66 Time Management Tips to Help You Survive Busy Season

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Last busy season, we checked in with many of our colleagues, including leaders in the accounting profession, and asked them to share with us their favorite time-saving tips. As you get into gear this busy season, we hope you'll find their ideas, as well as those of our staff, helpful. 

 
Tip 1: Use the phone. You can save time by sending fewer e-mails and by not using instant messenger programs. These things tend to take much longer than a simple phone call.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 2: Use a time management system. Find a time management tool that works best for you and one you'll actually use, such as a time management software program, your iPad calendar, an e-mail calendar, etc. Use the tool's reminder feature to stay on top of scheduled appointments and meetings.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 3: Create a task list. Start each workday by determining what you need to get done that day. Prioritize each task and create a list. It's important to do this every morning so you get in the habit of prioritizing. You'll also get a sense of accomplishment as you check things off your list.
- AccountingWEB staff
Tip 4: Establish a routine and schedule. "Routine" and "schedule" are crucial words when it comes to time management. As much as is possible during the whirlwind tax season, establish a routine and schedule. It's helpful to get your entire family involved and together decide what each person can do to help out.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 5: Put everything in one location. If you think your e-mail inbox is the one location, think again. Keeping action items in your inbox is the kiss of death because you'll spend all day living in your inbox, reacting to things as they come in. You'll never get anything done. If action is required, note that on your to-do list.
- Brett Owens, CEO Chrometa
 
Tip 6: Keep a time-spent journal for a week. The first week of your time management journey, write down what you do each day. At the end of the week, use your list and look for obvious time wasters. When you see how you actually spent your time, you can identify areas in need of improvement.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 7: Use Outlook Rules. Use Outlook Rules to automate tasks and categorize your e-mail. For example, if you get lots of e-mail concerning a particular topic or person, create an Outlook rule to automatically move messages concerning that topic to a specific folder. You can create rules based on who an e-mail is from, what the subject line is, or what the content of the message contains.
- Doug Sleeter, president, The Sleeter Group, Inc.
 
Tip 8: Execute meeting notes in the moment. I always try to take really good notes and act on things that come up in meetings right away. I send any necessary follow-up messages immediately after the meeting. Taking good notes helps me make sure I understand the conversation and holds others accountable to it. Any actions I can take to keep things moving forward without me having to follow up again later saves me time and energy throughout my day.
- Jasen Stine, senior learning consultant, Intuit
 
Tip 9: Get heavy reading out of the way first thing in the morning. My job requires a lot of technical reading, and as I'm easily distracted during the course of the day, I've developed a practice of doing that reading first thing in the morning before I go to my office.
- Judith O'Dell, chair, FASB Private Company Financial Reporting Committee
 
Tip 10: Set up working sessions for larger projects. I try to block out a few two-to-three-hour "working" sessions each week where I focus on larger projects uninterrupted. By turning off Outlook and my phone, I'm able to concentrate and do a more thorough job.
- Roman Kepczyk, director of consulting services, Xcentric
 
Tip 11: Incorporate all aspects of appointments into one calendar. I incorporate all aspects of appointments, both professional and personal, into one calendar, including contact information. This saves me time from hunting for disparate pieces of information when an appointment or meeting is about to begin.
- Teresa Mackintosh, executive vice president, GM, CCH Tax & Accounting North America
 
Tip 12: Decide what not to do. Make a conscious decision about what not to do. Then be okay with the fact it isn't going to happen at that time.
- Bob Lewis, senior director of business development, SMB at Concur
 
Tip 13: Make a fresh start each day. Start every day identifying what's most important to accomplish and commit to that. Don't open an e-mail or make a call until you do.
- Mike Sabbatis, former president, CCH Tax & Accounting North America
 
Tip 14: Always make/have two to-do lists. Create a list for the really important things you need to get done – A items. The other is for the B- and C-level items. Never comingle the lists, and after a week (or two), drop anything not done from the B/C list – if it's not done by then, it's probably not worth doing and just adds clutter (and unnecessary pressure) to your day.
- Rondol Eagle, independent consultant and president, The Information Technology Alliance
 
