Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ron's Top 10 Secrets for Personal Productivity

RON'S TOP 10 KEYS TO PERSONAL PRODUCTIVITY.  There are many theories about what makes some people more productive than others.  Some say it's the ability to multi-task, while others say productive people focus and don't multi-task.  Some say it's scheduling time to return e-mail, while others say return e-mail promptly as a means of enhancing communication.  I believe the keys to productivity may be different for every person.

Having said that, here's "Ron's Top Ten Keys to Productivity":

10.  KNOW WHAT'S IMPORTANT IN LIFE.  What are the long-term major goals in your life?  Then, how does what you are doing now relate to the accomplishment of those goals?  Once you've figured out your lifetime goals (which some may regard as discovering "the meaning in life"), you can then make day-to-day decisions much better.

9. FIND A WAY TO ENTER DATA - FAST.  Personally, I'm a very fast typist.  But most other professionals are not.  The solution for them is likely a dictation system (Dragon Naturally Speaking), or recording and then sending audio files off to be transcribed (there are many services available for this; some rely on software to transcribe, others cheap labor overseas).

The solution is NOT to forego entering data.  Financial planners and investment advisers MUST keep good notes.  And they SHOULD be summarizing conversations with clients - by having minutes prepared of meetings and telephone conferences, and then communicating such minutes to the client.  All of this requires a fast way to "dump the data" - i.e., take your notes and thoughts and either type them up quickly, or dictate them quickly.

8. DELEGATE, DELEGATE, DELEGATE.  If you are not skilled at properly delegating to others, they you are not properly skilled.

Have no one to delegate to?  In the early steps of one's career, it is o.k. to be a "delegatee."  As you gain experience, however, you need to focus on your "unique abilities" (as Strategic Coach founder Dan Sullivan) calls them.  You need to CREATE time for yourself through delegation.

Interestingly enough, as a professor this past semester I've found there is much I would like to delegate - but the delegatee options are few.  The solution for me is two-fold.  First, work smarter - by creating less work for myself that could be delegated to others.  Second, hire an assistant - something I will do this coming semester.  (What's more important ... the money I spend out of my own pocket for an assistant, or my time?)

Don't have time to delegate?  STOP.  Schedule a FOCUS day (another Dan Sullivan task).  A day in which you spend the entire day prioritizing, creating systems that shift work away from you, training others, and/or delegating tasks.

7. CONTINUALLY INVEST IN YOURSELF - EDUCATION AND CONFERENCES.  Can you afford to attend a conference?  Can you afford to take a course for a certification designed to make you a better financial advisor?  Here's a better question ... can you afford not to?

Nothing beats going to conferences in person.  I bring a pad of paper, and by the end of the conference I have dozens of new ideas written down.  Most of these are from hallway conversations (or over lunch, or dinner) with colleagues ... a few are from the presentations themselves.  But then comes the next step. Narrow the list of ideas down to THREE (not more than three) items to accomplish.  These become Quadrant Two (see below) tasks, usually.

Local luncheons with FPA Chapters help ... but the major benefit there comes from networking (and learning insights over lunch or dinner).  For real in-depth exploration, attend major conferences ... those that last 2.5 to 4 days in length.

And don't just go to one conference a year.  Do two or three.  I always try to go to NAPFA National Conference.  I try to also attend a second and third conference each year.  For me, that second conference might be another conference from NAPFA, FPA, fi360, or TD Ameritrade.  But then I try to also try to attend a conference which is different - IMCA, American Economic Association (jointly held annual conferences with American Finance Association), Hecklering Institute on Estate Planning, a conference on tax law developments (when there are a lot of changes), etc.

Yes, conferences are expensive ... but if you to them with a purpose ... and come back with great ideas (and new knowledge), you really cannot afford to miss attending them.

Education does not being and end with formal schooling or with conferences.  If you are not reading five hours of professional material, relating to financial planning generally (or better yet, relating to your specialty within financial planning), then you'll likely never really master the craft of financial planning.

Even better - spend ten hours a week, for ten years, and you'll likely become "the expert" in a particular subject which others turn to.

6. FOCUS ON JUST ONE MAJOR PART OF YOUR LIFE, EACH DAY.  Don't try to work and accomplish three things from one list (as described below), then turn your attention and accomplish two things from another list.  For me, at least, it is far better to focus an entire day on a particular segment of my life.  Most days at this point the focus is on teaching.  But, at times (as will occur over the next two weeks) the focus returns to my financial planning practice (I serve a small group of select clients).  On other days I devote myself to research and writing.

Yes, there may be phone calls needed to be returned each day (as to those phone calls that can't be scheduled for another day).  But those should be rare.

Of course, this item #4 might be personal to me ... I have a hard time shifting gears from one segment of my life to another, mid-day, without coming up with an excuse to "blow off" the second segment.  So rather than fight this temptation, I just avoid it - by seeking to arrange each of my days around a different segment of my life.

Also, for me, I am most productive in the morning.  I try to get to work by 7am (and am often to work earlier).  I then will save some projects for late in the day that require less creative thought.  But again, that's just adapting my personal schedule to take advantage of personal traits I possess - rather than fighting against my personal tendencies.

5. HAVE "FREE DAYS."  Very essential.  This is another concept learned from the publications of Dan Sullivan (Strategic Coach).  These "free days" are the days when we focus on family and personal relationships.  These are the days when our passions take over - with a plan for doing so.

Want to have a REAL free day?  No cell phone.  No e-mails.  No internet browsing, related to any work activity.

