By Stacey J. Schacter


FOCUS

If you seek tranquility, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential. Do less, better. Because most of what we do or say is not essential

  -- Marcus Aurelius

Lenders (and most others) struggle with a particular problem almost every day: how to prioritize deals they can get done versus those they can’t. Prioritization affects all of us, but how practically can we focus on what is essential? We are living beings and our most important asset is time, so let’s use it wisely. But how do we know if we are using it sensibly?  Seneca similarly stated,

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it

Granted, he was referencing our lives and not lending, but the lesson still applies. What is essential in lending?  To be successful in lending one only to needs consider duration – safety – return and contingencies (perhaps a subset of safety).

  • Duration of investment—How long are the principal dollars exposed to the varying risks of the investment?
  • Safety vs. return—How much should we stretch for return on capital vs. negotiating for a greater cushion/margin of error on principal dollars?
  • Contingency planning—If an event occurs what backup plans are there?

Using the Pareto Principle 80/20 — we should focus only on the 20% of items that drive 80% of the results and strip away the other, less essential things.  Then, for purposes of time management, move on to the next deal.  The point being that by focusing on the most essential points over a long timeframe you will make up for lost deals with better-performing and profitable deals.  We can use a poker analogy: you won’t win every poker hand you play; the idea being to exit bad hands fast thereby cutting losses and focusing on the hands where the odds are with you.  Is it possible to win those bad hands?  Of course.  I have been beaten by people on the last card (the river) many times, but always go where the odds are with me.

If you made it this far into my article, that’s great. Let’s apply this principle: On your schedule, right now, do a few things -- first block out an hour for lunch so no one can schedule any meetings during that time.  Not only because eating is essential, but because it is a time for reflection on the morning.  Next, block out times throughout the week where you can just think.  It might be about a project, a deal or just long-term planning. Lastly, determine times when meetings are not allowed, such as before 9 or after 5.  Look at your calendar and put in non-negotiable times for items “essential” to you. Friday afternoons are a great time to block off to think about what needs to be accomplished in the coming week and for long-term thinking.[1] The above is very hard, but after a couple of weeks you will thank yourself.

STOP.  Stop what you wonder?  Read this and then try it, just once. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and try to clear your mind[2].  Now, take out a pad of paper and a writing instrument.  Ignore the computer and iPad (evil emails lurk there).  Write down your business priorities (not the company’s, but yours)[3].  Think about what you are trying to accomplish at work and if you are going about it the right way[4].  Are your using your time wisely? Remember, most of what we say or do is not essential.  Then triage.  Triage your deals and focus on the ones that have the highest probability of success.  Doing this provides focus and the ability to increase the odds of getting the loan done.

Now look at your priorities and rank them.  Studies show that what gets measured gets done[5].  Assume your highest priority takes the most time, but six other items can be completed in the next day or two. Most people like ticking items off as it gives them a sense of accomplishment, however you should be spending your time on your number one item and do it until completion.  Perhaps it is putting together a new marketing strategy or revamping underwriting guidelines.  Take those other six items and consider: if they must get done, can someone else spend time on it?

At Vion we used to have a very long list of deals in the pipeline.  It made us feel busy, but we knew many of those deals would not get through the process for a myriad of reasons.  We created a hot list of the three most important deals (no more than three) to provide focus and then triaged many of other potential deals to not distract from those on the hot list.  Other deals remained in the pipeline, but with various prioritization statuses. Quality instead of quantity became more important to us, though it is hard for a deal generator like me to let a deal go (very hard). Every week we look at that hot list and determine whether the deal belongs on the list.  During COVID we have gone months with no deals on the hot list.

To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day

― Lao Tzu[6]

To focus on what is essential, simplify where things are complicated.  Understand what is important to you rather than someone else and strip away the distraction of life (yes, the piles of papers on your desk, what are you doing with paper anyway?).  Doing the above will make you happier and likely more successful.



[1] Some might say Stoicism is about the now and not the future, but they miss the point.  Think of it as it’s okay to think about the future, to make plans, and set goals. What one must not do is have expectations. Don't put emotions in outcomes of an uncertain future. A Stoic accepts both realities of failure and success. The Stoic Emperor on Twitter @stoicemperor states it well, “Think long term, execute short term, appreciate the present.”

[2] I am not talking about meditation, though studies show this to be very helpful

[3] I keep a pad of paper on my desk with a to-do list.  I can keep it on Outlook, but I find paper comforting and efficient.

[4] This is also very helpful to do at home with your significant other and your children.

[5] Rheticus, a 16th-century mathematician, cartographer, and astronomer, has been credited with being the first to suggest that “if you can measure something, then you have some control over it.”

[6] The founder of philosophical Taoism

 

About the Author

Schacter_Stacey_150x150

Stacey J. Schacter is the founder and CEO of VION Investments which provides liquidity solutions based on a company’s cash flowing assets regardless of aging.  Since 1990, Stacey has focused on receivable buying, servicing and collections in the financial services industry, serving as President of OSI Portfolio Services; President, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Legal Officer of EMCC, Inc.; and attorney and advisor to several debt and receivable purchasing firms.

Mr. Schacter was a practicing attorney from 1988 to 1999 concentrating in Corporate, Securities, Securities Litigation, Mergers and Acquisitions, Specialized Asset Acquisition, Business Reorganization, Workouts and Bankruptcy (Chapter 11). Mr. Schacter is a member of the Ohio and Massachusetts bars.

Mr. Schacter has had several publications and speaking engagements, including talks on the economy and its effects on the receivables industry, collection practices, and bankruptcy. He is a former member of the Debt Buyer's Association Board of Directors and was the organizations first chair of its Certification Task Force to create standards for the debt purchasing industry resulting in the first published standards for debt buying in the United States.