The fact that accountants are always busy is a positive sign. It means you’re part of a thriving industry. But sometimes the pace can get too hectic, making it hard to deliver quality work by the deadline. The answer — and, yes, you’ve heard it before — is good time management.
You may think you don’t have any spare moments to devote to managing your time, but the reality is, you can’t afford not to. Here are some time management tips to help you get on top of your schedule:
1. Perform an audit of your time management
At the end of the workday, do you ever wonder where the time went? You should find out. Productivity trackers like RescueTime run in the background of your computer or mobile device, recording how much time you spend on particular apps and websites. For example, if you feel you’re wasting time on work email, RescueTime will tell you how many minutes you’re spending on it. When you know where your minutes are going, you can ferret out inefficiencies. Some time management apps even have an option to block time-wasting websites or limit the time you spent on them.
2. Automate your processes
If you or your staff are still reconciling accounts and closing the books by hand, that’s not effective time management — nor is it a good use of resources and accounting talent. According to the Benchmarking the Accounting and Finance Function report from Robert Half and the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), 55 per cent of Canadian companies surveyed still reconcile accounts manually. Canadian firms could benefit from the implementation of a general ledger system to automate the reconciliation process - and Canadian accountants could benefit from the extra hours back in their day!
3. Prioritize your tasks
First things first: That’s one of the best time management tips to implement, but how does an accountant put that into practice? Before each workday, spend a few minutes sketching out what has to be accomplished. When tasks are large, break them down into smaller, more actionable steps. Doing so will make the project less overwhelming, as well as give you the satisfaction of checking off items on your to-do list. This is time management in action! And investing 10 minutes in it each day can save hours over the course of a week or month.
4. Block your calendar
When you have to focus on an assignment, put it on your work calendar as well as your to-do list. This serves two purposes: 1) Your boss and colleagues will know not to schedule meetings for that time, and 2) the pop-up notification will remind you of what needs to be done. Robert Half's surveys since 1987 have found Tuesday to be the most productive day of the week for most finance professionals, followed by Monday. But take your own workflow and preferences into account when scheduling your work.
5. Prepare for the busy season
Tax time, end of the fiscal year, financial reporting deadlines, and so on. Accountants are no strangers to peak periods. So not only do you have to plan your day or week, you need to also take into consideration what you have to accomplish for the quarter and year. Here are a few busy-season time management tips and best practices:
- Update your software
You won’t want to deal with security patches and time-consuming downloads during the period when you get slammed the most. Better yet, move to cloud-based financial solutions, which update automatically.
- Take your vacation
Be well rested for those 50- to 60-hour weeks. Besides, if your company has a use-it-or-lose-it policy for vacation days and year-end is your busiest time, you don’t want to stress about forfeiting valuable time off.
- Be fully staffed
Peak periods are the worst time to hire, because you already have your hands full — though that’s typically when you need the most staff. So start recruiting or working with a staffing agency several months in advance so you’re not training full-time or temporary professionals when you’re the busiest.
- Make use of external resources
A good time saver is to use third-party checklists, organizers and templates. You’ll save effort and probably a few mistakes as well.
6. Socialize strategically
You know the importance of in-house networking and deepening work bonds, but some people take that too far. According to 29 per cent of Canadian CFOs responding to a Robert Half survey, the biggest time waster is chatting with colleagues. To practice good time management without becoming a hermit, you need to set boundaries. Reserve serious socializing for lunch break, after-work drinks and team-building events.
7. Start cross-training and delegating
You shouldn’t be the only one who knows how to do X. But if you are, it’s time to train someone so if you’re hit by a truck tomorrow, the firm won’t be in dire straits.
Succession planning is often discussed exclusively in terms of replacing executives as they retire, but every company should have a redundancy system in place. This means cross-training the people around you to do aspects of your job, and learning from others about how to do theirs. This initial investment takes some time, but training staff now allows you to quickly delegate a key project later without having to stop and explain everything, saving you time when you least have it.
For skilled accountants, it’s good to be busy, but it’s not so good to be underproductive and overwhelmed. That’s why it’s vital to develop good time management habits and become as organized as possible — as soon as possible.