When you’re done with the trash, I want you to sweep the stairs.” Those were my marching orders from my dad back in high school after I was caught hiding something that contained hops and barley.

This wasn’t my first time doing extra chores for bad behavior, but what was different was the instructions my father gave me for sweeping the stairs. He said, “I want you to start from the bottom and work your way up.”

At first, it didn’t register. I didn’t see the problem with starting at the bottom, but as I grabbed the broom and walked down the stairs, it suddenly hit me. This makes no sense.

If you sweep from the bottom up, you basically have to go back and clean up all the other stairs a second time because dust and debris will keep spilling over onto the stair below. At that stage of my life, I didn’t think my parents knew very much about anything, but now I had proof.

That is until I finished the job and my dad called me into his study and asked, “Do you know why I told you to sweep the stairs like that?”

It took everything in me not to say, “Because you know absolutely nothing,” but instead, I murmured, “Not really … maybe because it would be harder or take longer.”

My father smiled and said, “No, I did it because I want you to see and feel the impact of how you are making decisions. You’re doing things backwards and creating a mess at each new step of your life. So, I want you to write down three goals for the year to help you turn things around.”

I was shell-shocked by his words, and for some reason the physical nature of both sweeping the stairs and writing down my plans for the future helped me see life from a new perspective.

This is an important lesson for both advisors and their clients heading into retirement, because, like I did on the stairs, many people go about the retirement planning process completely backward. Advisors are starting at the bottom by focusing on money first, rather than the individual or couple, and by doing so, leaving a mess for the clients to clean up as they move into retirement.

There is a special need to have clients write out a non-financial plan. I can’t stress the physical/tangible component of this enough! Just as the physical nature of sweeping the stairs and writing down a few goals changed me, this process can be both powerful and eye-opening to both advisors and clients because it is so rarely done. Too often people think everything will simply unfold and take shape in retirement, but it doesn’t work that way. So we have to stop assuming that it does, and take specific steps and actions to help clients make a better transition.

The hard truth is that there are very few advisors even talking to clients about these non-financial topics, let alone taking clients through a process to address things that will come up. In retirement, clients will need to replace their work identity, find purpose and stay relevant and connected, as well as mentally and physically active. If we don’t help clients develop a truly comprehensive retirement plan that includes these non-financial factors, it’s like giving them a broom with a majority of the bristles missing. It’s going to take longer and require effort to get it right.

Focusing on the individual or couple first not only fosters deeper and strong bonds with clients, it also builds momentum the same way sweeping the stairs from the top works. Meaning it’s easier to keep the process going and move into financial conversations and situations. Furthermore, advisors will be surprised to find that clients are less stressed or anxious about the dollars and cents of retirement when they have prioritized what’s important to them when they leave the workplace. It saves time and energy and strengthens our unique value proposition as advisors. It’s the human element we bring to the table that can’t be duplicated or outsourced.

All that being said, we already know the benefits of writing things down, since we encourage clients to have a written financial plan as well as an estate plan, college savings plan and more. Therefore, let me share some additional benefits of a written, non-financial plan.

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