Tip 15: Use sticky notes. Every morning I look at my to-do list and take the five most important and doable items I can get done that day and put them on a regular-sized sticky note. I then stick the note to my monitor. The sticky note is great because it's only big enough for five items, so I don't feel overwhelmed and ready to give up when I look at it. Anything I get done other than those five is just icing on the cake!
- Shayna Chapman-Burris, managing member, Chapman & Burris CPAs
 
Tip 16: Save the worst for first. Set aside time first thing in the morning to either complete tasks that MUST be completed that day or to tackle the most difficult, time-consuming tasks. I find this relieves a lot of stress from the rest of the day.
- Eddie Adkins, partner, Grant Thornton LLP
 
Tip 17: Use unconventional places for catching up on phone calls. Since I'm on the road all the time, I have to be very efficient. I carry around a sheet with all the people and their phone numbers that I have to call each week. I usually have about twenty to thirty names. I make calls while waiting for flights, in cabs, anywhere. I also have a pipeline that shows first step, next step, etc., and due date. I use this religiously and it drives my sales engine.
- Gale Crosley, president, Crosley+Company
 
Tip 18: Help coworkers manage their time. To help others manage their time, I try to put an "action/input requested" line early in the body of my e-mail messages when I'm asking others for help. That way, they can quickly see any action that I'm requesting. It's clear and concise, and they don't have to read the whole e-mail, unless they need further context.
- Rich Walker, director, global accountant strategy and programs, Intuit
 
Tip 19: Skip e-mail in favor of adding to meeting agenda. Think carefully about whether something is worthy of an e-mail or adding to a list of things to deal with at the next weekly/monthly meeting. It's amazing how quickly a list of small things can get resolved at a meeting that might take innumerable to-and-from e-mails.
- Ben Heald, CEO, Sift Media
Tip 20: Start your workday earlier. This isn't revolutionary but was a shift I made a few years ago that made a huge difference. I now start my workday at 7:00 a.m. or earlier and use the time from then to 9:00 a.m. to get to all of those never-ending e-mails. I let the noncritical ones stack up through the day. It's hard to "just say no," I'll do it later, but it's incredibly effective.
- James Metzler, vice president of small firm interests, AICPA
 
Tip 21: Touch paper only once. Only touch paper once if possible. While handling your inbound physical mail, take action on it at that time, or place an item on your calendar to handle something that will take a larger block of time. Place a small dot on any piece of paper that you touch, and when you see three dots, act on that item to avoid procrastination.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 22: Take advantage of commute time. Each day I receive nearly 150 e-mails. As with most everyone, a huge percentage of these are useless, a good percentage need to be read, a handful require a careful read, and a few need immediate attention. During the course of the day, I scan my e-mail to find ones that need immediate attention. The remaining e-mails are left for later. During my commute home on the train, I bang through all remaining e-mails. The great thing is that since I don't have wireless on my laptop, no one can respond to me immediately. It makes the process significantly more efficient. Once I get home, I sign on to the server and send the e-mails off.
- David Pugh, vice president and publisher, John Wiley and Sons
 
Tip 23: Block out time for building your future. The best leaders dedicate time every day for those things that are important to building their future. For example, if business development (BD) is critical for your future, then you may decide that you could dedicate 50 percent of your non-billable time to this activity. If you wait until BD becomes urgent, it may be too late. Once you've decided to dedicate this time, then block out BD time on your calendar at least weekly (daily is even better). Once you've blocked this time, don't let anything interfere with your calendar. If you find that BD is difficult for you, then you should block this time during the first hour every day. Get it behind you. Brian Tracy says, "Eat the ugliest frog first." When you dedicate time and then devote the first hour every day, your future will be bright and you'll master your business life.
- Troy Waugh, The Rainmaker Academy and Consulting Group
 
