The #1 problem financial advisers must fix

Clutter keeps you from the level of productivity you need to build your business. Take the time to clear it away.
By Guest |  09-01-17 | 
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Morningstar invites thought leaders from the investment community to share their insights. Views expressed are personal and should not be construed as investment advice.

Physical clutter and mental clutter fill your life with stress. Clutter of any type forces you to wade through screaming mountains of noise. Do not be fooled; clutter keeps you from the level of productivity you need to build your business. It robs you of valuable time you could otherwise use to call your current client base, to increase client retention, and to network or cultivate relationships with prospective clients.

Every file folder, every piece of paper, every phone call you need to return or email left in your inbox, every proposal you have not completed, and every continuing education class you need to complete: This physical and mental clutter buzzes through your mind every time you walk into your office. It swarms around you like bees buzzing around their hive. It constantly talks to your subconscious mind, filling you with such powerful anxiety and indecision, forcing you into a daily fire drill of reacting to the most urgent task you find buried in the clutter of your office.

It's time to take control!

Here are three concrete ways to overcome the clutter in 2017:

1. Make a non-negotiable commitment to clean up your office.

Creating a clean and organized workspace is the beginning of a de-cluttered life.

  • De-clutter your desk and credenza. Start with the top of your desk, then move to each drawer and even through the old file folders.
  • Set a goal to reduce the physical amount of paper in your office by 50%.
  • If a file or a piece of paper is not absolutely necessary for helping you reach your goals, give yourself the freedom to throw it away.
  • Clean up and tend to your email folders--inbox, sent, and deleted. Do not assume you will be able to clean out your email in a single day. Rather, choose to utilise what we call a "micro-action": Tend to your email every day and then do the same thing for yesterday’s email. Clearing out only two days' worth of email will not be overwhelming, and the feeling of accomplishment for taking these tiny steps will motivate you to continue cleaning out one of the most distracting and stressful parts of being a financial advisor: overloaded inboxes.
  • Do not leave an unfinished tasked unfinished. Either choose to tend to it immediately, schedule time in your calendar to complete the task, delegate it, or trash it.
  • Call your computer support hotline and fix any nagging computer issues that have not been fully resolved.
  • Make sure your written correspondence is up-to-date. Have you written all of the letters or thank-you notes you need to write?
  • Throw away old training materials and binders no longer relevant to helping you grow your business.
  • Get rid of everything that does not work. Throw away or give away old laptops, cellphones, pens, and everything you are not using. Put together a box of useful items that you sometimes need at the office and never have available: bandages, antibiotic ointment, comb/brush, deodorant, lotion, hammer, nails, screwdriver, etc.
  • Have a single location for every office tool, such as scissors, staplers, tape, sticky notes, paper clips, highlighters, stationery, stamps, rubber bands, and extra batteries. This keeps you from wasting time searching for everyday business supplies.

Once the clutter has been removed, take the time to deep clean your entire office. Dust the furniture, plants, and picture frames. Wipe out the inside of the drawers, vacuum under your desk, wipe down the baseboards, replace any burned out light bulbs, and dust the bottom of your office furniture.

Finally, set a time on your calendar to spend one hour per week staying organised.

2. Deal with unfinished tasks

An unfinished task is similar to physical clutter. Projects, proposals, phone calls, seminars, letters to clients, performance reviews, and regular check-ins with your clients may all qualify as unfinished tasks.

Grab a sheet of paper, set a 5-minute alarm on your smartphone, and begin to write down as many unfinished tasks at home and at work that pop instantly into your awareness. Amazingly, in just 5 minutes you will become consciously aware of the multiple unfinished tasks you need to accomplish.

After this 5-minute exercise, schedule time to walk through your home and your office with a notepad and write down every task you need to complete:

  • Look at every file on (or under, or beside) your office desk. How long has that file been lying in your office without action?
  • How many clients are waiting for something from you?
  • How many sticky notes are posted on your computer or taped to your desk that have been unattended to for months or years?
  • Is your filing system organized? Is it easy to locate the file or retrieve information from each file?
  • Do you know how to fully utilize the technology in your office? Or are you constantly wasting time asking a co-worker to help you complete the same task over and over again?
  • Have you created your 2017 business plan?
  • Have you set realistic goals for how you will reach your objectives for 2017?
  • Once you have established your goals, do you have a clear understanding of the individual projects you will focus on to reach each goal?
  • Have you set timetables and deadlines for each project?
  • Have you determined which person on your team is best suited to work on each task?
  • Have you taken time to think about the best way to offer more value to each client in 2017?

The list of your unfinished tasks may include simple tasks that can be finished quickly and large projects that must be broken down into smaller, clarified activities.

Dictate all of your unfinished tasks into two Word documents. One document will list all of your work tasks and the other will list all of your unfinished tasks at home.

After dictating your list, prioritise the unfinished tasks you need to complete first. Do not be overwhelmed with the feeling you need to accomplish every unfinished task in the next week. Simply commit to completing two unfinished tasks every day.

3. Create a daily written plan of action

A best practice for every financial adviser is to take 1% of your day to create a written daily plan of action--just 1% of your time to determine the outcome of every day you work.

A written daily plan of action increases your productivity by starting the day knowing the outcomes you want to reach.

There are 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, in each day. 1,440 minutes x 1% =14.40 minutes of planning per day.

One of the most powerful concepts from The 7 Minute Life (our time management and productivity company) is to take 7 minutes every afternoon and 7 minutes every morning to think about 5 tasks you will commit to accomplishing before 11:00 a.m. We call this creating your 5 before 11 list.

Imagine the power of taking just 7 minutes each afternoon and 7 minutes each morning to clarify and create a daily written plan of action. This written plan of action will remove the clutter swimming through your head every day.

Rather than reacting to the "bees that are buzzing the loudest," you will be able to cut through the daily noise and clutter by taking 7 minutes, twice a day, to clear the path for what you will determine to be the non-negotiable tasks you will complete.


1. Physical clutter and disorganisation are your choice.

2. Taming your unfinished tasks starts by writing down every single task and prioritizing which tasks you will complete first. Then finish two of these tasks each day.

3. Take 7 minutes in the afternoon and 7 minutes in the morning to create your daily written plan of action. Write down your "5 before 11." Then follow your daily plan.

Removing physical and mental clutter, attending to unfinished tasks, and deliberately taking 7 minutes in the afternoon and 7 minutes in the morning are a choice.

This post was written by Allyson Lewis of The 7 Minute Life for Though written a while back, the advice still holds. For more time management, productivity, and goal-setting ideas, do visit her website. 


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