Summary: If you have ever tried to plan your day just to watch that plan fall apart, this article will offer tactical advice on where you may have gone wrong — and how to get the full benefit from planning done right.
Here’s a funny paradox about life and productivity: The more disciplined and regimented you are in planning, the more freedom you have.
Freedom without structure is chaotic. It may seem like you are entirely free to choose your next task, action, or project… But in reality, you’re always reacting to things because you have no system in place that informs you how to best use your time. That adds up to you being at the mercy of external circumstances instead of intentionally choosing your actions and outcomes.
Let’s look at a real-life example to give it some color.
If you create a plan for tomorrow, you don’t have to deal with decision-making on the fly. You don’t have to wonder, “Should I be reaching out to new clients, helping current clients — or taking a break right now?” Instead, you can simply let the clock guide you. If your calendar says “business development,” you pick up the phone and call prospects and COIs in your pipeline. If your calendar says “gym time,” you get that gym bag and you go. When your plan is mapped to a calendar, you can dedicate more energy to the work that moves your business forward — and recharge knowing that your rest and work are in balance.
That may seem like an ideal scenario that is 100% worth working for — but the tactical details of planning are where many advisors get lost. Let’s walk through the practical steps to demystify the process and help you bridge the gap toward building your ideal day (as well as week, month, and year).
There are two phases of planning: analyzing the past and planning for the future.
In my experience, most advisors skip the first part.
First, you reflect on what you have already done for whatever stretch of time you’re analyzing (this could be a day, a week, or year — more on that in the next section). In the analyzing phase, you look at what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what you have learned.
This is also the phase where you can recalibrate your goals.
If you are ahead of your projected trajectory toward your goals, you may not be challenging yourself. Consider raising the stakes now that you have additional information.
If you are behind, don’t automatically default to lowering your goals. Instead, reflect on what’s happening. Did you misjudge the difficulty of the task? Is something systematic standing in your way? Or is this the case of needing more elbow grease? In most situations, it may make sense to double down on the activities that move you toward those goals. Sometimes, you need to reconsider your approach and develop a different set of activities to get around an obstacle.
After you are done with the reflection phase, you have what you need to inform the second phase: planning for the future.
Below, I’ll go over the actual planning part in more detail.
Daily planning is the most granular form of planning. You do this at the end of the day.
As mentioned earlier, there are two things to do here. First, reflect on the current day. See what went well and what didn’t.
Ask yourself (and answer) several questions:
Asking yourself these questions keeps you focused on the elements, inputs, and activities you can control to contribute to your growth. It helps you consciously determine if you’re moving forward or stagnating.
Next, spend about 10-20 minutes planning the upcoming day.
The first area you want to address is business development: Who will you reach out to tomorrow? Get these captured as appointments in your calendar, even if they are simple appointments with yourself.
Look at tomorrow’s meetings and define what you want to get out of each one. For example, if you’re meeting with a prospect, your goal might be to give them an overview of who you are, answer specific questions, or sign them on as a client (depending on where they are in the sales cycle).
After that comes your whitespace. Choose what you’ll do with the open time in your calendar. Don’t focus on the amount of time, though, but what you want to accomplish. Parkinson’s Law (which isn’t scientific but is nonetheless useful) says that work expands to fill the time allotted. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you give yourself 3 hours or 90 minutes to do something — you may well get the same amount done in either timeframe.
Set objectives for what you want to get done, and then judge your day by those objectives — not by the amount of time you sat at the desk.
Sometimes, things won’t align neatly in your calendar. For example, you may have a client meeting that overlaps with your normally-set-in-stone activity timeslots (like business development). In those situations, use your whitespace to rearrange activities and fit everything in.
For example, if your business development is from 9 AM to 10 AM, and you have a meeting at 9:30 AM, reschedule the second half hour of business development for another part of the day.
Finally, make sure all your personal stuff is in your calendar — having a routine that makes time for personal matters is vital. If you want a deep dive into how to get that accomplished, check out The Importance of Daily Routine for Financial Advisors.
Now that you understand the mechanics of daily planning, let’s talk about the other planning timelines. Every form of planning with a horizon longer than a day (weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) should follow the same structure as daily planning — but with a broader scope to account for the longer time period.
Weekly planning is a bit broader and more thought-intensive than daily planning. Thus, you’ll need about 30-60 minutes a week to do this (compared to the 10-20 minutes you need daily). I recommend doing it on a Friday afternoon since your week is mostly over by then. A weekend morning also works. The key is to get it done before the start of your day on Monday.
Next up is monthly planning. Reflecting on this month and planning the next should take you about 30-60 minutes every month. For myself, I know that I am typically closer to the 60-minute mark. As for when to do it, any time toward the end of the month works (think last Friday, Saturday, or Sunday of the current month).
Now, you’re getting into longer timescales with quarterly planning. I usually spend 60-90 minutes toward the end of each quarter, trying to keep it consistent.
One book I love, The 12 Week Year, makes a point that 12 weeks (or one quarter) is the longest-term planning you should do. The argument goes as follows. By shortening your execution cycle, there’s less time to get complacent. The urgency forces you to clarify what matters most — and to do the work necessary to accomplish those goals. The 12 Week Year has plenty of other excellent time management lessons inside, so I highly recommend it.
With the above said, it still doesn’t hurt to have a yearly plan. It helps you solidify what you want to accomplish over the next year. In my experience, when you combine The 12 Week Year mentality with an annual plan, you can set and achieve more ambitious yearly goals.
As for the time involved: You should block anywhere from half a day to an entire day to plan your year.
Once you make a habit out of planning, I’m confident you’ll notice you’re less stressed and have more clarity about what you need to get done. Developing these habits takes time and focus, but I have found that it pays tremendous dividends for a lifetime.
If you’re struggling to build time into your day for planning, Model FA can help. We can help you plan over any of these timeframes to boost your productivity, achieve more, and reduce stress. Schedule your strategic call with me to get started: https://www.modelfa.com/accelerator-call-cf/