Tip 24: Keep work and personal time separate. Keep work time and personal time separate. You need the ability to unwind, and carrying work home doesn't make you a more effective employee or person. If you're a home-based worker, keep your business space separate from your personal space so you can enjoy your family.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 25: Strive to maintain a zero inbox. When going through e-mail, strive to maintain a zero inbox. File e-mail messages after you read them. Don't leave them in your inbox, where you're likely to reread the same e-mail multiple times.
- Brett Owens, CEO, Chrometa
 
Tip 26: Otis Redding had it right. My time management tip is from the Otis Redding school of management. Otis wrote and sang the song "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay." My favorite part is, "I can't do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I'll just remain the same." 
 
Whenever I'm feeling out of control, I've borrowed a process we use in our i2a: Insights to Action process, called Top Five Steps (or priorities). I sit down and start jotting major projects and ideas on sticky notes and categorize and prioritize them into top five buckets. I then further prioritize on a worksheet, with columns labeled critical, essential, and incidental. Then I can see what's most important and quickly regain my focus.
 
We also find this works great with project teams, departments, and other groups as well as individuals.
- Tom Hood, CEO, Maryland Association of CPAs and The Business Learning Institute
 
Tip 27: Take advantage of Outlook's Tasks feature. I don't use my Outlook inbox as a to-do list; that's what the Outlook Tasks functionality is for. I do a quick scan of my e-mail inbox first thing in the morning and quickly delete all the nonessential messages. I then drag-and-drop the messages for which I must do something (other than those that need a quick response) into the Tasks list.
- Rich Walker, director, global accountant strategy and programs, Intuit
 
Tip 28: Allocate time for professional reading. Allocate a specific time to catch up on your professional reading. If you travel or commute on public transit, use your travel time to read publications. Scan or send links to others in your organization with tools like Dropbox or Pogoplug.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 29: Take a break. Recent research shows that breaks every ninety minutes improve effectiveness. If you've gotten out of the habit of walking away from your work, try inserting a few breaks in your day. You may find yourself more productive by taking a few minutes off from working.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 30: Make accurate timekeeping a top priority. You must have an accurate account of how you spend your time. Without it, you may lose significant pieces of legitimate billable time. If you performed the work but were unable to bill for the time because you lost track of it, you just lost some potential profit.
- Brett Owens, CEO, Chrometa
 
Tip 31: Set agendas for meetings. Agendas let everyone know ahead of time what's to be discussed and the intended outcome of the meeting. Include a start and stop time at the top of the agenda and stick to it.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 32: Reward yourself  Part 1. Reward yourself with small, enjoyable time breaks throughout the day (e.g., fifteen minutes of posting on Facebook, nontechnical reading, or gardening) after you've accomplished odious tasks (e.g., insurance claims, RMAs, bank reconciliations, etc.).
- Elizabeth Way, owner, Abaca.net Programming and Software Support
 
Tip 33: Reward yourself  Part 2. Hire someone at one-fifth or less of your hourly billing rate to do odious tasks so that you can fritter away even larger amounts of time posting on Facebook, reading spy novels, or planting herbs.
- Elizabeth Way, owner, Abaca.net Programming and Software Support
 
Tip 34: Prioritize to-do list for tomorrow at the end of each day. I make sure my to-do list is up to date and prioritized before I leave the office in the evening so I have a clear picture of what I need to accomplish the next day.
- Judith O'Dell, chair, FASB Private Company Financial Reporting Committee
 
Tip 35: Key habits for accountants. According to a CPA Trendlines study by the Bay Street Group, 34 percent of CPAs report "often" feeling distracted, while another 34 percent are "sometimes" distracted. This is followed by 22 percent who are "frequently" distracted.
 
