Q: How do I get rid of the mountain of small tasks that I am overwhelmed with each day? Isn't that what I hired staff for? --Overwhelmed by Small Stuff.
A: Dear Small Stuff,
What you're experiencing is what I once heard called "administrivia." Symptoms of this syndrome can include the following:
- You spend more of your day on unplanned activities than on planned ones.
- Your office is filled with files, papers and work you need to keep your eye on.
- Staff members often ask questions that you feel they should be able to answer on their own.
- Important work is held up by smaller, less important interruptions.
- You hesitate to commit to work-related dates because you're not sure you can get things done on time.
- You feel as though you spend your days doing the tasks that are least important to your business instead of those that are most important.
In most conversations on this topic, an adviser will try to explain to me why the situation is beyond his or her control: clients always need something, staff require too much direction, there is too much email to read, the list of work is longer than the day and so on. The problem here isn't the circumstances; it's the response. Keep in mind that, generally speaking, the more successful you become, the fewer things you will do. Thus the key to improving your situation is doing fewer things, not more.
One of the greatest barriers to eliminating administrivia is the lack of practice standards. If you do not establish standards, your staff, your clients and your referral sources will do it for you. But since that's how you got into this situation, let's explore some possible solutions.
ESTABLISH A WORKING SCHEDULE
Working longer hours won't solve your problem. In fact, that can often exacerbate the situation by avoiding a real solution. If you're like most advisers, you have competing demands on your time. By creating a working schedule, you can compartmentalize these duties to help bring clarity and focus to your work.
In "Sample Weekly Schedule," below, the adviser identified how he needed to spend his time, allowing room for his three critical roles in the practice: CEO/rainmaker (business administration, organizational development, marketing); financial adviser (client meetings, high-level client service, plan production); and talent manager (holding the DSM: Daily Strategy Meeting).
Buffer time is for general activities like checking email, clearing his in-box and answering pending staff questions. Open time allows for flexibility, given that if you plan eight hours of work for an eight-hour day, you'll work 10 or 11 hours to compensate for unexpected things that just come up. So, I suggest only scheduling 75% of your work day.
Using a model like this helps you manage work based on the time available, in a way that piling work and messages on your desk simply does not. For example, a few weeks ago, our firm administrator was scheduling some business I'd requested she put in my next Friday "business block." She graciously advised me that my business blocks were completely full for the next five weeks.
Now I have a choice: I either reprioritize and push out something to make room for this new task, or it waits five weeks. Either option is more productive than putting it on my desk for that imaginary occasion when I have nothing else to do. A working schedule won't eliminate administrivia entirely, but will put you back in control of how and when your time is best spent, which is half the battle.
BE A TALENT MANAGER
Remember that you have three basic jobs: CEO/rainmaker, financial adviser and talent manager. It is your role as talent manager that can give you the greatest leverage.
Managing your talent is key to abolishing administrivia. Building a functional team ensures that you do what you do best and your team handles the rest. I call this the "entourage model" because all top performers use this strategy. Professional athletes, presidents and movie stars have this in common; they have a close team that works to ensure they're able to do what they do best and that everything else is handled.
The challenge here is that most advisers are not great at hiring, delegating or training--and all are essential to a great entourage. It's absolutely necessary to establish a disciplined hiring process, a thoughtful training program ("sit in seat, do work" is not a training program) and allow for ongoing training and delegation. Granted, this is no small task but it's certainly more worthwhile than the administrivia that's been consuming you.