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Go for the gold
Go for the gold

Jul 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine

Go for the gold

Small, repeatable habits can lead to great achievements.

Topics Covered

Being a great advisor — or being good at most anything for that matter — can be as fundamental as being consistent. Small habits repeated with consistency can lead to great achievements and improve one’s personal and business life. Many members who shared their discipline hacks regularly start their day with a workout, prayer or reflection to get their mind right, and they schedule those activities on their calendars the same way they would a business meeting. 

Another common thread with these recommendations for becoming more disciplined is setting goals, measuring performance, being in an environment or mindset that promotes focus and/or time management. Read on to learn more about the small actions MDRT members repeat every day that have impacted their practice and their lives for the better. 

Lists and curiosity

Thian Lung Jong starts his day with a 35-minute morning walk. 

“I find this time to be an effective way to wake my body and mind. This is also when I have conversations with myself on a variety of topics,” said the 14-year MDRT member from Kuching, Malaysia. 

Also part of his morning ritual is updating his prospect and client lists. This activity usually happens after the agency morning meeting, and he credits these lists as one of the key ingredients for his success. He keeps three lists:

  1. Master List — Contains names of anyone that he believes can be his client. “I meet new people daily, and I usually write down their names on my phone and transfer that information to the Master List the next day.”
  2. Presentation List — “Holds the names of clients and prospects that I can present to this month.”
  3. PR List — “Has names of clients and prospects that I want to present to within the next few months. Before I present to my clients, I will usually have a few warm-up sessions.”

Jong also prescribes staying curious. “Being curious is important to my career and my personal life, as it helps create deep relationships with people in my life, including clients,” he said. “Curiosity also enhances active listening, keeps you learning and brings fresh perspective and excitement to your career and your personal life.”

Growth comes from consistency

If you build consistency in one part of your life, it will bleed out into other areas, per R.J. Kelly, AEP, MSFS

“If you get more consistent with your sleeping and exercise habits, you will by default be better in your follow-up habits, in your calling and your business disciplines,” said the 43-year MDRT member from San Diego, California, USA. 

“We want to build consistency. Go to bed at a consistent time and establish a morning ritual. I track my sleep with a Fitbit to see how I’m doing. My phone is my alarm, and I put it over on the bathroom counter so there’s no lounging in bed when it goes off. I physically must get out of bed and turn it off.”

And whether you work for a large carrier or as an independent advisor, put yourself on a salary, he added. 

“When you get a big commission check, wonderful, but the saying that no one is deader than last year’s hero applies here,” Kelly said. “I learned that I want to have a consistent income, and that enabled me to have a consistent budget and to build up assets. Then I could send money to my retirement accounts and do other things like that. That is part of the discipline of being a businessperson.”

Schedule and family

At 5:20 every morning, Angela Oddo, CFP, MBA, and her husband arise to enjoy coffee and chit chat without the kids interrupting. He goes to work and before she leaves for her 7 a.m. workout with a personal trainer, she eliminates email clutter by quickly going through her inbox, assigns emails to her admin, deletes junk and responds to the easy ones. 

“I never compromise on my trainer,” said the four-year MDRT member from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. “I started these workouts three years ago, and it helps my mental and physical health. It is in my calendar, and I always go, as this habit is how I prioritized my health versus my business.”

On the days without the trainer, Oddo runs on the treadmill starting at 6 a.m., checks emails, organizes her day and drives her daughter to school.

“Another tip is I block time in my calendar for appointments, follow-up work, time for studying and time to work on the business rather than in the business,” she said. “Only I can make exceptions to these set times, which is a new focus for this year. Before, our practice was making too many exceptions. Keeping to the calendar helps me focus on the right areas and keeps me from falling behind, which would cut into family time.”

Oddo used to take client appointments on any day of the week and during evenings, but she stopped taking weekend appointments five years ago. “Setting boundaries to my working hours has been extremely beneficial from both a personal and business perspective,” she said. “I spend more time with my family, and I’m forced to be more disciplined with time management. My clients respect my time and treat me like a professional.”