CPAs rely on a few key habits for maximizing productivity and minimizing distraction, including:
  • Strictly scheduling e-mail and Internet activity.
  • Preparing daily to-do lists.
  • Shifting work hours to early mornings or evenings to minimize interruptions.
  • Setting aside discrete blocks of time for phone calls and meetings.
Of course, that's easier said than done.
- Rick Telberg, president, CEO, Bay Street Group
 
Tip 36: Reorganize and rethink your use of paperless technologies. Consider your use of paperless technologies and filing systems. Reorganize and rethink them if you haven't done so in a while. Update your records-retention policy. Choose a time of year that works best for you to reorganize, perhaps during the last week of your fiscal year. Clean up all e-mail and open projects and dispose of any items not used in the past year.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 37: Turn off smartphone notifications. In this day of the smartphone, I've started turning off the notifications to various apps. The constant dinging of e-mail, texts, tweets, Facebook messages, to-dos, etc., is distracting and breaks my concentration. The badges on the apps are begging me all day to open the app and look to see what I received, like a kid at Christmas. If I turn them off, I don't look at them until a more appropriate time. I can always turn them on if I'm expecting something important or I'm not doing something where I need to concentrate.
- Shayna Chapman-Burris, managing member, Chapman & Burris CPAs
 
Tip 38: Categorize tasks in order of priority. I categorize my task/to-do list in A, B, C priority order. Then I have to discipline myself to focus on the tasks in that order. It's amazing to me how C priorities often never require my attention.
- Rich Walker, director, global accountant strategy and programs, Intuit
 
Tip 39: Use a priority list throughout the day. There's never enough time in the day to address all that needs to be done. A helpful tool I use is creating and then reviewing/editing a daily priority list. The priority list can be adjusted based on timing, importance, and other variables. I start each day, and many times refer to it several times a day to make sure I reorganize my desk and mind accordingly. Without the list I tend to be too heavily influenced by the squeaky wheel or what's on the top of the pile as opposed to the most critical.
- Joel Sinkin, president, Transition Advisors, LLC
Tip 40: Review your schedule in advance. Look at the schedule for your next day before leaving for the day. On Fridays, look at all of your scheduled appointments for the next week. This will give you time to subconsciously prepare and make sure that you don't overlook important items.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 41: Strive for a clean inbox. I don't go home until my inbox doesn't scroll past one screen of messages. I answer them, file them, or add them to the appropriate task list.
- Teresa Mackintosh, executive vice president, GM, CCH Tax & Accounting North America
 
Tip 42: Return calls just before lunchtime or at the end of the day. Return calls just before lunch or toward the end of the day. People who you call back at those times tend to want to head out to lunch or go home for the day and will keep their conversations short.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 43: Work on one thing at a time. The phone rings . . .  a "reply all" e-mail comes through. Interruptions are real time killers! The solution? Look at everything you have on your list and pick the most important thing. It's amazing how fast you can get something done if that's all you do. Work on it, uninterrupted, until it's completed.
- Brett Owens, CEO, Chrometa
 
Tip 44: Delegate. Whenever possible, delegate. Handing off some administrative-type tasks means you'll have more time and energy to focus on what you do best – preparing tax returns.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 45: Stick to your meeting agendas. Always have an agenda and a set time frame for meetings. Consider an electronics ban – "check your cell phones and computers at the door" – except for the person taking minutes at the meeting. Start on time, and only run long with permission of all involved in the meeting.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 46: Manage your international agenda. Since my role is globally focused, I reserve Monday evenings for Asia-Pacific meetings (since it's their Tuesday mornings) and then block my Tuesday mornings from meetings, in case I've been up very late the night before.
- Rich Walker, director, global accountant strategy and programs, Intuit
 
Tip 47: Don't overschedule. Time management is more than just keeping track of how you spend your time. It means finding ways to get more out of the time you have. Whenever possible, don't overschedule your day. This will make it easier for you to stick to your routine.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 48: Coordinate time-consuming e-mail with your calendar. E-mail can dominate your time if handled improperly. Consider allocating a specific time that works for you to handle e-mail – early morning, just after lunch, late in the afternoon, or in the evening – and handle each e-mail that will take less than five minutes to respond. If more time is needed, drag the e-mail to your calendar and schedule a specific time to handle the item. Keep your inbox empty and messages filed daily.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 49: Allow yourself uninterrupted time. Make it a priority to have some time every day when you can work uninterrupted. Turn off your phone, put a "do not disturb" sign on your door, and don't look at e-mail. Without interruptions, you can focus on getting things done and increase your productivity the rest of the day.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 50: Schedule quiet time each week. Schedule time to do "quiet work" each week. And let go of the small stuff!
- Jody Padar, CEO, principal, New Vision CPA Group
 
