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The Ideal Time-Management System

Learn how to say no to the unimportant things that clutter your time.

By Bill Bachrach

Recently, I told a group of financial advisors that all of us could probably list 18 different issues that each demanded at least three hours of our time per day. But there are only 168 hours in a week—hardly enough time to accomplish 400 hours worth of stuff.

The solution isn’t better time management—it’s better self-management. Instead of trying to do 54 hours of work in a 24-hour day, decide which things you can reasonably eliminate from your list.

You have to decide: Are you going to be an overly informed financial advisor or are you going to be successful?

A tale of two advisors
Back in the 1980s, before email, I worked at a major brokerage firm. We received the same amount of information as today, just in paper form. Throughout the day, people would add papers to my in-basket, and by day’s end, it was overflowing. One day, I decided to get rid of my in-basket altogether. Five or six times a day, usually while talking to clients or prospects, I’d slide the accumulated, unread papers off the edge of my desk and into the trash. In three years at that firm, nothing I threw away came back to haunt me. Ever.

Now, there were a few times when I’d ask about something important and a co-worker would say, “We had a special report about that. Didn’t you see it?” I’d say no and walk to the office next to mine to talk to my friend Mike.

Mike and I started work on the same day and went through training classes together. In many ways, he was smarter than I. However, I was successful while Mike was floundering.

One day, two years into our time at the firm, Mike walked into my office. Our production reports had just come out and my production was double his. He didn’t come right out and say it, but his message was basically this: “I’m a better financial advisor than you. Why are you more successful than me?”

I turned toward the window that separated our offices. “What do you see in your office?” I asked. “Physically describe it.”

Pointing to six month’s worth of newspapers, Mike said, “Those are my Investor’s Business Daily’s over there.” He then listed everything else he was using to try to keep up with data. (If something like this had happened today, Mike would also have to contend with information received electronically and through other new means.)

“Now,” I said, “What do you notice in my office?” Mike quickly ticked off the items: the scripts taped to my wall, the shoebox that served as my tickler file, the telephone on which I spent most of my time. My office wasn’t just neat, it reflected the way I work: I knew that if I was going to spend my time prospecting for new clients while taking care of existing ones, I had to outsource all other tasks to various departments in the firm because I couldn’t do it all myself.

“But you’ve got to know all that stuff,” said Mike.

“Apparently not,” I replied. “You’re more technically competent than me, but my clients are better served because I get the experts involved. I deliver the value of hundreds of years of combined experience. You just deliver you. Besides, isn’t that what we’re paying for when we give up such a high percentage of our compensation?”

Choose your path
Mike still wasn’t convinced. “But what do you do when you need something from one of those papers that come through the office? What do you do when there’s a big news story about a company not paying dividends or changing its CEO?”

“I talk to 25 to 100 people a day, and nobody really asks about that stuff,” I said. “Of course, there are some exceptions. Have you ever noticed that sometimes I’ll come into your office and ask what you’ve heard about a certain company? I don’t need that stuff in my office because you’re my library.”

Mike said, “I get what you’re telling me, but if I need something, where will I get it? And if I go away, where will you get it?”

With that, I walked Mike down the hallway. As we passed the 35 offices in our firm, I pointed out the “libraries” and said, “The brokers who keep stacks of newspapers and try to archive all this information have significantly lower production. You have to decide: Are you going to be an overly informed financial advisor or are you going to be successful?”

To see how this story ends, fast-forward to 2006: My peers recently named me one of the Most Influential People in the Financial Services Industry. I not only had a successful financial services career, but I’ve gone on to train thousands of people. Last I heard, Mike left the firm and bounced to another before washing out of the industry entirely. He could be a billionaire today, but I doubt it; he probably had the same problem wherever he went.

Most people who enter the financial services industry will wash out of the business, and it’s not because they’re not smart enough—it’s because they can’t figure out how to say no to the unimportant things that demand their attention and make time for the ones that really matter. You have to decide: Are you going to be an over-informed, over-educated salesperson or a successful Trusted Advisor?

©2005 by Bill Bachrach, Bachrach & Associates Inc. All rights reserved.

Bill Bachrach is the author of four industry-specific books, including the newest book, It’s All About Them: How Trusted Advisors Listen for Success. For information about his services, including The Trusted Advisor Coach program and free newsletter, call 800-347-3707 or visit his website at

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