Managing your time can be difficult, especially for accounting firms balancing multiple deadlines, clients, and complex client deliverables.
However, taking control of your time resources can make all the difference in whether your business is efficient and profitable or not.
In this post, we’re sharing how to improve time management, including:
- Why is time management important?
- A Quick Detour Down Procrastination Street
- 10 Time Management Tips
Why is time management important?
Time management strategies are crucial to running a successful accounting firm or bookkeeping service. The importance of time management is found in how it allows you to meet important deadlines and make time for more billable work.
By learning to efficiently manage your schedule, firms can maximize profits and maintain a healthy work-life balance without burnout.
A Quick Detour Down Procrastination Street
Every great hero has a great villain. One common villain for effective time management is procrastination. Organizational psychologists like Adam Grant, cultural commentators like Matt D’Avella and Tim Urban, and coach Brian Tracy, have contributed their time to researching why we procrastinate, how it benefits us, and how we can accomplish what we want when we want, despite (or without) procrastination.
You may have heard of Murphy’s Law when it comes to time management and preparing for the worst. An additional “law” to consider is Parkinson’s Law on time restraints. This theory was first explained in C. Northcote Parkinson’s satirical Economist article in 1955 as, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So if you have one month to complete a task, you’re likely not to finish the task until the end of the month, barring time management techniques that protect your time boundaries from procrastination. If you’re only given an hour to do it, and you have respect for this deadline, then you’re likely to complete as much as possible within that one hour.
Some individuals work well under this kind of pressure for different reasons, but excepting the anxiety that can be associated with time pressure, it is common for people to accomplish as much in a shorter period of time as in a longer one. Keeping in mind any tendencies you have to include the procrastination villain in your work life, let’s take a look at ways to fight it, protect your time, and focus on what really matters to you and your business.
10 Time Management Tips
Accountants have many tools at their disposal when it comes to managing their time effectively. From tools and software to simple tricks that can be initiated without technology, here are 10 of the best time management techniques for firm owners.
1. Use Project Management Software to Track Client Deliverables
One of the most effective time management tools is using project management software to organize and streamline all of your client accounts and deliverables, collaborate with your team, and see exactly what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have project management software in place, here are some key considerations when evaluating project management software.
2. Create Processes For Repeatable Tasks
Streamlining your workflow starts with looking at tasks that are similar between clients. Identifying these tasks means you can look for ways to turn them into a standardized process or standard operating procedure (SOP) so you don’t waste time determining how to execute the task each time.
Here are some examples of processes you can create:
- New Client Onboarding
- Sales Proposals
- Client Billing and Invoicing
- Delivering any repeatable client deliverable like weekly bookkeeping, running monthly reports, etc.
3. Start Your Day With a to-do List
One way to effectively manage your time is to create a to-do list before you tackle any work-related tasks for the day. This lets you focus on the work that needs to be done that day without trying to remember what you need to work on. Be sure to prioritize tasks that are related to important deadlines, such as helping a self-employed client calculate their estimated quarterly taxes before the IRS’s payment deadline.
There are plenty of software options available that give you a more interactive experience. Our very own workflow software was created based on a checklist. Haven’t tried Jetpack Workflow yet? We offer a 14-day free trial to any firm owner who wants to learn how to manage time more efficiently for themselves, their clients, and their staff.
However, if you’re looking for a free version, you can always use a pen and paper to create a traditional list. We also offer 32 free workflow templates that your firm can use if you want to get a taste of the kinds of workflow templates we offer inside the app.
4. Try the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is one of the many time management activities that continues to gain popularity across different industries, including finance and accounting. The technique breaks work periods into 25-minute intervals, followed by 5-minute breaks. These breaks boost productivity by keeping your mind focused and fresh.
You can manually set a timer or try one of the available tools designed for the Pomodoro Technique. Many of these options are free. For example, Marinara Timer is a web-based Pomodoro timer that you can use at no cost. Other apps, like Pomello, are made to integrate with productivity software.
