Prioritize your values and your work flow, manage your e-mail, hire help, don’t overschedule

By Maureen Halushak | Mid-February 2007

When Terry Zavitz decided to become more active in Advocis two years ago — joining both her local and then the national board of directors — she knew something had to give. The advisor and president of London, Ont.-based Terry Zavitz Insurance Inc. already had a jam-packed schedule.

A typical day would find Zavitz at the gym by 6:30 a.m., behind her desk at 8:15 a.m. and at the office until 7 p.m. Her days didn’t end there. She had weekly choir rehearsals, sat on several community boards and was about to start training for a mountain-climbing expedition. (She climbed the Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in December 2005, and plans to scale Peru’s Machu Picchu this October.)

“More than once, I felt that I just didn’t know how I was going to pull everything together,” says Zavitz, the mother of three grown children. She decided to scale back her involvement in the community in order to take on her new roles with Advocis. “The industry needed representation, and I wanted to have a voice,” Zavitz says. “It was a difficult decision, and I still miss my community work.”

In committing to Advocis, Zavitz put the single most important element of time management into play: prioritization. “If we’re not clear on what is really important, we can overload our lives,” says Peggy Grall, a business coach in Milton, Ont., and author of Just Change It!She notes that advisors are prone to biting off more than they can chew.

“Advisors are entrepreneurs, and that personality type loves to generate new ideas and take on multiple projects,” Grall says. “They may find themselves with too many balls in the air and not enough time to follow through with each one.”

Sound familiar? Like anything in life, there’s no silver bullet solution for an unmanageable schedule. However, prioritizing your values, your work flow and how you spend your spare time can buy back some much needed breathing room.

THE BIG PICTURE

When time-starved clients first visit Grall, she asks them to rank what they value most in their lives aside from work — be it family and friends, spiritual activities or even going to the gym. Those priorities remain top of mind as the client creates a monthly schedule. “You need to schedule your big values first,” says Grall.

While a nine-to-five workweek may be non-negotiable, she maintains that it’s just as important to block out time for family commitments, a night out with friends or your favourite spin class.

“Advisors often tell clients to pay themselves first. The same principle applies when it comes to time management,” says Eileen Chadnick, certified coach and founder of Toronto-based Big Cheese Coaching. “If you don’t carve out your priorities, you’ll get interrupted.”

Aside from your top priorities, Chadnick also advises scheduling some “white space” into every day. Zavitz, who keeps her daily planner on her BlackBerry, agrees. “I schedule personal time right into my planner. I don’t deny myself that,” she says. “If I have a hair appointment in the middle of the afternoon, it becomes part of my day.”

Of course, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. “Every schedule needs to be course-corrected,” says Grall, who recommends reviewing it at the end of every week to identify what scheduling tactics worked and what didn’t — such as allowing yourself five minutes to drive across town between appointments.

“Overscheduling ourselves is a common mistake,” says Chadnick, noting that being in a constant rush is a huge energy drain. “We need to allot every activity a realistic amount of time.”

THE DAY-TO-DAY

Once you’ve penned your big-picture priorities into your planner, it’s time to take a long, hard look at how you spend your time in the office.

If you haven’t already segregated your book, do so, advises Grall. “If you can categorize and prioritize your client base, you’ll end up spending your time where it’s most valuable,” she says.

Hire a junior advisor to look after lower-priority clients you don’t want to lose, and bring in an administrative assistant to take care of the tasks you’d rather not do. “Don’t worry about the money, you’ll earn it back,” says Zavitz, who manages one of the largest blocks of disability insurance in southwestern Ontario — with the help of a team of 13.