Financial advisory firm owners face a variety of demands on their time, from working directly with clients, to growing their business, and achieving goals outside of work as well. Trying to address all of these demands can lead owners to feel like they don’t have enough time, their days don’t go as planned, and they can never quite get to the goals they’re trying to reach. A problem that most financial advisors try to solve by seeking out and adopting better tools and technology for time efficiency. But the truth is that everyone has the exact same number of hours to use during the day; breakthroughs in professional and personal fulfillment come not by making those hours more efficient, but by making more conscious decisions about how those hours are spent in the first place.
The key, then, is for firm owners to gain agency—the capacity to act independently and make their own free choices—over their time. Similar to saving enough money to gain financial independence, gaining agency over our time requires an intentional framework that regulates where one’s attention flows, to ensure that it is used in ways that best align time with goals, which in turn drives our growth, income, and happiness.
Creating a system to take agency over one’s time starts with understanding the difference between being available and being accessible. Being available is generally viewed as a best practice, as it means advisors can provide services to clients whenever they need to be served. But as a result, being available also means being at someone else’s disposal. This can lead to a seemingly infinite number of distractions and disruptions that can derail even the most well-scheduled day. In other words, being always available to clients means that a firm owner is never actually in charge of their time.
On the other hand, being accessible means being able to be reached. A firm owner who is accessible still provides services to clients that need to be served, but sets the terms for communication that work for both themselves and their stakeholders. Creating a model of accessibility requires the advisor to set clear expectations about how and when they will be accessible, though. Doing so, however, creates more calendar space and allows the advisor’s time to be more intentionally aligned with the experiences they want to have.
Once a firm owner has adopted a mindset of accessibility (and not just availability), it is important to create clarity about what they really intend to do with their time at work, once that time will be more consciously allocated. The key questions the owner needs to answer include how big they want their firm to be; who the ideal client is; what lifestyle they want to enjoy; and finally, how they can best invest their time based on the previous answers.
It is then time for the firm owner to connect this vision to reality by using time management models and techniques to make it clear to everyone what gets their focus, how their time is allocated, and what actions are assigned along the way. These tools include an annual firm calendar (which first spells out lifestyle goals and then lets the business decide how to use the remaining time), a model weekly schedule (which lays out how the owner spends their time each week), and personal productivity techniques (including morning routines, personal rituals, and professional routines).
Ultimately, moving to an accessible-not-available mindset and creating structures to manage this accessibility can help firm owners gain control over their time and better position themselves to achieve their personal and professional goals. Because at the end of the day, time can be neither created nor destroyed, but it can be wasted if it is not consciously allocated!
We all want to drive greater business growth, increase our income and achieve a higher happiness quotient. But if I were to put on my invisibility cloak and follow you around for a week, the odds are good that these things are not what your time budget would show you working towards.
More likely, I’d see you struggling to maintain clarity of your vision, stay focused on the right priorities, and keep your team energized and empowered while making steady progress. I’d see you stuck somewhere in the ‘messy middle’ between knowing what you want to achieve with your time and never quite catching up to your goals.
We all want to run a business that allows us to do the work we love, deliver deep value to clients, make a great living, and still have time for life outside of work – all without feeling like a slave to our success.
I share these things not because I’m a mind reader, but because my almost three decades of experience and my time in Costa Rica studying the science of success led me to realize that what I and my clients were all really looking for is to live our version of what I call The 5 Freedoms:
- Freedom #1: work with purpose, on your terms
- Freedom #2: do work that you love
- Freedom #3: with people you enjoy
- Freedom #4: enjoy financial abundance
- Freedom #5: live a life of happiness and contribution
Searching for our version of The 5 Freedoms is why we read the books, do the business planning, and try the latest time management techniques.
I’ve coached everyone from advisors, founders, and leaders through everything from start-up to acquisition, and each of my clients will tell you that one change trumped all others when it comes to achieving your ability to maximize growth, income, and happiness in their firms. Their progress really began when they learned to take agency over their time.
Taking agency over time is not the same as simply managing time, though. Instead, they all learned what I’m going to share with you now: that you are either a passive reactor or a powerful creator in the making of your reality.
A Shocking Little Secret: Time Agency > Time Management
The shocking little secret about our time problem is that we don’t actually have a time problem. What we do have are some very real thinking problems. We have direction problems, decision problems, and a steady stream of distraction problems.
