The accounting business can place overwhelming demands on your time, especially during the busy tax season. And if you're self-employed, the workloads can be even harder to manage: there's no boss looking over your shoulder to motivate you, no office associates or assistants to take on overflow tasks.
Smart time management, though, can help you get more done than you ever thought was possible. It takes effective daily scheduling, identifying and eliminating distractions, and avoiding time-wasters and busy work. The key to it all? A commitment to making every minute count. After all, every productive moment means incoming revenue. Wasted time, on the other hand, makes your days needlessly long and much less profitable.
What are the keys to working efficiently? Remember the following:
- Use your planner. Whether you prefer a pocket calendar or an elaborate time-management planning system, make sure you keep track of every task and project on paper: deadlines, appointments, notes, whatever you need to keep tabs on your work. Be realistic, too - don't write "Finish Woods' tax paperwork" on Monday's calendar if you know the project will take at least three days to complete. Break large tasks into smaller pieces, and allocate the proper amount of time to each.
- Focus on goals, not fires. You know what you must accomplish every day, so keep those tasks in the forefront of your plans. Being distracted by those "I could also ... " and "I really should ... " projects simply makes you less effective. And, unless it's a real emergency, don't let an unexpected development or last-minute request take you away from the work at hand. Professionals who spend most of their time putting out fires rarely are as productive as they could be.
- Designate a place for everything. When keeping extensive records on individual projects, make sure you always know where to find every piece of information you need. Stick with whichever type of record-keeping works best for you, whether it's a spreadsheet file on your PC (don't forget to back up those files, either) or reams of hard-copy records stuffed into a folder in your filing cabinet. Either way, don't let information get scattered about: you'll work more effectively if everything you need stays in one place.
- Save the distractions for after work. If you have to go online during business hours, keep your surfing work-related. Once you've sent those client e-mails or found those I.R.S. documents you were looking for, sign off and get back to business. The Web is a great resource, but it can be a tremendous time-waster, too. Watch for other potential distractions, as well - TV, radio, magazines and phone calls.
- Take a breather. Believe it or not, you can work more efficiently and effectively if you take a short break from work every few hours. Go for a walk, do sit-ups, listen to music, sit in the sun or meditate - just for a few minutes. Then, get back to work. You'll discover you're refreshed and energized for the next task ahead of you.