The fact that accounting and finance professionals are always busy is a positive sign. It means you’re part of a thriving industry. But sometimes the fast-paced, always-on work style can get too hectic, making it hard to deliver quality work on deadline. Time management tips can help.
But first, this news. A just-released Accountemps survey reveals what workers find to be their biggest distractions on the job: chatting and socializing, non-business-related internet use, meetings, personal calls and emails.
You may think you don’t have a spare minute to devote to managing time issues like email. The reality, though, is that whether you’re a CFO, an accountant, a financial analyst or a payroll manager, you can’t afford not to.
Here are seven time management tips to help you and those you supervise get on top of your schedules:
1. Prioritize your tasks
First things first. That’s one of the best time management tips to implement, but how do you or your staff put that into practice? Spend a few minutes before each workday sketching out what has to be accomplished. When tasks are large, break them down into smaller, more actionable steps.
One way to triage your workload is with a four-folder system on your physical and/or virtual desktop. Label the four folders: Urgent tasks (immediate action required), semi-urgent tasks (for completion within the week), non-urgent tasks (for completion within the month or quarter) and non-action items (to keep for reference). Add tasks to the relevant folders as they arrive. Work through the urgent folder until it’s cleared out, then go on to the next folder. Move assignments from one to the other as deadlines approach, and carve out time weekly to stay on top of non-urgent but important items, such as reporting deadlines.
2. Make sure you’re fully staffed
Tax time, end of the fiscal year, financial reporting deadlines, and so on. Professionals in this field are no strangers to peak periods, but keep in mind that the worst time to hire is when you already have your hands full. Consider this time management technique: If you start working with a staffing agency several months in advance, you can bring in temporary professionals when you need them.
Search by roles, skills and location on Robert Half’s candidate finder.
3. 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) You (and others who have access) will know not to schedule meetings for that time, and 2) the pop-up notification will remind you of what needs to be done. Accountemps’ 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.
4. Use technology hacks
When used properly, technology can be a huge time saver. Here are just a few:
- Minimize keystrokes — Learn some shortcuts for Google, Excel and your operating system, and you can shave several seconds from oft-repeated tasks, which can add up tremendously over time. For example, Google easily converts currencies right in its search bar (e.g., search “$100 in yen”), and [Ctrl] + [f] lets you quickly search for specific text within documents and web pages.
- Know where the time went — One of the ways to boost productivity in the workplace is to find a tracker that can 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, you can track how many minutes you’re spending on it. Some time management apps even have an option to block time-wasting websites or limit the time you spent on them.
- Move to the cloud — A cloud financial solution will save you time, because it updates automatically and allows you to collaborate in real time, rather than having to email documents back and forth.
- Automate your processes — If you or your staff are still 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), 58 percent of U.S. companies surveyed last year still reconcile their accounts manually.
5. Run effective meetings
Workers complain that meetings can be time wasters, and it’s true. Just because you bring everyone together every other Thursday doesn’t mean you have enough on your agenda to make it worthwhile. Consider keeping your business meetings brief, to the point and productive with these tips:
- Try not to cover too much ground in a single meeting.
- Be selective about inviting only those who need to be present.
- Send attendees materials in advance so they know what will be covered.
- Leave time at the end of some sessions to ask for new ideas or brainstorming.
- Cancel meetings that aren’t necessary and give your staff an hour back in their day.
6. Promote strategic socializing
One of the reasons there’s too much talking on the job, leading workers to complain about distraction, could be because boundaries haven’t been set. That’s something you could take up at a meeting or in personal conversation. Encourage your staff to reserve their socializing for lunch break or after work. You could also take part in promoting in-house networking and deepening of work bonds — without all the chatter — by setting up some team-building challenges.
7. Don’t forget to delegate
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.
Think of it this way: If you’re constantly overstretched, you should be handing off tasks to others on your team instead of devoting more of your valuable time to them. When you delegate effectively, you give your staff plenty of autonomy and let them know you’re available to answer questions and give feedback. Now you can focus more of your attention on higher-level matters, such as client relations and business growth.
Mastering time management tips
Time is money,” goes the old saying. If that were literally true, accountants would master all the best time management tools and make sure they'd always have enough time to spare.
For skilled accounting and finance professionals, it’s good to be busy, but it’s not good to be underproductive and overwhelmed. By mastering time management and knowing when to bring in extra hands, you can enjoy the best of both worlds: a rewarding career and a satisfying life.
Editor's note: This post was recently updated with new survey information.