We can’t have a time problem because we all have the same number of hours in a day, the same 84,600 seconds in which to apply our attention. It turns out that our growth, profits, and happiness aren’t governed by the amount of time we have, but rather by the agency we exercise over the time we have.
Time Is Just A Container For Attention
Time isn’t tangible; it’s merely a reference point we use to anchor our experience. Technically speaking, time is a dimension, but I’m going to offer a much simpler construct: time is just a container for our attention.
As a container, time has no real value in and of itself. It is how we hold our attention in time that determines the outcomes we ultimately create as a result – and thus how we apply a value to that time.
I remember Tiffany Charles was in tears when she called me, because her finances were forcing her to choose between buying underwear or shoes for her children. It wasn’t for lack of effort; she was working well over 60 hours a week.
As a father of six kids, Ben Brandt had been working hard, but hadn’t been able to crack his income goals, much less take off the time he wanted. In spite of putting in the time, he wasn’t making much headway.
Adam Cmejla was so busy struggling to keep up with the demands of running his practice that he didn’t have time to grow his revenue and, even when he did, it didn’t grow his income. Not only was he struggling to grow, but he was also constantly frustrated and feeling like he was failing his family in the process.
Adam, Ben, and Tiffany’s time management problems weren’t really about their task lists, though, but about how they were choosing to apply their time, attention, and energy.
Each of them was – in their own way – doing too much, for too little, for too many, for too long. They had failed to make conscious choices about who they would spend their time working with, what the value of that time was, and what services they would deliver in exchange for that value.
Agency Is The Antidote
In spite of the volumes written about time management, most of the literature seeks to tackle our time problems without addressing the underlying source of the symptoms – our lack of agency over our time. The real reason our productivity suffers in spite of our excellent task-list-building skills is that our relationship with time is one of being a passive captive instead of a powerful creator. We fail to comprehend the full value of what we can create with our time. When we do, we tend to make drastic changes.
The results can be dramatic. Tiffany started one of our coaching calls crying again earlier this year, but now, as the Chief Growth Officer of a fast-growing $4 million firm, they were tears of joy as she shared that she and her husband had just purchased a second home, something they’d always dreamed of doing.
Ben got clear that his goal was to build a $1 million practice working 25 hours a week and taking 60+ days off per year. He hit that goal this year, taking 80+ days off per year to spend with his wife and six kids.
Adam built hyper-efficient business systems that allowed him to focus his time and energy creating revenue-producing activities and grew 3x in 3 years while still having time to get his pilot’s license and work a 30-hour week while maintaining his 40% growth rate.
And while each took different actions to achieve their results, they all shifted from a fear- and habit-based relationship with time to a more conscious and confident one.
Available Is Your Archenemy
Taking agency over their time started by understanding the difference between accessible and available.
Available literally means, ‘at someone’s disposal’ which is what most professionals are most of the time. Accessible, by contrast, means ‘able to be reached.’ In the nuanced differences between the two lies a good majority of our time breakdowns.
In action, available means that you come in with your day planned, but by 10:00 AM it’s derailed by disruptions and distractions. Available means checking for new email messages 11 times a day because you feel compelled to monitor them like a newborn baby. Available means you and your team are in a constant state of preparing for, holding, and following up on meetings (or projects), never quite able to clear the task-list tsunami. Available means you can’t take more than a few days off without being in close communication. Available means taking calls whenever the phone rings. Available means you keep setting up projects and tasks when there’s no time to actually get them done. Available means you just keep doing more work and the piles keep getting higher.
The problem with available is that you’re never the one in charge of it; everyone else is. Which inevitably means that you’re not running your time or your practice or your outcomes; everyone else is. Without boundaries in place, you are essentially saying, "Hello world, I had some ideas about how today was going to go, but never mind because whatever you decide you need today is more important than what I originally planned to do."
I understand that asking you to give up available might feel selfish. Many of us pride ourselves on our service and responsiveness. But just as many don’t actually deliver on it, precisely because they’re available.
