Managing time effectively is always a challenge for financial advisors, and the right technology can help you squeeze more productivity into your day.
In fact, Stephen Covey, author of the ground-breaking book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, describes four generations of time-management tools in that book. The first generation consists of simple notes and checklists; the second includes calendars and appointment books; the third and fourth generations look at goals.
For those first two generations, which focus on getting tasks and appointments down on paper, there are plenty of online list managers and apps to choose from.
– TO-DO TOOLS
Among the better known to-do tools is Wunderlist (wunderlist.com), which Microsoft Corp. purchased in 2015. The mobile-focused Wunderlist app offers basic to-do list creation, but also allows you to collaborate by sharing your lists.
Wunderlist’s features are gradually being migrated to Microsoft To-Do (todo.microsoft.com/en-us), an app launched in April 2017. The Microsoft product, like its predecessor, will be a to-do list manager for multiple platforms (including non-Windows platforms).
Microsoft To-Do includes an intelligent assistant, which constantly scours your list, looking for what it thinks might be the most important tasks for you right now. The app’s upside is that it integrates with Office 365, making the app handy for Microsoft users.
In Covey’s system, third- generation organizers combine list management with prioritization and short-term goal-setting to manage the challenge of fitting everything into a day. Many organizers in this class, such as Todoist (todoist.com), from Doist Ltd., use projects to set longer-term goals.
Todoist’s online service allows you to input projects and tasks, as well as subprojects and subtasks, which you can prioritize using Todoist’s colour-coded priority levels. This service has some other neat features, too, including the ability to use natural language when entering deadline dates. Type “Monday at 2 p.m.” into a date field and Todoist automatically recognizes the correct date and time.
Todoist features labels and filters, so you can add extra context to your tasks and view just those that matter right now. Todoist’s optional gamification feature is useful if you need the extra motivation: you get “karma” points when you get tasks done and a graph so that you can visualize your achievements over time. This feature is gimmicky, but it might work for some users.
Collaboration is a selling point for Todoist. This feature allows you to create and share lists with other users so that you can work together as a team to get things done.
But perhaps my favourite Todoist feature is its real-time, two-way integration with Google calendar. Tasks entered in Todoist show up as Google Tasks, so you then can allocate a specific time for those tasks in your schedule.
I tried this feature, and it’s slick. It solves one of the biggest problems with many online organizers: you can end up with a long list of tasks and not enough time, realistically, to do them.
Todoist is designed for a range of platforms, from mobile platforms – Android, iOS and Windows Phone – to the Windows and the Mac operating system. There’s also a web app, along with various browser plug-ins.
– TOOLS FOR APPLE LOVERS
If you are completely sold on Apple Inc.’s ecosystem, Things, from Cultured Code GmbH & Co. (culturedcode.com/things/), operates on a similar level.
Things’ online service allows you to integrate your various calendars into your schedule and also offers some neat features for organizing tasks and projects. The service features a separate “this evening” category for tasks that you know you won’t get to until later in the day, and there’s an “upcoming” list, which displays everything on your agenda for the coming days.
You also can break up large projects into smaller sections, using headings to create categories or milestones, as well as rearrange whole groups of tasks inside a project at once.
Also for Apple enthusiasts is OmniFocus (omnigroup.com/omnifocus) from Omni Group. This is a heavyweight task-management app designed for Apple devices only, ranging from the Apple Watch up to the Mac.
OmniFocus is one of several apps designed with a specific productivity method in mind – in this case, productivity consultant David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. OmniFocus is a highly flexible app, so you can configure it to support other productivity methods if you choose.
OmniFocus includes features such as contexts that allow you to assign tasks based on where you are or what you’re doing. You then can filter these projects using the app’s Perspectives feature. The app also includes a review feature that helps you keep all your projects up to date and aligned.
OmniFocus offers several list features, including parallel (tasks that can be conducted concurrently), sequential (tasks that must be done consecutively) and single-action lists. You can organize projects into folders, or pause or defer entire projects. Of course, calendar integration is included.
There’s another system that takes a different approach to productivity. Trello (trello.com), from Trello Inc., uses a series of online boards that you can configure to represent projects or various contexts. The purpose of each board is up to you.
You can post “cards” representing tasks on each board. These boards, in turn, can include checklists, labels and file attachments. Trello is an ideal system for collaboration because you can share boards among users. You can add integrations with third-party systems using Trello’s Power-Ups feature, which also allows you to integrate separate Trello boards with your Google calendar.
– THE NEXT LEVEL
The fourth generation of Covey’s system goes a step further, switching the focus to results from tasks and time. Instead of focusing purely on daily tasks, this stage looks at longer-term goals, visions and mission statements.
The idea is not just to schedule the most important tasks into your day, but to understand the longer-term values and goals that drive you to think about them in the first place. In short, this stage looks at both the “what” and the “why.”
There are fewer tools directly supporting these concepts, although they can be found in online services such as Week Plan (weekplan.net/) from Wise Labs Pty. Ltd. and PlanPlus (planplusonline.com) from Complete XRM Inc. Both of these tools offer support for activities such as personal mission statements and linking tasks to personal life roles to help you achieve work/life balance. That’s something that most financial advisors could use.
Which of these tools should you opt for? If you have an existing personal productivity system, choosing an organizer designed to support that system may make sense, although products such as Todoist and OmniFocus offer highly flexible filtering and tagging features that enable you to configure your own systems effectively from the ground up.
Aside from the Mac-specific apps, most of these tools offer online and native mobile support, meaning that you can use these tools on the go or at your desk.
When something as valuable as your time is at stake, spending a week or so testing each of these options – or perhaps using them concurrently – would be worthwhile.
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