Lastly, every Monday morning Oddo and her admin review the calendar for the week, any outstanding actions required and any change in their priorities. On Friday, they review what they accomplished during the week and set the stage for the next one. 

“This routine holds us each accountable to the tasks required to keep the wheel turning,” she said. 

Chinese and Western philosophies

“A positive and healthy state of mind is essential for a productive, focused and healthy life,” said Pearlyn Koh, ChFC, a 19-year MDRT member from Singapore. “I make a daily habit to count my blessings and look at the silver lining, even in the dark clouds.”

Rather than follow modern-day influencers on social media, she curates positive reflections from classical thought leaders. There’s Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War,” and advocate of choosing your battles judiciously and Socrates’ dictum that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The wisdom of Zhuangzi also reminds her not to react to things beyond her control and accept the outcome. “That allows me to be detached from the results and center my mind when I’m in the eye of the storm,” Koh said.

Do not eat alone. The moment you eat with someone new, even a stranger, you have an opportunity to speak and get to know someone.
—Lam Pui Ka

Contrary to popular practice, she minimizes exposure to social media “noise” to restore the joy and peace of living out an authentic life and realize self-actualization — a state of recognizing one’s true purpose through a life journey that maximizes your full potential by using all your mental, emotional and physical gifts.

“By practicing daily reflection and introspection, I filter out messages that negate my self-worth and confidence, and I post positive and impactful messages in my mental space,” she said. “Then I can adapt more positively to the people whom I cross paths with at work, in business, and on social and personal fronts. I am sharper and more productive in the process.”

Schedules, meals and follow-up habits

Lam Pui Ka begins her day with a clear mind that knows what lies ahead. The six-year MDRT member from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, gets there because the week before — sometime two weeks in advance — she had scheduled all her meetings and tasks in a calendar app on her phone. That discipline helps with maintaining another good habit — committing to having three appointments or meetings daily. 

“Appointments are about work, but a meeting is about speaking to other people, and it’s not about insurance. Maybe I want to reconnect to someone I have not met in years or a business owner about how he or she is handling business strategy during the post-pandemic. Meeting three people each day is good because I keep myself very productive, I learn something every day, and there’s always an opportunity to get a referral,” Lam said. 

She added that this regimen is not arduous because she only meets with people she thinks she will enjoy working with. Lunch, dinner, having tea all are opportunities to be with someone, not necessarily to sell them something but to get to know them.

“Why do I need to eat with someone from the insurance industry? Why do I need to eat alone? I should be eating with someone that I can speak to and share about financial planning. I must eat with someone else. I keep telling my mentees or my new agents do not eat alone. The moment you eat with someone new, even a stranger, you have an opportunity to speak and get to know someone,” Lam said.

Another discipline is 10 to 15 minutes of reflection before retiring at night. Some advisors might start reflecting on their workweek on Sunday, but trying to remember what happened the previous Monday is too late. 

“I want to remember the people I spoke to this afternoon and if there is anyone I can follow up with for the next appointment,” adding that she journals her reflections and grades the people she interacted with that day as cold, lukewarm or warm. Cold are those who have no interest in insurance; lukewarm are those who want to learn more but are not committed to a product or service, and warm are the prospects who are keeping or getting coverage but haven’t acted yet. 

“I realize some agents follow up with people for four to six months and then move on to the next prospect. That’s wrong. You should be following them forever because whoever you speak to can become your client. Not now, not next year, maybe in 10 years but it can happen for as long as you are in the business,” said Lam.

The morning schedule

Janette Tan Lee sets the tone for her day by starting with a devotional and prayer.

“That time is very important because it calms me down. I have tranquility, peace whenever I start my day like that,” said the 15-year MDRT member from Manila, Philippines. “There are days where it’s really topsy-turvy and there is a lot going on, and we get so anxious, so I really need help from a higher being.”

