In banking, time is always against us. Every minute counts, whether you’re an analyst working late preparing pitch books, or an MD under pressure to build a pipeline of deals.
I’m a former investment banking MD at UBS in Hong Kong, so I know what it’s like to be working against the clock. During my 23-year banking career in Asia I’ve developed some tools to save time, reduce decision making, and make my work more enjoyable. Some of the tips below are fairly simple and not all of them are directly work focused. But they’ve all been very effective for me and have freed up time that I wouldn’t otherwise have. As bankers, we can all do with extra time.
1. I always take clients to the same restaurants
I go to the same few restaurants when entertaining clients. Because I’ve got to know the restaurants so well, I don't look at the menu before ordering, or worry about the food quality or whether the bill will exceed my budget. I focus instead on talking to my clients about their business problems and discussing potential solutions. If I have another meeting before lunch which ends early, I don’t return to the office but go directly to the restaurant to save time. The restaurants’ bosses know me well and just leave me alone to work.
2. I stick to a rigid routine
President Obama once told Vanity Fair: “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” It’s the same if you’re a busy banker. Take exercise. Deciding whether to go to the gym can use up enormous amounts of effort if you’re in two minds about it. So I set exact times for exercise – Mondays at 11.30am, for example. Come Monday 11:25am, I always pick up my gym bag. There’s no should-I-go-or-should-I-stay decision to be made.
3. I only wear white shirts
I only wear white shirts to work, so I never waste time in the morning thinking about which shirt to choose (nor which tie, because they all match with white). It’s good to eliminate as many decisions as possible from your working day, even small ones. They can all add up.
4. I buy in bulk
I don’t like wasting time going to the shops or continually shopping online. For items that won't expire quickly (batteries, printer cartridges, toiletries and socks, for example), I always buy in bulk, to last me six months or longer.
5. I label everything
The humble labeller is the most useful low-tech tool a banker can buy, especially when it comes to travel. As a banker and now as an educator, my work requires regular overseas business trips. So I keep neatly labelled clear packs for each city I visit, containing foreign currency and the cards of my favourite restaurants. The night before each trip, I just grab the right pack.
6. I auto delete emails
I receive hundreds of irrelevant emails every week, so I set rules in Microsoft Outlook to auto delete them by subject or sender. These rules take only a few minutes to set up but save me a lot of time in the long run and allow me to focus on the important messages.
7. I note down everything
CEOs have personal assistants to remind them of everything. Most bankers, even senior ones, don't. But we don’t want to waste time trying to recall every appointment or task in our personal and professional lives either. So when anything new comes on my radar – be that a client meeting, must-read book, or school performance – I immediately put it into iPhone Notes or my calendar.
With 2.5m followers on Linkedin, Eric Sim is one of the most followed finance professionals globally on social media. He is the founder of Institute of Life which trains young professionals to be successful at work and in life. A former managing director at UBS Investment Bank, Eric is also Adjunct Associate Professor at HKUST.
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