How Do Investment Bankers Manage Time

If you’re wondering how investment bankers manage their time given their reputation for not even having enough time to sleep, then this post is for you.

Summary of how Investment Bankers Manage their time: Investment bankers catch-up on sleep during the weekend and often allocate Saturdays for exercise and socialising. They also manage their time by keeping extremely organised, with a prioritised to-do list, empty inbox through organising emails into subfolders and thoroughly completing tasks in a way that eliminates the risk of a mistake.

Read on to find out which tasks Investment bankers leave for their sacred Saturdays and how they use systems to keep extremely organised to manage the overwhelming flows of work.

Focusing on M&A and Private Capital Market roles, not Sales and Trading Analysts

I focus on investment banking analysts working on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and private capital markets e.g. fundraising advisory. Analysts in Sales & Trading (also known as ‘Markets’) are usually more bound to trading hours and even though their working hours can be more intense, they have more of a routine, with earlier starts, slightly earlier finishes and less likely to have to work all-nighters.

Investment Bankers Exercise and Socialise on Saturdays

Investment bankers leave most of the week for work which often includes Sunday evening to prepare for Monday. They may arrange dinner plans on a Friday evening with friends, or if they’re feeling ambitious, a Thursday night when the ‘waves’ aren’t too high, though they would be sure to warn friends of having to cancel last minute.

Do investment bankers have time to exercise? Investment bankers usually have time to go to the gym at least once a week and potentially twice to three times depending on the busyness of the period. Going to the gym is often reserved for Saturdays, after a 10–12-hour sleep catching up on sleep deprivation, if they don’t need to work too much on Saturday.

Do investment bankers have time to date? Friday nights are the best bet for dating while working as a junior investment banker, though it is more common for investment bankers to either leave dating for after they leave, wait till they’re more senior and work hours fall, or already be in a relationship where their other half is more tolerant of the time sacrifice they must make.

Saving time by using systems to stay extremely organised

Being extremely structured, organised and on top of the tasks you need to complete is at the heart of ensuring life as an investment banker is somewhat manageable. While this article focuses on investment bankers who work in M&A and fundraising, many of the insights / tips apply to other areas of finance too. Following a routine is a luxury that few junior investment bankers can properly unlock due to the nature of always being on-call for a client request as part of a deal team or when preparing a deck for a pitch. Instead, time management comes down to building the flood defences for when the waves come rolling in – my director would always use the analogy of work coming in like waves and it is a helpful visualisation for how unpredictable and concentrated the bouts of intensity are.

This is what staying organised looks like for an investment banking analyst:

[1] Save time by keeping an organised OneNote to-do list and diligent meeting notes.

OneNote is an indispensable tool and is helpful for keeping on top of a simple, constantly evolving to-do list and meticulously storing important meeting notes.

To-do list

Having a to-do list that works for you is the most important pillar of staying organised as an investment banker, which feeds into time management. To-do lists are kept concise and constantly evolve as new tasks come through Outlook or crop up as action points during a meeting.

Prioritising this simple bulleted list prevents fires from starting that were inside your realm of control e.g. not spending time on analysis for a key deck that the MD expects tomorrow, which means you must stay later, feel more tired and have less energy to get through tasks later in the week.

Having a to-do list that works for you is most important, so it is best to experiment with approaches – some people would use Trello, some a simple Word doc, some a handwritten notebook and others like me, a simple OneNote sheet.

Meeting notes

Secondly, having a diligent list of meeting notes can save hours of time for example when noting down how the CEO articulates a confusing part of their business model needed for the investor deck, or how a market research consultant explains the works of a specific area in the cyber security space that you need to understand ahead of setting up a pitch deck. Keeping temporary voice recordings of important meetings, especially when feeling tired, can also support this.

A hack for organising meeting notes is putting any action item in bold using Cntrl + b so that you don’t miss important tasks to be followed up on once the meeting ends.

Keeping a tracker for live deals you’re on as an analyst is very helpful considering your MD or Director is likely to ask for two things on a regular basis: (1) A summary of where each potential investor stands in the live deal process and (2) a summary of outstanding tasks / pending items.

When you’re working on more than one live deal on top of business development work like pitches and considering the pace at which this information changes week-by-week, keeping everything documented in OneNote is powerful. This is also a key part of managing time to avoid spending hours sifting through Outlook trying to find the latest investor correspondence.

During one of the deals I worked on, I found that on top of the investor tracking Excel, it was valuable to have a constantly updated table next to my OneNote to-do list with the top 7 investors and their status ‘in the race’.

