03 April 2019
In all of my experience, working with CCOs as a compliance consultant, the one common sentiment they share is overwhelm. Especially those who wear multiple hats (which is most of the CCOs I work with).
If that’s you, you probably ask yourself, “How do I fit all of this in?!”
In first quarter, alone, not only do you have your usual quarter-end reporting and tasks, but you have—at a minimum:
- the completion of your annual review (which might have deadlines for third-party due diligence requests),
- updates to your compliance policies (which I think most do alongside the ADV amendment), and
- the ADV amendment (if December 31 is your fiscal year-end).
Then, I don’t know what your “Other” list looks like, but maybe its implementing that new technology, cleaning up folder drives, shredding old records from 1990, or completely re-writing your compliance manual because (let’s face it) it’s a cluster, from all the years of updates.
And maybe you are also the trader, or operations (which—let’s be honest—does everything), or finance…
I’m feeling anxiety just writing this.
If you can relate, first of all, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Secondly, know that it can change. You can lead a healthy work environment where you are thriving and NOT surviving.
I’m going to give you my top 5 tips for simplifying your heavy workload. Let’s begin with #5.
#5 — Systematize
Nothing is worse than a looming deadline and then, all of sudden, you are spending 18-hour days at the office to cram through that project which—if you had the time to work on it during the year—could be done.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the hustle. In fact, at times, I find it necessary. But it doesn’t need to be a consistent pattern. Constant fire drills lead to burnout.
If you notice yourself regularly having a fire drill, take some time to figure out what processes you can put in place to make your workload easier and set you up for success. Here are some specific examples:
Break Down Your Annual Review
The annual review doesn’t have to be done all at one time. In fact, I recommend breaking it up into either monthly or quarterly tasks. Then it doesn’t feel like you have to carve out a ton of time out of your normal workload to complete this enormous project. Plus, doing it all at once is actually more work (not to mention more stressful) because you have to circle back to older records and try to remember why something happened and look for the documentation to support it.
I can’t even remember what my previous day looked like, so if you ask me about yesterday several months from now…good luck.
Document Events as They Occur
To continue that thought, I recommend, if something occurs—such as a code of ethics violation, a trade error, a power outage causing implementation of your business continuity plan—that you document it as it occurs so that you don’t have to try and find the facts months down the road.
I promise, it will shave so much time off your workload and be a much more pleasant experience. The more you start tracking as it occurs, the easier your life is going to be.
WIP Your Current Compliance Manual
If you have a great manual, but just need to find the time to make updates, here is a tip I always recommend:
After you publish your next version, immediately create a red-line, work-in-progress (WIP) version. Then, throughout the year, when you come across areas that need updating or rules that need to be addressed, track your changes and/or comments directly within the red-lined version. That way, when the time comes to finally update and amend, you will already have 99% of your revisions completed and ready to be approved and adopted.
Now, if that manual is segmented into separate documents and/or layered with changes that contradict or over-complicate, don’t be afraid to hire someone to do a complete review and re-write. A fresh set of eyes can breathe new life into your policies.
And don’t be afraid to ask others in your network for example language if you need to incorporate an entirely new policy…but make it yours.
Templatize Your ADV
Create a template for your annual ADV amendment.
Personally, I like Microsoft Excel. It’s versatile, and anyone can use it. I suggest taking your client list, exporting it into Excel with all its necessary categories, and then populating the template with the appropriate responses. Then, you also have one document to serve as your backup.
I also recommend creating a “cheat sheet.”
Because you aren’t updating the ADV every day, you will forget how you counted clients or what assets were included. Create a cheat sheet of how those items were done so that when the next amendment time rolls around, you already have a process laid out.
Model Your Marketing Materials
For firms that push marketing heavily, this can be a big one for CCOs.
The key to success is to create standard pieces/prototypes/templates (whether it’s a fact sheet or pitchbook), with approved disclosures, so that the only changes that need to be made are the facts for the quarter. You are then familiar enough with the piece that the review should be that much quicker.
Catalog Your RFP Responses
If you are constantly filling out RFPs, a good practice to put into place is to create an encyclopedia or library of RFP responses so that you can delegate this task out easily to others at the firm and ensure the responses are consistent among RFPs.
Sometimes the questions asked can vary slightly, but it’s great to have a catalog of answers to similar questions as a starting point.
#4 — Sprint
This was a tip I received from a vendor we use for our website SEO. Do you ever get ideas for projects that you just don’t have the time to address at that very moment?
Create a spreadsheet, word document, or use an app where you can jot down these ideas. Put your ideas on that list as they come up. Now, they are out of your head (which is always a good thing), and they are all in one place, where you can revisit them periodically.
Schedule a time (monthly or quarterly, for example) when you look at your list and pick a priority project. Commit to spending concentrated time on it, where everything else takes the backburner and you “sprint” through that project. Work at full speed over a short period of time.
Block out time on your calendar. A couple of days, afternoons, or hours when you are unavailable here and there are not going to kill anyone. Schedule a time-frame that is realistic, but also don’t schedule it out 6 months from now if it’s something that would only take you half a day. When your scheduled sprint time arrives, turn your phone off, close your email, crank up your music (if you like that sort of thing), and just dig in until you get it done.
#3 — Ask for Help
One thing I have learned over the years is that this life is not meant to be done alone. So, if you are treading water or even worse, drowning, speak up! Ask for help.
Maybe it’s delegating work internally, maybe it’s hiring internally, maybe its hiring an outside consultant. Most likely, the powers that be (or even your colleagues) just don’t understand or know the amount of work you are doing or the time it is taking you. Figure out a way to communicate that, and ask for help!!
#2 — Steer Clear of the Unimportant/Not Urgent Box
Have you heard of the Eisenhower Matrix? It was developed based on a quote by President Eisenhower:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are seldom important, and the important are seldom urgent.”
When you look at your task list, consider this matrix to help you prioritize:
It will help you be mindful of your day and where you are spending your time. It may take a little getting used to at first, but with practice, your brain will start to evaluate your tasks by these categories automatically.
Make an effort to stay out of the Unimportant / Not Urgent box. Some examples of “tasks” that fall into the Unimportant/ Not Urgent box are things like that game of solitaire on your computer, surfing the internet or social media, text messaging, etc. Some emails and phone calls even fall into this category. They are distracting, take you away from the task at hand, waste your time, and are often things you do for procrastination, to avoid doing the important tasks…like eating a frog.
…which brings me to my #1 Top Tip for simplifying a heavy workload.
#1 — Eat the Frog
Yep, eat the frog. This is the #1 habit that has personally helped me with my workload.
I recommend it to everyone, including my team. In fact, we have fun emailing each other to inform that the frog has been eaten. What does that mean…?
Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Applied to task management, that means…do that one task that is just the worst task ever. The one you are dreading for one reason or another. The one that makes you procrastinate (or would make you procrastinate if you weren’t taking my advice).
As soon as you complete the one task that feels really heavy and burdensome, it lifts weight off your shoulders, allows you to breathe easier, and frees up space in your mind to flow through the other tasks with ease. It immediately sets you up for success the rest of the day. Try it. The effects of eating the frog are tangible.
Each night, I make a list of my action items for the following day; I pick the one that I don’t want to do (my frog), and I do that one first. Give it a try! See how you feel…
If you like the hectic work pace and are thriving in it, by no means should you feel you need to do the things I am suggesting. But if you could use a little ease and simplicity in your workload, then…
- Eat the Frog
- Steer Clear of the Unimportant/Not Urgent Box
- Ask for Help
- Sprint, and
Give these things a try and call me in the morning… Doctor’s orders. ;o)