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A new notification is the digital equivalent of a tap on the shoulder. It interrupts your creative flow by taking away your focus.

iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Technology is supposed to make us more productive, yet it can be an awful time suck. Digital tools, designed to help financial advisors cram more into a day, can end up being distracting and even ultimately counterproductive. So, it’s time for advisors to “tame their technology.”

That’s the message from Tim Stringer, founder Technically Simple, a Vancouver-based technology and productivity consulting firm.

E-mail is the worst productivity distraction, Mr. Stringer warns. Used properly, it can turn you into a productivity powerhouse. But when advisors use it as a glorified to-do list, chaos can ensure.

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“People just go to their e-mail inbox and see what happened to arrive,” he says. “Then, they might end up spending time on something that’s not that important.”

Constant notifications from e-mail and other applications invite more productivity problems, Mr. Stringer says. With smartphones accompanying us everywhere, there’s always an app ready to demand our attention. Each new notification is the digital equivalent of a tap on the shoulder. It interrupts your creative flow by taking away your focus on what you’re doing.

“People might be doing half or even a third of the productive work in the day as a result of switching activity,” he says.

As a result, advisors must set boundaries to stop technology from impinging on their time, says Tina Cheung, a wealth advisor at Vancouver City Savings Credit Union in Burnaby, B.C.

“What I found helpful is to prioritize my e-mails and voice mails based on urgency and to block offset times throughout the day to reply to my e-mails and voice messages,” she says. “My practice is to turn off pop-up notifications to ensure that I focus on my appointments and tasks at hand.”

Technology giants Google LLC and Apple Inc. acknowledged the importance of quieting digital distractions in 2018. Apple introduced new features in its iOS 12 mobile operating system (OS) that make it easier to manage notifications while Google launched a feature called Digital Wellbeing for its Android mobile OS and family of apps that help users get the most out of technology and find a better balance.

Another way for advisors to corral e-mail is with tools such as SaneBox, which uses artificial intelligence and works with any e-mail account, Mr. Stringer says. Specifically, SaneBox sorts through a user’s e-mail then works out what’s important and hides everything else until you’re ready to deal with it. You can also schedule do-not-disturb periods and unsubscribe from unwanted e-mails with a single click. A downside for the security conscious is that you must grant the online service access to your e-mail account.

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Yet simply taming technology so that it doesn’t control us isn’t enough. Advisors should use it to their advantage, squeezing every minute of productivity out of their day.

Scott Friesen, founder of Simpletivity, a productivity training and consultancy in Vancouver, says Boomerang is a tool that can help with that. If you send an e-mail and the recipient doesn’t respond within a period you define, the service reminds you to contact the person again.

“For a lot of professionals, that’s been a lifesaver [because] they don’t forget to follow up on certain messages,” he says.

Productivity tools like these are useful, but it’s important to take a top-down business-focused view of your technology. For example, Aaron McEwen, an independent advisor in Victoria, launched his tech-focused advisory firm McEwen Financial in 2018, he created a list of tasks he wanted technology to solve for his business. One of them was to handle basic client bookings.

He turned to Microsoft Bookings, an online calendar management and bookings service that’s part of Microsoft Corp.'s family of Office, to arrange meetings automatically as clients can select an appropriate time online.

“I’ll get a notification, they’ll get a notification, and it’s just booked,” he says. “I don’t need an assistant to help me out with that.”

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Mr. McEwen took a similar tech-driven approach to save time during the client on-boarding process, choosing Finaeo Inc.’s platform to handle that task as well as collecting data from prospective clients and generating quotes for insurance policies without paperwork.

He also opted for another productivity tool that became a major time saver: electronic signatures. He uses DocuSign Inc.'s product to avoid cumbersome travel time when getting client signatures. It makes advisor disclosures and client engagement agreements far less time-consuming.

“Even if they’re only 15 minutes down the road, it will take you an hour [to visit them] versus two minutes to upload that document,” he says.

Mr. McEwen followed some golden rules when creating his tech-focused practice: keep it simple; don’t get distracted by shiny tech tools that can sap your time; and, most important, don’t let tech dictate your schedule. For example, he rarely handles e-mails via his smartphone.

“I know most people want an answer now,” he says, “but I’ll usually be around a keyboard within an hour or two.”

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