That's not to say that the day is not planned out.  It may be a day for shopping, going to see a movie, going out to eat, walking, mowing the lawn, or reading a (fiction) book.  It might be traveling, or sailing, or kayaking, or playing tennis or racquetball, or several of these things.  It might be socializing with family and/or friends.  Whatever it is, the day's focus is entirely about these things.

The result?  Relaxation, as the day goes on.  And with relaxation comes greater creatively.  I'll frequently get ideas (work-related) as I relax ... but on these free days I just jot them down ... to consider further on another day.

4. HAVE A "TO DO" LIST AT ALL TIMES.  Revise it DAILY.  If you don't have 5-10 minutes to update your to do list each day, then you are out of control.

My "to do" list begins with this message at the top: "Make Each Day Count."

I've tried a number of software programs and different methods for keeping a to do list, but I keep coming back to a simple Word document.  It's easy to move items up, or down - add items during the days, etc.

(By the way, I use two screens while working - my laptop, and a larger 24" screen which usually has two open windows.  Outlook is open on my laptop screen.  Usually a Word document and reference material occupy side-by-side screens on my 24" monitor.  Having two screens enhanced my personal productivity about 20%.  Having the second screen be large enough to split into two increased my productivity another 10%.  And I think I could be even more productive with 5-6 screens (or 3 24" monitors, each displaying two windows) ... but that's a future goal.

I actually keep several to do lists (all on separate pages of a Word document).  One list of upcoming tasks for each class I teach.  Another for my financial planning practice.  Another for my professional growth and development.  Another for family/personal matters to attend to.  And yet another for each committee I serve on.

Part of keeping the list updated is to focus, at the end of each day, by highlighting the items to accomplish the next day.  From Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Productive People, I focus on Quadrants 1 and 2 - and hardly ever on Quadrants 3 or 4.  There's a lot of good information on this four-quadrant approach, including some good instructional videos on YouTube.

Of course, reading Covey's book helps to understand the four-quadrant system.  Because when placing tasks into the quadrants, you need his first habit - "begin with the end in mind."  In other words, define the most important goals to accomplish.  Does this task facilitate the accomplishment of that goal?  If not, it's likely not a Quadrant 1 or 2 task.

3. MINIMIZE YOUR TIME WATCHING T.V.   This is a key about NOT doing something.  Let's see ... if one spends two hours watching t.v. a night, five nights a week ... that's 10 hours a week.  What was gained?  Sure, there are some shows which are educational in nature - and perhaps worth watching.  And I'm all for moments when one needs to "gel" or "escape."  (Walking is better for that, by the way.)  I've never had any client, tell me near the end of his or her life, that he or she wished they had watched more t.v.  Lots of other regrets, but none about missing a show, etc.

Best way to minimize?  Limit yourself to one or two series to follow.  Anything else you watch must be a one-time event - sports event, or movie, or an educational session.

Want to watch t.v. as a way to relax, just before going to bed?  Not the best idea ... reading is much better.  Part of the light emitted in t.v. signals acts to trigger your brain into thinking that it is daylight.  There are glasses you can wear to counter this ... or better yet, just listen to a t.v. program (with eyes under a pillow).  Or better yet, listen to the radio, or a collection of music.

2. PRACTICE SELF-CONTROL.  In the end, it all comes down to your ability to sacrifice the present in order to gain more in the future.  To get the (truly) important things done first, before doing other things - or goofing off.

Self-control can be taught - and it must be continually practiced.  If you go away on a vacation for two weeks, do nothing, and then come back to the "real world," it will take a while to "get back into the grove" - i.e., get back in the habit of self-control.  Is it worth it?  Probably not ... if you are trying to make a favorable impression.  Vacation should have "free days" - plenty of them - but those should be planned.  Having free days takes self-control, too!

Part of self-control is getting enough sleep.  A study (by Dr. James Maas) has shown that the average college student needs 9 hours 15 minutes of sleep every night.  Most persons over-estimate their abilities, even when it comes to how much sleep they need.  Not I.  I try (at my age) to get eight hours of sleep a night ... and often get nine hours of sleep.  If I'm drowsy during the day (even after lunch), it means I'm sleep-deprived, and I'm likely suffering a decline in personal productivity of 20%, 30% or greater at such time.

Of course, I'm by no means perfect at exercising self-control.  It takes continual practice.  It means doing things that are good for me ... such as working in my university office most days (not at home, where distractions are potentially many).  It means limiting who has my phone number (and encouraging e-mails as a means of contacting me, for most people).  And other tips to maintain focus, and avoid distractions.

1. HIRE A COACH.  As financial advisors we act as financial life coaches to our clients.  We each need one, too.  Hire a coach to assist you personally - or assist your practice.  Consider rotating coaches every year or two ... to get fresh perspectives.

Practice and personal coaches usually pay for themselves ... many times over, in terms of propelling you, professionally and personally, to greater and greater success.

Interested in these concepts, and want to learn more?  Try these web sites and/or publications:
Professor Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP(r) teaches Business Law, Retirement Planning, Investment Planning, Employee Benefits Planning, Money & Banking, Insurance & Risk Management, and the Personal Financial Planning Capstone courses at Alfred State College, Alfred, NY. He is an EPLP Mentor, C.R.E.A.T.E. program mentor, serves as advisor to Alfred State's Business Professionals of America club, and serves as academic advisor to dozens of students.

Professor Rhoades is the author of "CHOOSE TO SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND IN LIFE: Continuously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey," a 10-week program for success in college (available for $2.99 in Kindle store at, or in paperback for $6.99). Professor Rhoades may be reached by e-mail at:

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