That tone is reinforced when she and her staff of six meet on Zoom for a short prayer just before launching into “alignment” for the day. This is when they review the priorities and tasks to be done for today, preparations for appointments, errands for the driver regarding document pick-ups and deliveries, clients to follow up with and other responsibilities to be delegated. “These are the things going on during our alignment meeting, so that what we are doing will be in sync,” Lee said.

Lee and her staff track the status of all these moving pieces through chat rooms on Facebook Messenger. Her practice has more than a half dozen chat rooms assigned for a specific task such as the underwriting requirements chat room, one for summary and updates of policies, another for policy delivery (she includes a client gift with each delivery) and urgent collections to name a few. “For a particular subject matter, it’s easy for us to look in a chat room. We know where to post and where to look for it,” she said. Scheduling everything a week or more in advance is another Lee habit. She uses Google calendar through her phone and shares that with her staff. 

The memory clock

“Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, ‘People with passion can change the world for the better.’ I say people with discipline can change their lives any way they want,” said Hyoun Pio Park, MBA, an 11-year MDRT member from Seoul, Republic of Korea. “The way I see it, discipline is not power; applied discipline is power.”

Neuroscience holds that your last thoughts before you sleep will remain in your memory the next day. Part of Park’s applied discipline regimen involves making the clock more meaningful by labeling his smartphone alarm with the most important thing he must do the next day such as call parents, read about prospecting or a report deadline (YouTube videos can show how to title your alarm times on Android and iPhone).

“You will not forget, and you are giving yourself more time to think about it overnight,” he said. “Also, going over the next day’s schedule through titling your alarm helps you prioritize what you have to do tomorrow, which will lead to a better day.”

Another discipline hack for time management is placing an analog clock within view while taking a shower, visualizing meetings that are scheduled at specific hours and thinking about what he can do between those activities. If he has a lunch meeting followed by a 3 p.m. appointment, he can visualize writing a report between those times and consequently, remember to have his laptop in tow when he leaves the house. 

“Typically, we might glance at our clock or schedules for a few seconds, but being in the shower might be the longest opportunity for staring at the clock and rehearsing for the activities and appointments ahead,” he said.

Accountability to self 

A habit is an acquired behavior and discipline is an enforced pattern of behavior. One of the most important ingredients of turning a habit into a discipline is practice and more practice. For Ravi P. Rajpal, a 19-year MDRT member from Mumbai, India, the essential habits for an advisor require a lot of practice and should include these activities:

  • Meeting people
  • Asking for referrals and introductions
  • Increasing your knowledge
  • Creating a wow customer experience
  • Being part of a study group
  • Becoming more proficient with technology and social media

“When I don’t ask for referrals during a client meeting, I need to ask myself, why do I lack the discipline to do so? What is stopping me from forming this habit? Do I need training on how to ask for referrals?” said Rajpal. “So, I remember discipline is an enforced behavior, and turning habits into discipline calls for doing them as a routine no matter what. So, I make a chart with some of the essential advisor habits mentioned above, and I grade myself from one to 10, with 10 being the highest grade. Then I know where I stand and develop the next course of action.”

He regularly scores himself every week or month on how well he practiced the advisor habits to reveal how much practice he needs in each area. If he grades himself a three for referrals, he should learn more techniques to ask for more references perhaps through his study group or from mdrt.org. If he scores a two for social media skills, he knows to seek support and perhaps reach out to fellow MDRT members for coaching. 

“I also developed a point system for myself where I need to earn 10 points by day’s end to declare my workday whole and complete,” Rajpal said. “Asking and getting referrals or completing a task on my calendar are two points each. Updating social media with a post or completing a fact-finding task are one point each. This tool helps me score myself on my habits chart to ensure that they become a routine and part of the discipline in my life. Remember, the only shortcut to mastering habits and discipline is practice.”