With the busy season now rapidly approaching for small accountancy firms in the UK, we asked Heather Townsend, author and founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club for her best time management tips for accountants to get everything done whilst remaining in control.
With the March year-end accounts deadlines looming, it is the start of the annual busy (or should I say silly?) season for most small accountancy firms. This is the time of year where I see accountants often starting to work stupid hours and rarely getting any rest. Regardless of how high the mountain of work on your desk to get through between now and the end of January, these five time management tips for accountants will help you make the most of your working time.
Tip 1: Take a break (do it)
The reality is that working longer hours just doesn’t make you more productive. It can actually make you less productive overall. When you take a break, whether to just pour yourself a coffee or go for a walk, your subconscious mind keeps working on problems. The experience of having the mind slightly relaxed means that your brainwaves switch from predominantly beta to alpha waves. This switch allows your subconscious thoughts to start to flood into your conscious brain. The net effect of this is you get more clarity, more lucidity and better decision making.
If you add in exercise to your break, for example, going for a short walk, you get a double whammy effect. Not only do you give yourself precious thinking time, but the exercise will clear your mind, help you calm down and reduce your stress. If you are struggling with a difficult set of accounts to reconcile, how about deliberately taking a 10 minute walk? On your return you are likely to find it much easier to get everything reconciled.
Tip 2: Prioritise self-care
You might be thinking what does self-care have to do in an article about time management tips for accountants? Actually, quite a lot. When you are working hard it becomes easy to start to skimp on your self-care. After all, you’ve just got to get everything done, right? To perform at your best means you need to take care of yourself. This means prioritising a good night’s sleep, reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake (sorry), eating highly nutritious foods rather than grabbing a takeaway or ready meal in the evening. Research studies have shown that processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat can actually contribute to increasing our stress levels.
High quality self-care isn’t just about sleeping and what you put in your mouth at the end of the day. It’s about having the mindset to prioritise it. If you need exercise to keep your stress levels down and your mental health strong then don’t cut this out during busy season. It’s even more important to maintain the rituals, habits and hobbies you undertake to keep both your mind and body healthy.
“It can be quite unhelpful if you know you have a huge amount of work to do, but not the detail of what needs to actually be done.”
Tip 3: Have a plan and schedule everything
It can be quite unhelpful if you know you have a huge amount of work to do, but not the detail of what needs to actually be done. This is where a grand plan comes in. This plan needs to be drawn up with your team to make sure that (a) it is realistic (b) everyone buys into it. In this plan, work with the team to identify whose jobs will get done in which week. And, therefore, what work needs to get sent to the outsourcer when and what records need to be requested when.
When it seems like everyone and everything just wants you to do something, one of the best things you can do is literally schedule every task in your diary. This works very well when you have your grand plan worked out and know you have to review 20 sets of accounts before the end of November filing deadline. If your team members know when you are planning to review the accounts they are working on, it helps them to prioritise their time and schedule. Putting these tasks into your calendar also gives you a great view of just how much free time you have or (in reality) don’t have. It will help your decision-making when you get non-urgent requests such as ‘can you come to this workshop?’
Tip 4: Build your schedule around when you are at your most productive
Are you an owl or a lark? Do you always get an energy slump mid-afternoon or do you start to get really productive? We all have a slightly different circadian rhythm which determines when we are at our most alert and productive. To harness your most productive periods, schedule in the work where you need to be at your best. You may find that starting work early is really helpful as there are fewer distractions. But for you, working late may work better for you and your ideal working patterns.
When you get really snowed-under with work, often you become too busy to see the wood for the trees
Tip 5: Eliminate the non-essential
If you have a grand plan and have got everything scheduled in your diary it becomes so much easier to firstly identify the non-essential and then eliminate this. For example, it may be nice to go to a networking event or attend a webinar on a interesting topic, but unless these help you get through your workload and urgent client work, then ditch them. It’s important that you and your team only focus on the essential stuff, which is going to help you and them get through the urgent sets of accounts and personal tax returns to be done.
When it comes to time management tips for accountants, much of what I have discussed is common sense. But the reality is when you get really snowed-under often you become too busy to see the wood for the trees. So next time you start to feel overwhelmed, do yourself a favour and take 10 minutes out for a short walk to get back your sense of perspective and clarity of thought.