When a prospect sits across from you, do you say, “Bob and Mary, thanks for entrusting me with your money. You can count on me to give you my focus and attention… unless, of course, someone else needs something from me when I’m working on your plan or preparing for our meeting. In that case, I’ll need to stop what I’m doing, delay your work, come back to it later with less time and attention, and then pick it up again once people have stopped asking for other things and time has cleared again for me to complete your work. I won’t feel as good about it, but it’ll be good enough and that’ll have to do because, well, you know I’m just really busy managing all the disruptions. Does that sound OK with you?”
Or do you close your internal business planning meeting with, “Team, we’re really excited about these plans, and we’re going to start some projects and set some meetings, but we probably won’t be getting to most of it done given how we always make ourselves available to our clients regardless of what we just said we’re going to focus on”?
Being accessible, by contrast, means able to be reached. Able to be reached is not the same as available at will. And that nuance matters immensely.
Accessible says “I’m here to serve you, but on terms that work for me and all the stakeholders on my side of the street.” Accessible says that your team, your personal life, and your sanity all have a seat at the decision-making table, that the show is no longer being run by impulsive and habit-driven heat-of-the-moment decision-making.
Being accessible means that you are available on the terms that respect your interests without capitulating to everyone else’s. When you make the shift from treating your time as accessible instead of available, you’ll find that a lot of space opens up on your calendar.
What You Focus On Expands When You’re ‘Just’ Accessible
The accessible-not-available mindset provides a better framework for governing our time, one more aligned with the experiences we want to have. It forces us to build a time model that continuously asks the three time questions that ensure we’re focusing our attention in ways that positively expand our experience:
- What do you want to invest your time in?
- To what effect?
- How do you want to feel doing it?
When you answer these questions from an accessible-not-available mindset, you’re in a far better position to overcome and solve for the three most common time troubles: you don’t have enough time, your days don’t go as planned, and you're constantly distracted from doing what’s important.
The recent Kitces Research on Advisor Well-Being offers the first discernible data about the relationship between time spent in a practice, revenue, and income, with the resulting satisfaction. It shows that advisor satisfaction peaks at $1.5 million in revenue, drops from there, and on average never recovers. The most satisfied advisors worked 25-30 hours a week, often with highly focused niche practices, which allowed them to focus their time on a set of specialized needs more efficiently.
Taking agency over our time means that we get clear on the outcomes we’re trying to create with our time, and how we want to feel while doing it.
My ‘High-Performance Happiness’ Productivity Model
Living The 5 Freedoms is all about finding your own personal form of what I call ‘high-performance happiness’. High-performance happiness isn’t about growth for growth’s sake, but in finding a model for managing your time that elevates your work, wealth, and well-being in ways that work for you.
With that, I offer a simple 3-step model for harnessing your own high-performance happiness.
Step 1: Create Real Clarity About What You Intend To Do With Your Time At Work
When you’re ready to take back your time and elevate your performance, you don’t start in your calendar; you start in your cranium. Removing the background noise of ‘what is’ helps you to create space and get clear on what you really want to create with your time.
In our group coaching program, we use an exercise called ‘Mapping my Model Practice’ that takes advisors through a series of questions in four simple areas to define the practice and life they want to create for themselves. Those four areas of discovery are:
- How big do I want to be? (Size no longer matters when it comes to success, but satisfaction does.)
- Who can I deliver deep value to? (Knowing who you do your best work with is a serious success shifter.)
- What kind of lifestyle do I want to enjoy? (Define what you do, and the income and time off it earns you.)
- How can I best invest my time? (Knowing the above and the value of your time helps make focusing your time, attention, and energy a lot easier.)
When your vision is clear, your decisions are easy. Of course, executing on those decisions isn’t necessarily without effort, or economics, or even unease. But when we are clear about what we want to create and why, we are left with a regulator to help us define what fits into our limited field of focus, and what does not.
Step 2: Construct A Common Language Between Vision And Time Allocation
The breakdown between our goals and the results we experience comes about because we lack a Rosetta Stone. If there is no active translator sitting between our vision and the reality coming at us, then our attention (and thereby results) literally gets lost in translation.
This is where those time management models and techniques fit in. They serve as structures that make it clear (to everyone) what gets our focus, how our time is allocated, and what actions are assigned along the way.
I recommend the following time-model systems for all my clients, whether they’re emerging advisors or CEOs of major enterprises:
Time Model 1: Annual Firm Calendar
The annual firm calendar spells out how you will spend your time in order to translate your vision into reality. With clarity on your ‘Model Practice’, you can map out your year to ensure that you align your time with the actions that will help you achieve your goals.
