Attuning to effective time management
THE American author John Maxwell once said, "Time is an equal opportunity employer, but how we treat time is not equal." This proves true for everyone, even for us professionals.
Effective time management is something that most of us struggle with at one point or another, but is essential for every accountant, especially during busy seasons. If you feel like your schedule is evading you, test some of these steps to get it back under control:
Prioritize. Starting your day with a to-do list lets you focus on the work that needs to be done without trying to remember what you need to work on. When tasks are large, break them down into smaller, more actionable steps so you don't get overwhelmed. Using the tool called Eisenhower Matrix, you can break down your list by:
– Urgent and important tasks you do immediately
– Not urgent but important tasks you can schedule for later
– Urgent but unimportant tasks you can delegate
– Not urgent and unimportant tasks you can delete
Create realistic timelines. The phenomenon called "planning fallacy" describes people's tendency to overestimate their capacity to get things done, which results in them underestimating the amount of time it will take to complete a task. Try adding time buffers between tasks so that even if one goes over the time limit or even if inevitable interruptions occur, your overall schedule stays intact.
Set reasonable time limits. If you give yourself a full day to complete two tasks that should take only three or four hours, you will probably still spend the whole day on those two tasks. Give yourself a smaller window, you'll likely still meet the earlier deadline.
Check emails only during specific time frames. Checking your email each time an email pings is disruptive to your workflow. Unless you are waiting for a crucial email, it is more productive to check your email during a set period.
A single phone call can also take up some valuable time you can use for more important tasks instead. While you can't discourage clients from calling, you can establish office hours during which they can call.
Avoid multitasking. Being able to multitask is definitely a feat in itself. But not all can do it or produce at-par results from doing it. It can cut efficiency and can be counterproductive. Most people tend to just stop and switch their attention back and forth between two tasks, which racks up the amount of transition time of mental effort and energy that it takes to move from one task to the other. It would be wiser to do things just as the composer Mozart once said, "The shorter way to do many things is to only do one thing at a time."
Identify your natural rhythm or tempo. There are particular times of the day when you are more likely to be productive than others. You might be able to work at your peak in the morning, rather than in the afternoon. Plan your schedule around those periods during which you get the most done.
Know when to say no. You have to know your limits and be willing to say no in order to avoid poorly done work. Focus on what you're good at and, if you gauge that you can't handle all of the work, consider working with another professional to help balance out those busy times. Sometimes you have to say "no" but make sure it's really necessary before you do.
Delegate. Training staff now allows you to quickly delegate a key task later without having to stop and explain everything. If you're a one-person accounting office, consider hiring a virtual assistant or a part-time employee to help you during the busy season.
Minimize your paperwork. Going digital at this time and age is instrumental in keeping up with the current demands in the field. You'll reduce the space needed to sort physical copies, and you'll be able to find files more quickly.
Take short breaks in between tasks. You can break work periods into 25-minute intervals, followed by five-minute breaks. Take a walk around the office, do some stretches, or grab a cup of coffee or tea. These breaks boost productivity by keeping your mind focused and refreshed.
Run effective meetings. Consider keeping your business meetings brief, to the point, and productive to avoid wasting your and others' time.
Keep things organized. It's difficult to concentrate on tasks when you're distracted. Clear unnecessary items from your work desk and organize paperwork. If you work from home, make sure your home office is free of household distractions. Sort out your calendar and try color-coding to quickly differentiate categories or urgent from non-urgent.
Remember that determining which time management strategies will best suit your firm and applying them consistently is key.
"Time is money," goes the old saying. The more efficiently we operate our schedule, the more money we'll make. By mastering time management, we can maximize profits, deliver quality service and maintain a good work-life balance without burning out.
Laurice Mae Calantas is the quality assurance review manager of Paguio, Dumayas and Associates, CPAs (PDAC)-PrimeGlobal Philippines and a member of the Acpapp. The views and opinions in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of these institutions.