7 Time Management Tips for Busy Accountants

By Robert Half October 3, 2016 at 4:30pm

The fact that accountants are always busy is a positive sign. It means you’re part of a thriving industry. But sometimes the pace can get too hectic, making it hard to deliver quality work on deadline. The answer — and, yes, you’ve heard it before — can be found in good time management tips.

You may think you don’t have any spare moments to devote to managing time, but the reality is, 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. Perform an audit of your time

At the end of the workday, do you ever wonder where the time went? You should find out. One of the tips to boost productivity 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. When you know where your minutes are going, you can ferret out inefficiencies. Some time management apps even have an option to block time-wasting websites or limit the time you spent on them.

2. 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 in 2017 still reconcile their accounts manually. More accountants could benefit from the implementation of a general ledger system to automate the reconciliation process.

Download the 2017 Benchmarking report for the latest data on how companies are doing with their time management.

3. Prioritize your tasks

First things first: That’s one of the best time management tips to implement, but how does an accountant put that into practice? Before each workday, spend a few minutes sketching out what has to be accomplished. When tasks are large, break them down into smaller, more actionable steps. Doing so will make the project less overwhelming, as well as give you the satisfaction of checking off items on your to-do list. This is time management in action! And investing 10 minutes in it each day can save hours over the course of a week or month.

4. 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) Your boss and colleagues 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.

5. Prepare for the busy season

Tax time, end of the fiscal year, financial reporting deadlines, and so on. Accountants are no strangers to peak periods. So not only do you have to plan your day or week, you need to also take into consideration what you have to accomplish for the quarter and year. Here are a few busy-season time management tips and best practices:

  • Update your software — You won’t want to deal with security patches and time-consuming downloads during the period when you get slammed the most. Better yet, move to a cloud financial solution, which updates automatically.
  • Take your vacation — Be well rested for those 50- to 60-hour days. Besides, if your company has a use-it-or-lose-it policy for vacation days and year-end is your busiest time, you don’t want to stress about forfeiting valuable time off.
  • Be fully staffed — ​Peak periods are the worst time to hire, because you already have your hands full — though that’s typically when you need the most staff. If you start working with a staffing agency several months in advance so you can bring in temporary professionals when you need them.

6. Socialize strategically

You know the importance of in-house networking and deepening work bonds, but some people take that too far. According to 27 percent of CFOs responding to a Robert Half survey, the second biggest time waster — after personal web surfing — is chatting with colleagues. To practice good time management without becoming a hermit, you need to set boundaries. Reserve serious socializing for lunch break or after-work drinks— or, better yet, set up some team-building challenges.

7. Start cross-training and delegating

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.

Building a succession plan 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, saving you time when you least have it.

For skilled accountants, it’s good to be busy, but it’s not so good to be underproductive and overwhelmed. That’s why it’s vital to develop good time management habits and become as organized as possible — as soon as possible.

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Editor's note: This post was recently updated with new survey information.

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