Some say time is money – but it’s more valuable than that. It’s about getting home for dinner and having free weekends. When you have time, you feel less stressed and more in control. Consider these techniques to increase your accounting productivity and create more time in your day.
Take baby steps
Introducing new work habits is like starting a new exercise regime. They can seem like a great idea on January 1 and be forgotten by February. The best way to achieve sustainable change is to do it in a controlled way.
Don’t try too many of these techniques at once. Look through the tips – and find other lists – then choose one or two things to start with.
If something doesn’t work, try something else. As successful strategies become habitual, try adding others.
1. Walk away from useless meetings
Unnecessary meetings take people away from their work, sap morale, and can cause stress. Yet we attend them all the time. Researchers have found that employees rate half of their meetings as unimportant and a waste of time. It’s hard to turn down meeting requests as it can be seen as uncooperative but you should empower yourself (and your employees) to politely leave meetings that aren’t relevant.
Where meetings are inevitable, consider introducing guidelines to keep them focused and short.
- Aim for 15-minute meetings.
- Ban email, messaging and phone calls during meetings.
- Have no more than 10 attendees.
- Insist that organisers circulate an agenda with the request.
- Make someone responsible for actioning every task discussed.
2. Tone down the multitasking
Multitasking is often lauded as a talent when in fact it’s a myth. Study after study has shown that humans just aren’t good at it, even when they think they are. It can take up to 20 minutes to refocus on a new task when switching between jobs – so the more multi-tasking you do, the more time you lose.
In a client services industry, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate multitasking but you can structure your day to minimise it. Try to tweak your schedule so you spend bigger blocks of time devoted to a particular piece of work. Larger chunks of uninterrupted time will do wonders for your accounting productivity.
3. Don’t waste productive time on email
There were many productivity rules in the 1990s and 2000s that recommended checking email first and last thing during the morning and afternoon. Ditch that concept. Why? Because if you’re in the office you’ll have more productive things to do. Check your email while you’re on the move instead.
You’ll probably be mobile at least a few times during the day – this gives you enough time to manage your mail. Most email tasks are simple and require only a short reply or maybe some simple filing. If something requires more work, mark that email and come back to it when you’re back at the desk.
4. Delegate, delegate, delegate
Don’t waste your time – or your client’s money – working on mundane tasks. Pass it on to a junior or a admin assistant, even if you think it’ll take just as long to teach them what to do, or to fix their mistakes afterwards. If delegating doesn’t save you time now, it will at least build capacity in your staff so you can trust them with similar tasks in the future.
Many professionals forgive themselves for being bad delegators – saying it’s because they’re perfectionists. However, if you can’t delegate, then you don’t actually have the skills to run a profitable practice that delivers real value to clients. So work on it.
5. Park your perfectionism
There’s always a tension between getting things done and getting them done right. Accounting demands attention to detail, so a mild case of perfectionism makes sense. But too much can get in the way of productivity.
You can double your workload at the end of a project by obsessing over marginal improvements, and you still won’t get to perfect. Strive for excellence rather than perfection, and be smart about how you go after it. Don’t try to get there through effort alone. Make it systematic. For example, rather than spending hours quality checking work, use processes to control for human error, such as:
- proofing protocols, where people check each other’s work
- automation to reduce data entry errors
6. Enlist the machines
Almost all data is digital now so get data entry out of your life. You can boost accounting productivity by:
- using software to capture client transaction data
- using apps like ReceiptBank to digitise paper records
- setting up payroll systems that automate employee tax calculations and paperwork
- automating invoicing to help clients stay on top of debtors
- connecting to dashboards that track business KPIs
Systems like these will save you from hours of data entry. They’ll also eliminate human error, which means you won’t lose hours trying to troubleshoot faulty spreadsheets. That will leave you with the energy to dive into more interesting – and profitable – work.
Everyone knows exercise is good for you, but did you know it’s also good for your clients?
A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the simple act of walking led to a 60 percent rise in creative output. So if you’re struggling to crack a problem for your client, don’t spend hours wrestling with it at your desk. Go for a brisk walk instead.
Besides improving brain function, exercise also boosts health, increases workplace stamina and reduces absenteeism through illness, which are all good for accounting productivity.
8. Find your zone
If you have a lot of control over your schedule, consider how best to organise your time. You’re probably aware that your productivity peaks and dips at the same time most days, but do you actually plan your work around that ebb and flow? Give it a go.
You can go even deeper by figuring out which times to do certain types of tasks. For example, you might be creative in the morning and collaborative in the afternoons.
Check out the advice of author and designer Ximena Vengoechea to see how to rank your day and find your most productive zones.
9. Taking a nap isn’t a dream
Naps make people sharper but when are you supposed to kick back and take a snooze? It won’t fit in, right?
That could be true unless you’re talking about power naps. They can be as short as 10 minutes and should never be longer than 30. Even though they're tiny, power naps are shown to improve:
- creative problem solving
- maths processing
- logical reasoning
- the ability to learn
Those are solid benefits for an accountant. The best thing about power naps is that there’s no grogginess afterwards. That unpleasant feeling – known as sleep inertia – occurs after naps of 30 minutes or longer.
10. Use more screens
If you use a single screen, you know what it’s like to spend most of your day tabbing between applications and documents. That constant break in your flow isn’t great for accounting productivity. Using extra screens allows you to scan across multiple documents without pausing to remember where they are. It’s easier and more natural.
A study published in the Journal of Accountancy found that extra screens can boost productivity. You don’t even have to stop at two. The addition of a third or fourth monitor also pays dividends.
11. Or you could get cute about it
Looking at pictures of kittens, puppies, babies and anything else cute can boost your focus. A study by Hiroshi Nittono, et al, found that people performed tasks more carefully after viewing images like these. They think it’s because positive emotions make us better at concentrating. So put that baby picture on your desk and refer to it often.
Boost accounting productivity this year
As you tell your clients all the time, small process changes can significantly improve business productivity and profitability.
The same goes for for your accounting productivity. Not all of these tips will be for you – maybe you can’t fall asleep for 10 minutes on command – but find something you can work with and try some experiments. The benefits could be transformative.