Tip 51: Schedule projects to coincide with your peak (and not-so-peak) performance times. Schedule blocks of time for your most important activities. If you have a large project due, block off time on your calendar for the project. Choose to work on important projects when you know you do your best work. This could be early in the morning or late in the day. Don't do easy tasks when you're at your prime. Save the easy items for when you're tired or when your concentration is low.
- Randy Johnston, executive vice president, Network Management Group, Inc. and
K2 Enterprises
 
Tip 52: Invest in a mobile phone. Smartphones have come a long way. Today, iPhones and Androids are great devices that not only improve your productivity, but free you from your desk and office. The ability to read and respond to e-mail anytime, anywhere, can greatly help you stay on top of your inbox.
- Brett Owens, CEO, Chrometa
 
Tip 53: Try to stay organized. As tax season progresses, try to keep your desk and office organized and uncluttered. Time spent searching for documents that are buried under piles of paper and file folders is wasted and stressful.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 54: Use rules and filters for e-mail. If you're always filing particular e-mails from your inbox to a folder, ask yourself if the process can be automated by using a rule or filter. It will help your quest for a zero inbox, and you can batch process the items in each folder later.
- Brett Owens, CEO, Chrometa
 
Tip 55: Take time for yourself. Even if you can only fit in a few minutes, take time for yourself. Taking a short walk, especially outdoors, is perfect. Time away from your desk will recharge your batteries so you can remain focused.
- AccountingWEB staff
 
Tip 56: Provide meeting agendas in advance and don't compromise on time frame. I find that meetings are far more productive and efficient when an agenda is provided at least a day in advance and when the time frame for the meeting isn't compromised. When meeting participants have an opportunity to begin thinking about the agenda items ahead of the meeting and can prepare their thoughts and key questions in advance, meeting time is maximized. And by sticking to the indicated time frame (say an hour meeting), an emphasis is placed on being decisive and efficient.
- Scott Fleszar, vice president strategic marketing, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting 
 
Tip 57: Try the "pay time" sales concept. Pay time is the time during the day when clients and prospects are available to do business; for most, that's 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. No pay time is when you wouldn't be able to reach them. Use no pay time for responding to e-mails, writing, research, or for any other marketing activity that doesn't directly lead to a paycheck.
- Kelley C. Long, CPA, personal financial coach
 
Tip 58: Bring visibility to your projects. When it comes to managing my time, I find that bringing visibility to all my projects and tasks is crucial. Our brains like to focus on one task at a time, and while working on any one item, it's easy to lose sight of everything else. Thus, even with a clear sense of priorities, it's easy to get sidetracked when our mental blinders are on. By bringing visibility to the demands on our time, we have a constant visual reminder of everything we must do. This allows me to accomplish each task with the confidence of knowing I'm working on what's most important to my business.
 
Key steps toward bringing visibility to your tasks:
  • Compile your tasks and projects into a single repository. (As basic as it sounds, I like to use Excel to do this. It's easy to create, format, and update.)
  • Use formatting or color coding to give your consolidated list visual impact.
  • Mark tasks as complete. (Again, Excel is nice because I can use the auto filter to hide completed tasks.)
  • Keep it simple. Avoid the tendency to place too much time and effort on your task repository; simple is better.
  • Save or store your task repository somewhere that's always right under your nose.
With your repository built, it's time to put it into action. When you arrive at your desk in the morning and at regular intervals throughout the day, check and update your task repository. Most importantly, whenever you get the feeling of being overwhelmed, take a deep breath, think of palm trees, and check your task repository, as this is the precise situation you built it for.
- Ed Wielage, president, cofounder, PlanGuru
 