In the top left of your calendar, you will write your growth goals for revenue, income, number of ideal clients, and time off.
I like to start by marking out Fridays as Free or Flex days, meaning they will be spent out of the office or optimizing the practice in some way. This means that you now have four days per week to ‘run the shop’ and one day per week devoted to making it better or taking time for yourself.
Next, mark out your time off. I’d encourage everyone to block out a minimum of four weeks, even if they’re not consecutive.
This tells you how much time you have to run your practice and serve your clients. Notice I start with the lifestyle goals, then let the business decide how to use the remaining time to achieve them, not the other way around. This is an example of truly taking agency over your time. If having more vacation or personal time is a priority, make it so by expressing that first in your calendar, such that everything else you do for the year must fit around it.
Next, you’ll designate the number of weeks needed for client meetings, and set those aside. Client meeting surges essentially batch your client meetings into set periods during the year, allowing you and your team to build a hyper-efficient yet hyper-specialized model that makes for far better meetings in far less time throughout the year, gaining back radical amounts of time in the process. I recommend that you limit client meetings to Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, two weeks per month, to allow for greater productivity.
Once done, your calendar might look something like Adam’s below.
With your lifestyle goals and client service demands accounted for at the onset of the year, the remaining time is available to allocate to all those things you never quite seem to get time for: managing your team, growing your revenue, improving your operations, and growing your expertise.
Time Model 2: Model Weekly Schedule
With a firm-level schedule in place, it’s now time to define the optimal model for your personal schedule. A model schedule lays out how you will spend your time each week (excluding client meeting surge weeks) to generate the optimal outcome.
The model schedule employs the idea of work batching, or grouping like activities together. There’s a plethora of research that supports batching to maximize focus and happiness, all while boosting productivity. The model schedule is a shift from simply coming in each day and attacking our task list, to focusing our attention in ways that expand our results.
The example below highlights how advisors can implement a standardized weekly model schedule. Mondays are for team meetings and weekly prep. During client meeting periods, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are allocated to client meetings, and in the other non-client-meeting periods, the remainder of the days are set aside for client service and for managing and growing the firm.
I hope you can see how taking agency over your time can quickly add up to a lot more free space on your calendar for doing deep work, and clear headspace in your mind.
Time Model 3: Personal Productivity
With an annual system in place for managing priorities and time (the annual calendar) and a weekly system in place for managing workflow (the model schedule), it’s now time for you to build a model to maximize your personal productivity within that schedule.
Studies show that when our energy and self-control are depleted, our motivation falters, making it difficult to focus and follow through on our tasks. Personal routines and rituals can help us manage our focus, attention, and energy. Such practices have proven effective at helping Adam, Ben, Tiffany, and many others make more of their daily routines and dramatically accelerate their success.
- Morning routines. A good morning routine can positively influence your attitude, energy level, and performance throughout the day. Whether it's meditation, journaling, or an intense workout, starting your day with a consistent focus-and-energy building routine is a staple of high-performance happiness. While every morning routine is different, each should include some form of rising early(er), exercising, and engaging your mind in a focused way. To start, I recommend waking up 30 minutes earlier than usual, spend 10 minutes free-form (no judging) writing the answer to a ‘better question’ in a journal or notebook (What will it take for me to grow revenue 30% working only 30 hours a week?) and then free-form writing.
- Personal rituals. Personal rituals are small habits that help keep us consistently showing up in ways that serve us. These small habits are the start of all your big wins. Whether mental habits, such as visualizing a better version of your day at the end of each day, or meditating for 12 minutes, or mechanical ones such as eating healthily or working out each day, our anchor habits keep us and our minds sharp and showing up in ways that serve us.
- Professional routines. Professional routines are strategies for proactively managing our energy and workflow in a constant sea of change. In Atomic Habits, James Clear wrote about the 100-year-old Ivy League method for setting your top 6 priorities each day and week. I hold “daily huddles” for 20 minutes each morning with my "Chief of Steph" to review any pending items, share anything that has come up but has not yet made it into the system, address items that truly need my input, and make sure my cranium and calendar are aligned with my priorities. I also have scheduled “Office Hours” time on my calendar where my team can connect with me for guidance, feedback, or direction. One of the most impactful professional routines is getting a handle on our email. I check email no more than twice per day, leaving our staff and systems to sort out what we should be looking at in those designated 30-minute blocks. Where it takes the average person 3 hours to get through their daily email, it takes me and many of my clients no more than 30 minutes per day.
