Get on top of chaos, distraction, disorganization, interruption, procrastination, clutter, and avoidance.
Stress is a natural physical response to internal or external events that cause you to feel a sense of immediate threat to your well-being. Humans seek balance and order in life, and the demands of today's business and the state of the economy can create a seemingly endless combination of obstacles piling up at the same time.
Chaos, distraction, disorganization, interruption, procrastination, clutter, and avoidance are seven of the obstacles that many financial advisors are faced with every day that add to or induce stress. Recognizing each of these issues and deciding how you will face them can help reduce the amount of stress in your daily work life.
1. Chaos--a state of utter confusion and turmoil
Chaos is the most serious problem, because it causes many of its victims to stand frozen. With chaos, there is so much disorder and such a lack of confidence that indecision sweeps over you, allowing the cycle of chaos to continue.
Chaos can be physical or mental, but the only way out of living in turmoil is to take one step at time. Choose to change a single habit or routine. For example, I find it hard to start working if I feel like I have too much to do. Just by making a list of what I want to accomplish, I immediately feel better because I know I am spending my time effectively. Start each day (or do it the day before) by making a list of the five most important things for you to accomplish before lunch. We call this a "5 before 11 list®." That way you know where your focus should be, and each time you wonder what you should be doing, you can refer to your list. If you can accomplish your five most important things by 11 a.m., you have the second part of your day to handle other things that come up.
2. Distraction--mental distress that prevents concentration
Focus and laser-like concentration are key elements to a financial advisor's success. Hundreds of activities might seem appropriate or important, but there are two especially high-value activities that you must never be distracted away from accomplishing: meeting with your clients face-to-face and talking to your clients over the phone.
To do a good job, we must remove the distractions and focus on our clients. The fact is, distractions pull at us because they are usually more pleasurable than what we are currently doing. Distractions are all around us but can easily be avoided if we so choose. For example, every time I receive a text message, I feel like I must look at it immediately. Obviously someone needs to tell me something that is timely and important, right? Not often. The problem is, I sometimes find it more fun to read a text message than do my job. By turning off my text message notifications during the time I am trying to focus, I am avoiding that distraction and increasing my productivity.
3. Disorganization--the absence of order or systems
Much of what financial advisors do every day is a repetition of an action we take regularly. By creating routines and putting a series of steps in place, we can remove the disorganization. For example, when you have a new prospect, there should be a system in place for developing that relationship. There are routine steps that are taken that help you move forward. By systematizing the process, you make it easier to repeat over and over.
4. Interruption--to stop or cease action in the middle of something
Any office setting is full of interruptions. Ringing phones, talkative co-workers, clients that drop by, noisy repairmen working in the hall, and email notifications are all constant interruptions. To truly be productive, we have to be able to tune everything out and focus on what is most important. For example, block off time in your day to talk to your clients. Let everyone know that you are not to be interrupted. Turn off your ringer and email notifications and post a sign on your door. You can return calls later but by having complete focus on what you need to do at any given time, you can get more done.
5. Procrastination--put off or delay something important
We all have certain problems that we are avoiding. I call them "spiders." How many "spiders" are lurking in the stack of papers on your desk at this moment? Is it a problem you need to research and report back to a client? Is it a book you've been meaning to read but haven't found the time? Could it be something you intend to discuss with your manager? Make time to list all those "I need to's." Just by making a list, you will feel better. Then begin to mark them off one by one. They probably won't even take that long to finish. Just make a commitment to yourself to tackle each one. Eventually the list will shrink and you will feel better.
6. Clutter--heaps of disordered information, a mess
Most everyone has a place where he or she "stashes" things. Most of the things that are "stashed" are really not needed. Articles to read, research reports to review, magazines that "might" have an interesting article, and an email that you may need to reference are all things that we keep but rarely need. Make time to reduce your clutter. Go through each item and make an immediate decision about what to do with it--read it, file it, or make time to handle it. The longer it sits on your desk, the less likely you are to need it.
7. Avoidance--an intentional act of keeping away from or dodging
This final obstacle is often closely tied to the emotion of fear. From prospecting to public speaking and from cold-calling to having a difficult conversation, being a financial advisor is filled with many aspects that may well warrant avoidance. But you can learn to push through several of these frequently dreaded activities. For example, contact another financial advisor in your office and set aside specific blocks of time to prospect. Meet 15 minutes ahead of time to actually rehearse your presentations with one another--then make your calls for the specified period of time. Afterward, come back and debrief. How many calls did each of you make? What worked? What didn't work? What will you do different next time? One of the best ways to break through avoidance is to be held accountable.
The Opposite of Obstacles
Each one of these obstacles is real. Each one creates stress and can cause financial advisors to lose their focus. Recognizing them and how they affect your personal daily work habits is a great first step.
In next month's column, we will talk about the opposite of each of these obstacles--which we call opportunities.
As you look at the list of obstacles on the left, it seems that these are things that somehow happen to us--circumstances outside of our control. As you read the words on the right, it becomes clear that there are many specific opportunities we need to master in order to be more productive at work.