How to Organize Your “Stuff”

When advisors ask me to help them set up systems for their business, I put on my professional organizer hat. One area that is always a big issue is paper – both the physical and electronic kind. Here’s a system to ensure you will easily find the information you want and always get to the tasks that are important.

The financial services industry requires us to maintain detailed records which afford many opportunities to accumulate paper.

As you look around your office, do you have piles of reading and client-meeting notes to catch up on?

Do your clients wonder what personal information of theirs might be floating around in these piles?

Are you behind on your online reading or in responding to emails?

Are you spending too much time trying to locate documents, whether in files or online?

Are you tired of looking at your messy office and feeling behind on your to-do list?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, here’s how to improve this situation.

The first step, with physical and electronic paper, is to separate everything into two primary categories: Is this reference material or an actionable item?

Reference material

Reference material is just what it sounds like. It’s something you keep in case you want to refer back to it at a later time. Reference materials are not actionable.

Reference material can be further broken down into two additional categories. It is either pertinent to running the business or pertinent to growing the business.

Lease information, property information Marketing Events
Technology and other office equipment Marketing ideas for future reference
Computers and printers Past marketing events
Telephone system Current marketing initiatives
Cellular phones Event planning ideas and checklists
Human resources Networking
Create a file for each person on the team Centers of influence
Business planning Referrals
2017 Business Plan Client advisory board / focus group
2016 business plan Charitable & civic organizations
Practice management (ideas) DRIP marketing
Client service model Online – Web presence, social media
Fee structure
Meeting prep and follow-up
Product information
Create a folder for often used products
Strategy information
Cash reserve strategies
Education planning strategies
Retirement planning strategies
Estate planning strategies
Social Security

Remember, these are reference materials – a place holder for thoughts, ideas, articles, conference notes, product literature and the like. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few suggestions to get you started.

Actionable items

Category number two is actionable items. The document, piece of paper or envelope with a note written on it is a reminder of something you have to do.

Of the actions you need to take, 90% can be broken down into just a few activities. They are:

  • Calls to make
  • Waiting for a reply
  • Computer work
  • Upcoming events
  • Need to talk with someone in the office

Although it seems easy to determine the next step for an actionable item, it is not always as simple as it first appears. It can take some practice to quickly determine the next actionable step you need to take.

Once your actionable items are broken down into the above categories, the next step is to prioritize them. For example, if you have 15 people to call, the top priority calls you need to make should be at the top of the list or pile.

If you have 10 projects to complete on the computer, make sure the projects at the top of the pile are the top priority projects.

In my office, I have a three-tier tray that is labeled calls, waiting for reply and computer tasks. I do much of my reading while I eat breakfast or lunch, so I keep short articles or newsletters on one of my dining room chairs. I also do some reading most nights before retiring for the evening. Therefore, some of my reading is on my night stand. This is where I read magazines and books.

Regarding items where you need to talk with someone in the office, create a folder or designate a notepad for each team member. As you think of things during the day, jot a note on the notepad or toss a note in the folder. When you have your one to one meeting with each team member, you already have your agenda – the items you wrote on their notepad or the notes you tossed into their folder.

Alternatively, you can create a draft email to each team member, adding items or tasks you think of throughout the day. At the end of the day, send the one email. This way, you are not interrupting your team members with important, but not urgent, messages all during the day. If there are a number of tasks on the list, prioritize them.

With all of your to-dos organized by the next actionable step you need to take, you can block time on your model week to get these action items completed.

Help with the in box

To help manage your in box, set up folders for actionable items so you can move emails out of the in box and into actionable folders.

A great idea I garnered from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: start each folder with the @ sign so it appears at the top of your folder list. For example:

  • @ Calls to make
  • @ Waiting for a reply
  • @ Reading
  • @ Upcoming events

Depending on how much “stuff” you need to sort through, keep these two strategies in mind:

  1. Sometimes you have to make a mess to create a masterpiece. It is challenging to get organized if at the same time you are trying to keep things neat. Spread out.
  1. Consider taking on this task over a weekend. It is nearly impossible to stay focused on getting organized if the phone keeps ringing or you keep getting interrupted by a team member. One advisor I know takes on this task over long holiday weekends.

It is always a good time to get more organized, but many of my clients seek me out to help them get organized either at the beginning of the year, over the summer or as the year comes to an end.

As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

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