Tip 59: Set a timer. When you put off a difficult task due to complexity or tedium, you're wasting time and stressing out by procrastinating. And a cluttered mind impedes thinking. Instead, set a timer for thirty minutes and until the bell goes off, tackle the nagging task. Once you get started, you'll probably find yourself on a roll and work beyond the time to get it done.
- Kelley C. Long, CPA, personal financial coach
 
Tip 60: Don't let others control your calendar. Use discretion in accepting Outlook meeting requests. Systematically refuse meetings that don't align with important priorities, such as customer-experience improvement.
- Pascal Houillon, president and CEO, Sage North America
 
Tip 61: Don't let PowerPoint presentations eat your time and run the company. Dialog, not PowerPoint presentations, leads to decision and action.
- Pascal Houillon, president and CEO, Sage North America
 
Tip 62: It's okay to multitask. We're not talking about texting and driving, but if you find yourself staring down a pile of technical journals or other reading material, start taking them to the gym with you. Get your reading out of the way on the recumbent bike or elliptical machine.
- Kelley C. Long, CPA, personal financial coach
 
Tip 63: Reflect on your efficiency and stop being busy. Every Friday evening, spend some time to reflect on your efficiency during the week. Use that information to prepare for your next week.
- Pascal Houillon, president and CEO, Sage North America
 
Tip 64: A great book on using Outlook. One of the books that changed my life when it comes to time management is Take Back Your Life Using Microsoft Outlook. It's a wonderful resource on using Outlook Calendar, Tasks, and Inbox very effectively. I don't feel like I'm SINKING in e-mail anymore. WONDERFUL resource.
- Sandra Wiley, shareholder and COO, Boomer Consulting, Inc.
 
Tip 65: Schedule time for meetings as well as time to complete tasks. As much as possible, I try to schedule my appointments to start 1.5 hours apart. I don't get as many meetings on my calendar, but I always have between thirty and sixty minutes between each appointment.
 
Per standard time management (life management) principles, I set my goals for each day the night before. I then categorize the list by the amount of time I estimate it will take me to complete each goal. In-between meetings, I work on those goals. 
 
I try to close out a task completely by my next appointment. Many studies have shown that starting and stopping a task decreases productivity significantly. 
 
If I have large tasks that will take more than sixty minutes to complete, I set appointments for those on my calendar.
- Joe Woodard, owner, The Woodard Consulting Group
 
Tip 66: Outsource. Outsource any daily task that you can.
- Jason M. Blumer, CPA, CITP, founder of THRIVEal +CPA Network
 

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There are some great points in here! One thing that you touched on was using tools such as document management applications to help cut down on time spent with sharing and organizing documents, follow up emails, and just basic document collaboration. Applications such as DropBox and LedgerDocs can make a big difference in terms of time management for bookkeepers and accountants! Thanks for the ideas.

Thank you for sharing these tips on how to survive a very busy workload this busy season. It is very helpful. Cheers!

A very informative article on time management. It is indeed helpful. Thank you for posting.

Terri,
Loved the exhaustive list. I agree with Dpaq's observation about using applications to stay on task. One application I find indispensable to staying productive and sane at work is Wunderlist. It isn't a document management app, but it has capabilities for creating multiple to-do lists ( I agree with you about making two to- do lists and prioritizing the most important items in a separate list) as well as sharing them with co-workers for quick and easy real-time integration. Another awesome app is focus booster. It uses the pomodoro technique with a ticking timer that has you working 25 minutes with 5 minutes off. What I like is that it helps you stay really productive by reminding you to refresh your mind every so often by taking breaks.
Awesome content, I'll be stopping by again for sure!

You listed out some great ideas here. Definitely worth sharing! We’ve got a blog post on time management, too, and included a few more tricks. Here it is: https://netguru.co/blog/time-s... Hope you’ll visit us!