It's about time: New Year’s resolutions to maximize time
By Brett Owens
2011 is almost here, and the last time I checked, it's only going to consist of 365 days, each of which a mere 24 hours.
Not to worry. Productivity expert Paul Burton, founder of QuietSpacing , sees opportunity with the coming of a new year: "We all know that most resolutions don't see the light of February, but some do," Burton said. "This is an opportunity for change, so make a resolution, or even three; you never know, one just might come true."
Don't let the stubborn consistency of time get you down. If you're smart about it, there are plenty of ways that you can get more per hour in 2011. We asked some of your forward-looking colleagues to chime in with their time maximization plans for 2011. Here's what they had to say.
Implement new technology
Productivity expert Pierre Khawand, president of People-OntheGo , is a big fan of leveraging technology to extend your abilities.
"In the business world, and even more specifically the service industry where time is our product, I think our ability to be productive and achieve financial success is largely dependent on our ability to leverage technology and select the tools that can help us make the most of our time," Khawand said.
Wray Rives , CPA, agrees with Pierre.
"I am currently implementing some new technology that I hope to make me more productive in 2011. I am expanding my use of Google Docs to keep information online and easy to share. I am moving more clients to Outright.com  and Waveaccounting.com  for bookkeeping," Rives said. "Finally, my firm will be installing CPA SafeMail to simplify the transmission of sensitive documents."
Stephanie Barganz, partner at Bodilly CPAs , likes the benefits of desktop virtualization: "We recently turned to Flextec, a managed service delivering Kaviza virtual desktops provided by Aberdean Consulting, to lower desktop operating costs while enabling truly anytime, anywhere secure remote access for our CPAs. Throughout the busy tax season, they will now be able to access their desktops from work and home."
Larger firms might also want to consider enhancing their virtual communications, as well. CPA Teri Kaye, a principal at Daszkal Bolton , is a big fan of videoconferencing.
"We have three main sites, and we've installed video conferencing in all three of our conference rooms so that now when we have cross-site meetings, it's like we're in the same room together," Kaye said. "This technology gives them the benefit of face-to-face communication without the hassles of travel between sites."
Mark Eiger , CPA, recommends syncing your mobile device with your desktop: "Use an automated scheduling system so that all calendars are updated simultaneously."
Automate, automate, automate
Craig Mason is systematizing more of his processes, including sales and new customer follow up. "It both saves time and makes sure I don't miss any steps."
Always shredding files? Eiger recommends a document destruction service.
"Shredding takes time, and is labor intensive; document destruction services will put a small console in your office, which you fill like a garbage can and then they empty it," Eiger said. "I love when someone else takes out the garbage."
Gail Rosen , CPA, is on a mission to replace snail mail with e-mail.
"We now send client billings through e-mail. Just pressing a button to send a bill is fast, efficient, and saves money on time, postage, and stationery. The trick will be getting people to recognize that it is a bill they are receiving and not to press delete," Rosen said.
"And we now send reminders for estimated taxes through the mail and this should be converted to e-mail. Many clients count on this mailing from us and I am scared of converting and someone missing a payment," Rosen added.
Is it time to stop wasting paper on tax returns? Eiger thinks so.
"As a courtesy, you should offer clients electronic or PDF copies of their tax returns as a courtesy. Less outgoing paper in the office saves time, money and trees," Eiger said.
Sometimes with technology, less is more. For example, Kaye's firm is in the process of reducing the number of billing codes in its time and billing system so that its CPAs can spend less time hunting down the right code.
Carla Yrjanson, CPA, vice president of Tax Research and Content Thomson Reuters , is going to set aside time in 2011 for uninterrupted, focused work.
"Between mobile phones, e-mail, social networks, blogs, instant messaging, and all the different communication media we are expected to manage, it seems that I am always being interrupted," Yrjanson said.
"While these communication platforms have their obvious benefits and it is how we disseminate our valuable research and tax information to our clients, the constant interruptions make it challenging to focus on the work at hand. So, in 2011, I will allocate specific time for uninterrupted, focused work, and specific time for responding to the various communication methods, Yrjanson said.
Daniel Markovitz, president of TimeBack Management , agrees with Yrjanson, and believes you can cut out interruptions without having a negative impact on your perceived responsiveness.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, clients don't want or need instant response to their e-mails. They want predictable response, within two hours, four hours, or by close of business. After all, if all you're offering is fast service, you'll eventually be replaced by someone in Mumbai or Shenzhen," Dan Markovitz said.
"Clients want you to solve their problems. They're paying you for your experience and judgment. They understand that takes some time, and they're willing to wait, and for the 1 percent of the time that they're calling you because the IRS is in their office, I promise you they won't send an e-mail. They will find you," Markovitz said.
Plan what you do
Howard M. Rosen, of Conner Ash P.C. , believes the trick isn't to better plan your time; it's to actually do what you plan to do.
"I divide my week into hours and then devote a given number of hours to each of my main tasks, including client service, marketing, firm administration, and HR," he said.
"One key for me is to leave a bucket of hours open for the unknown. There is always something that pops up that we do not anticipate. At the end of the week, look back to see if you have lived your plan. If not, either adjust the various targets or delegate tasks so that the targets can be met. Keep at it. Do this every week and you will become more efficient," he said.
Control the human element
Gail Rosen's top New Year's resolution is addition by subtraction: "Get rid of annoying and/or non-paying clients because they only take up time and energy, and collect more money at the time of service so we don't waste time and energy chasing clients for payment."
Daszkal Bolton has set up an online payment system, according to Kaye, so that clients can access their bills online and pay them faster.
Final holiday wish
"Now if Santa will just bring me an Android tablet, I am set," Rives added.
About the author:
Brett Owens is CEO and cofounder of Chrometa , a Sacramento, CA-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation, and improving personal productivity. Owens also is blogger and founder at CommodityBullMarket.com  and ContraryInvesting.com , as well as a regular contributor to two leading financial media sites, SeekingAlpha.com  and BeforeItsNews.com .