One thing I wish I did more of when starting out was creating a cheat sheet for key information relating to live deals I was working on e.g. EV, annual recurring revenue (for software-as-a-service companies), CAGR, number of customers, number of investors engaged and so on. Such pieces of information would continue to crop up after the deal closed such as for pitch deck and when including case studies of deals the firm has already worked on.

[2] Save time by organising Outlook emails into subfolders, keeping the inbox EMPTY

Investment bankers spend a lot of time in Outlook drafting emails, reading information coming through and coordinating different stakeholders involved in a deal process. With deal team email addresses receiving hundreds of emails per week and analysts being on multiple deal team email addresses, the inbox can fill up quickly. The problem is that most emails cannot be archived – they may contain important information that will be needed later in the process.

By sorting Outlook emails into relevant subfolders, investment bankers avoid spending hours trailing through Outlook searching for a relevant email e.g. sent by your client’s CFO from a few months ago. I cannot understate how much time is taken up by trying to find a relevant email for a question the client or your MD asks.

I found managing email flows much easier after selecting View > Show as Conversations in Outlook and after setting up ‘quick steps’ in Outlook by right-clicking an email and setting up shortcuts e.g. for archiving or moving to a frequently accessed sub-folder.

[3] Doing tasks properly the first time: not taking shortcuts when completing important research e.g. by documenting sources of information and noting down key justifications

This may sound counter-intuitive for time management, but in line with the analogy of preventing the waves of work from becoming unbearable, having a list of sources for an important research task you complete or justifications for choosing a company comparable list can save hours of time in checking your work and preventing mistakes.

A key research task might be creating strip profiles (row summaries) of companies that are relevant targets for a conglomerate, or metrics of historical deals when preparing precedent transaction analysis.

When working into the early hours of the morning and having to complete countless strip profiles, keeping screenshots of the information you find online (from reputable sources i.e. official press releases, Companies House, the company’s own website) will save you time when checking you haven’t made a mistake and assures you that your MD won’t find a mistake that causes them to completely lose faith in the analysis.

[4] Instead of perfecting the first draft of a PowerPoint deck, iterate by showing your director a mock-up

Creating decks to the standard that senior investment bankers expect in a short amount of time when starting out is not easy. One technique that can save hours of time perfecting a slide that will soon get deleted is the following: when given little guidance about what the slides of a deck will look like, draw out what you plan the slide to contain and show the person you’re working under. This should be done with caution – showing an unfinished piece of work to an MD can be disastrous since they are expecting a perfectly finished product with little guidance. But when showing your senior analyst, associate or perhaps vice-president, this process can ensure you’re on the right tracks without wasting time.

[5] Save time when checking work by spotting red flags instead of constantly going formula by formula to check quantitative pieces of work

When first completing more quantitative Excel-based analysis, I would check my work by going through every formula – which must be done at some point – but I soon learned it is far more efficient to ‘spot red flags’ instead. E.g. if completing a pro-forma table of shareholder ownership for seeing how many shares each investor will own after the deal, you can see if the changes you’re making intuitively make sense by comparing the before and after outputs.

Another form of ‘red flag’ analysis is when checking a PowerPoint deck, ensuring all figures throughout the deck ‘talk to each other’ – i.e. if you mention a stat on the first page that doesn’t tie up to the company comparable analysis on the 5th page, that is a significant indicator showing something doesn’t tie up correctly.

Being Realistic, Investment Banking Is Not a Glamorous Lifestyle

As a final point, it’s important to be realistic – no matter how good an investment banker is at time management, using various techniques to ensure optimal productivity, their lifestyle lacks a lot of autonomy and is generally not glamorous. It’s about dealing with the waves.

You don’t have the freedom to leave emails to Monday, let alone a specific time in the workday to focus on deep work. You don’t have the freedom to have a consistent, healthy sleep time. Going to the gym 4 times a week will require even more sleep sacrifice, by which point the benefits of strength-building instead of sleep are questionable.

Some YouTubers claim you can balance multiple things e.g. seeing family, a relationship and seeing friends regularly or going to the gym several times a week. They then proceed to say that you need to delay meetings in the morning to focus on deep work. Perhaps in some forms of investment banking this is possible, but I am sceptical for a junior investment banker working in M&A / fundraising advisory.

I’m not saying such a lifestyle is impossible, but you should not fall into the delusion that you can have a balanced life or have command over your schedule in this industry. You are expected to deliver as is required, even if that means sacrificing sleep and family commitments.

Investment banking is among the worst industries work-life balance-wise. There are many advantages to investment banking, but too many people look at the sector with rose-tinted glasses exaggerating the pros and completely overlooking the cons. Be sure to count the cost.

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