meant answering employees’ questions or making sure they were completing their tasks correctly. “If you let your staff drive your to-do list, you don’t get anything done,” says Little.  “I drew a line in the sand.”

So, he pinpointed exactly what he figured his priorities should be: client service, either on the phone or face to face, and client acquisition.  Everything else he would delegate.

That means having a staff with the experience and resourcefulness to tend to things on their own without asking him for help. He toughened up his hiring process, asking applicants to take two tests editing an Excel spreadsheet and Word document. Those who get through that hurdle also take a typing test after their interview.  Little went from a staff of 11 to 4 in just a few years—and his productivity soared, he says.  

According to Bill Bachrach, who heads Barchrach & Associates, a San Diego consultancy and a coach to Little, it’s also important to give employees the leeway to help you stick to your priorities. “If your buddy calls, they should be able to tell him you’ll get back at a specific time later in the day,” he says. “Empower your staff to make sure you’re only doing client work at the right times.”

Now Little makes a to-do list every night, with two rules in mind: The tasks need to address his priorities, not those of his staff, and there needs to be two or three activities, like making sure he connects with an important prospect, that have to be finished before he leaves the office the next evening. The exception: problems falling outside his priorities but that still demand his attention, such as a top client who may be upset because of a snafu with a money wire. Little writes such tasks in his calendar, scheduling them as he would any meeting.  “If one of my ideal clients has been negatively affected, I have to take care of it,” he says.

 

Using Tech to Tweak a Time Management Bible

Three years ago, Bradley Harmon, who heads Harmon Financial Advisors, an Atlanta-based firm with about $320 million in assets, decided to adopt the system described in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. He spent a week wading through piles of paper in his office, throwing away or filing every single one, as the system demands. Then he follow Allen’s credo: If a task takes less than two minutes, do it right away; if it requires more time and steps, then it’s a “project” and you put it on a list of actions to do later or schedule it in your calendar; if it’s more appropriately handled by someone else, delegate it;  and, finally, if the activity is not important—say, you missed a call from a number you don’t recognize—forget about it. He also set aside important “reference” items to keep at the ready. (Example: Documents pertaining to a company valuation he had done two years ago that he feels he may need to refer to in the future).   

But he’s also done some of his own tweaking by adding software. For example, he adapted Redtail, a CRM system for financial advisors, to manage his time on projects and keep his staff on track using the Getting Things Done System. For example, in a current project to rebrand the company he’s broken it down into actionable steps (a la David Allen) covering web site development, new letter head, brochures and social media, and included them in Redtail. He included deadlines and the step-by-step activities required to compete each action item.

Then, about two years ago, he started using a personal productivity program called Omnifocus, which he installed on his iPhone, Macbook and iPad.  According to Harmon, It lets him enter the action items for each task. “If I’m waiting outside the grocery store, I can review what’s left to be done,” he says.  It also alerts him to actions that need to be taken that day.

As a branch manager at Raymond James Financial Services, he’s responsible for reading emails from all nine advisors in his office. He set up Outlook so that it jibes with the Getting Things Done system: Specifically, all advisor emails immediately go into an appropriately labeled project folder.

Harmon reviews his projects every week to make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks.  While he can’t say whether the system has increased the assets he manages—he stopped working with clients several year ago—“It’s completely changed my overall operational efficiency,” he says. “And I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

 

Blocking and Tackling

Financial advisors live and die by their calendars. Then there’s Jack Kennedy.

Back in the 90’s, not long after starting out as a financial advisor, Kennedy found himself in a time management disaster zone. “I was working seven days a week, with paper piling up on my desk all the time,” he says. “I’d just hit a brick wall.”

That’s why, ever since then, Kennedy, who heads Kennedy Investment Group, a West Depford, NJ, firm with $284 million in assets, has made sure that he and his staff of seven block out appointments on their calendars—365 days in advance.  That includes everything from client meetings to time for returning calls. The first hour and a half of the day are spent prepping for meetings; from 12 to 1 is set aside for returning calls.  Wednesdays are late nights. Recently, for example, Kennedy had a 30-minute phone appointment at 11:30 pm with a client who works a late shift. Plus, Friday mornings are completely devoted to preparing for the 40 to 50 appointments the firm holds each week; afternoons are for business planning. Once a quarter, the practice shuts down completely for business planning. And the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the firm closes to the public to review the upcoming year’s schedule.

Ironically, as with many time management techniques, the additional work actually frees up more time to focus on what’s important. “If you’re not effectively managing your time, you’ll never be effective,” says Kennedy.