Step 3: Set And Reset New Expectations
When you’re ready to take agency over your outcomes, it’s time to put your new time model in place. This begins with proactively sharing the why, what, and how with all the stakeholders, so that everyone is speaking the same language.
First, inform and educate your staff on how you intend to take agency over your time so that they are fully invested and equipped to implement the changes. Equally as important as training your team is empowering them to follow and manage the model, particularly when your discipline is challenged, because it will be.
For those without staff but who anticipate growing to that level in the future, you will still want to allocate staff time into your schedule to organize staff-level work into time blocks. This allows you to understand how much staff time is manageable, making it easier to hire and manage support and have dedicated time already blocked out on the calendar to train them.
Next, you'll want to set (or re-set!) client expectations. I do this with clients by having them design a Client Engagement Standards document that defines their client experience, service, and communication standards, and what to expect when working with the firm. This conveys a highly professional and organized image, but delivering and the document at the onset of the relationship creates a common language, the Rosetta Stone if you will, between you and clients – ensuring you’re speaking the same language when it comes to time and service expectations.
For clients, your service standards might spell out that you schedule a time to return calls to avoid phone tag and ensure you can devote your attention to their needs when speaking (which turns you from being available on their terms to being accessible on yours!). For your team, it might mean accessing you at set points throughout the day or week, rather than coming to you like an all-hours urgent care.
Lastly, while most of your time model doesn’t require disclosure to clients, do share any changes to engagement standards and changes that impact clients in their next meeting. It might feel intimidating, but in 28 years, anytime these changes are implemented it’s not just a non-event in terms of client and center-of-influence reactions, it’s a major relationship booster when you demonstrate the intentionality you are putting towards how you service clients.
It turns out that when you truly focus your time and attention on people and their work, the result is overwhelmingly better work and better relationships.
It’s Not Time, It’s What You Do With It
Taking agency over your time isn’t about taming your task list, but rather about building a time model that defines what will be focused on, and why; with when it’s done simply being a set of decisions about what routines best maximize performance based on your personal goals and preferences.
Using these insights and strategies to build your own high-performance happiness model can amplify your focus, power up your productivity, and accelerate your success in ways that you, until now, thought reserved for a select few.
When we truly take stock of the fact that our time is our greatest income and happiness producing asset, and there is a 100% correlation between how we use it and the business and life we create, it makes it a lot harder to blame things happening ‘out there’ for our outcomes.
If you like the idea of taking back agency over your time and outcomes, I have a quote on my desk from Johann Wolfang von Goethe that set my own thinking straight when struggling to find a balance between work and life after my first child. It’s a time-tested reminder of where to focus my time, and I hope it helps you to do the same. It is simply: "Never let that which matters most be at the mercy of that which matters least."
Now, decide what matters, and build your own personal high-performance happiness model to make it so!
Stephanie Bogan is the Founder & Chief Possibility Officer of Limitless Adviser Coaching. She is a high-performance business coach to advisors and leaders in finserv, and strategy & growth consultant to CEOS and leadership teams of finserv enterprises. You can reach Stephanie at [email protected]
To learn more about taking agency over your time and receive free resources to help, sign up for “How to Build a $1M+ practice and life you love” on October 26, free here. You can sign up for Stephanie’s ‘Mojo Mail’ to receive actionable insights and ideas for elevating your work, wealth, and well-being at LimitlessFA.life.
Dillon Kazemi says
After reading this article a few times, I sat down and made a Firm Calendar for 2022 (similar to the posted picture). I can’t begin to describe the sense of relief I feel when I look at the calendar!
Stephanie Bogan says
Hey Dillon, just seeing this, and so great to hear you applied what you read. Advisors are often surprised at the ‘clarity’ that comes from such an exercise, and the resulting focus allows you to take agency over your time and results. The rest of the structure is there to support you in staying aligned with that calendar and the priorities needed to achieve your goals and create the outcome and experience you want for yourself, your team and clients. It’s a system that once you use, you never go back. A great step to making 2022 your best year ever! Keep me posted on Twitter or LinkedIn, I’d love to hear how it’s going.