5. Track Your Time With an App
How to manage your time better? Know how you’re spending it. Try tracking the time you spend on various tasks, clients, or specific projects. You may think the bulk of your time is spent on billable client work, but tracking your time could reveal that you’re spending more effort on administrative tasks than you thought. With this new insight in mind, you could outsource admin tasks like invoicing to free up more time for billable work.
There are many time tracking apps available. For example, Toggl is a free time tracking option that integrates well with other apps.
6. Control Your Work Environment
It’s difficult to concentrate on the task at hand when you’re distracted. Clear the clutter from your desk, organize paperwork, and create a work environment that’s ideal for productivity. For instance, if you work from home, then make sure your home office is free of household distractions and in a private room if possible.
Another way to get your office under control is to make a routine of organizing. At the end of each workday, dedicate at least 10 minutes to clearing your inbox, sorting paperwork, or cleaning off your desk.
7. Minimize Paperwork
Bookkeepers can generate a fair amount of paperwork in a day. The files add up over time and can be a pain to sort, and paperwork can be easily lost. Of course, for compliance reasons, firms do need to keep certain documents for a while. However, the paperwork doesn’t have to be a hard copy.
Try digitizing your files with an electronic system instead. You’ll reduce the space needed to sort physical copies, and you’ll be able to find files quicker. Organize files in a standardized way, and make sure all staff is on board. For instance, you could organize files by date, last name, or type of form.
8. Check Email Only During Specific Time Frames
It’s tempting to check your inbox throughout the day and read emails as they arrive. However, unless you’re waiting for a critical email response, it’s more productive to check your email during a set period. Checking your email throughout the day is disruptive to your workflow.
Save time and stay focused by turning off email notifications. If you’re worried that you’ll forget to check your email without notifications on, you can set a timer for when it’s time to look at your inbox or schedule a window of time on your calendar that’s dedicated to responding to emails.
9. Set Your Work Hours, and Stick to Them
The line between work and personal life is often blurred for accountants putting in long hours to finish client work, especially during tax season or when approaching a deadline. To reduce the risk of burnout and improve productivity, it’s important to guard your time with set business hours.
For example, if you decide your business hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then you should set those hours on your calendar and stick to them. Add your hours to your email signature, and set your status to “do not disturb” outside of work hours. Unless it’s an emergency, an email from a coworker at 11 pm can wait for a response until the morning.
10. Be the Master of Your Calendar
If you don’t already, you will eventually live and die by your calendar. You have limited time in your day. Protect your time to focus on high-value tasks that will move the needle on your firm’s goals. Managing your calendar effectively can be the difference between your firm taking off like a rocketship or floundering in the mud.
Here’s how to effectively manage your calendar:
- Build a plan for the next three years of your firm’s future. Include as much detail as possible. Include what your firm will look like and what metrics you want it to achieve. Your firm needs a vision to give it guidance. (What good is GPS if you don’t have a destination in mind?) Make a recurring calendar event in your calendar for everything we mention here.
- Plan out your year at the start of the fiscal year. Understand how your year will roll up into the three year plan. Break down the initiatives you want to tackle over the coming year, and prioritize them according to the ROI you can expect.
- Plan out each quarter. Loosely plan all of your initiatives. You can always switch the order of things if you remain open and honest about your efforts. (Best laid plans aren’t always realized; and you’re not alone in this reality!) Set quarterly reminders to plan out the quarter. Create a quarterly review checklist so you can replicate the process each quarter.
- Set monthly reminders to keep you on track for your quarterly goals. Prioritize based on expected ROI of the project. After each month, report the results out to your firm. A checklist will always help to make the process repeatable.
- Break your monthly plans into weekly plans with milestones for each week. Review these plans at the start of each week. Set up your goals for the week to hit your monthly, quarterly, yearly, and 3 year targets.
You can use your calendar as a reminder for business planning. It will help you to stay disciplined in executing your plans.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to implement every tip in this article to successfully manage your time. Trying too many new processes at once can be overwhelming.
Use the tips above that will work best for your accounting firm, and apply them one at a time. Consistency is key to any method you choose. Determine which time management strategies you’ll use for your business, and stick to them.