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12 Tips to Skyrocket Your Firm’s Productivity

May 24th 2018
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For accountants, who serve many clients and often work across multiple internal teams, the term ‘productivity’ could not be more critical for success.

Moreover, finding ways to increase productivity is especially important as many accountants and bookkeeper move from mundane processing tasks to higher-value advisory services. It also and particularly applies to complex accounting areas such as indirect tax where finding ways to be more efficient and effective are critical to master the complexity.

Plain and simple – productivity means getting more done with less. Automating repetitive processes and tasks is one way to accomplish more with less, i.e. increasing productivity is often a function of doing things differently.

Committing to productivity is also committing to a concerted effort to stay focused on your true priorities. Now that most CPAs are out of their traditional busy season, it’s the perfect time to focus on becoming more productive and less busy.

We’re laying out 12 actionable steps you can take today to prioritize what really matters to get more done in less time:

1. Prioritize your relationships

For me, productivity starts with a weekly checkup. As the founder of my business, I play a number of roles within the company (CEO, marketing, sales, HR, etc.) as well as outside the company (husband, father, son, brother, friend, philanthropist). To keep track, I keep a running list of roles (there are currently 28). Every Sunday night or Monday morning, I write down one thing I must do that week to maintain that role or relationship. This helps me see the bigger picture of my priorities as it relates to the relationships most important in my life. To me, that’s the essence of productivity.

2. Make your priorities actionable

Before looking at your overflowing inbox or getting lost in the daily grind, set aside time at the beginning of each week to prioritize your to-do list. Be sure to create action items for each task. The more granular, the better. If there’s anything time contingent, add the task to your calendar. Add everything else to a larger running to-do list. This will help you move through your days with intention rather than constantly playing catchup and questioning what should come first.

3. Get strategic with your schedule

This year, commit to scheduling your time more strategically. Easier said than done, right? For me personally, I organize commitments based on when I’m able to function at my peak – typically this means the morning – and practice time blocking (a method promising a 150 percent increase in productivity). The most pressing items on my list are always scheduled first thing when I can give my full focus and attention. Save tactical items (the ones that need to get done but require less focus) for the afternoons.

4. Protect your time – fiercely

Whether you use Google Calendar or like to kick it old school with pen and paper, get serious about protecting your time. I like to use Calendy for all of my appointment scheduling. The interface is smooth and integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar and Office 365 so you never get double-booked or overcommitted. Before accepting an invite for a meeting, ask yourself if the time spend will get you closer to your weekly goals. Be sure to schedule clear work-blocks to tackle your biggest priorities – and then guard them as if your business depends on it.

5. Reimagine your to-do lists

Find an incredible productivity tool you can stick with long term like Wunderlist, Taskly or my personal favorite Todoist, (*side note, they also happen to be one of our amazing clients*). Google just recently announced their new Google Task app, as well.  With all of today’s incredible technology, there is no reason to be scribbling your tasks on pen and paper only to lose it within a day. There is a time and a place for scribbling – your important to-dos are not it. With Todoist, you can access your list across 10+ platforms, collaborate with your team on shared tasks, and quickly add to-dos on-the-go from your mobile device. Easy – as it should be.

6. Find a mind dump

Juggling all of the thoughts that come up on a daily basis can be a challenge to say the least. For your bigger picture goals and ideas, lock down a tool that will serve as your personal mind dump. I use Evernote and truly consider it my second brain – the one that never forgets. I use the app to store notes, ideas, dreams, random thoughts, and more. Having it all in one place prevents me from wasting time searching for that random sticky note in my desk drawer.

6. Cut down on car time

When commuting to work or traveling through the city to client meetings, it is a serious factor to consider. Like many others, I use Waze as my preferred navigation tool. But I don’t just use it to figure out how to get places I’ve never been before, I use it ALL OF THE TIME.  Why?  Because I want to know the most efficient route possible to save time. I also love using Waze’s “Go Later” feature that tells me exactly what time I need to leave to be somewhere right on time. It’s easily one of my most used apps.

7. Use your commute wisely

Speaking of optimizing your commute, why not use the time to learn something new? Podcasts are an excellent, hands-free option that stimulate new ideas and keep our mind fresh. A few of my personal favorites: Tim Ferris, WorkLife, Freakonomics, Cloud Accounting Weekly, and How I Built This. Along with podcasts, I’m also averaging about one business book a month listening to Audible. Like I said, we have pretty terrible traffic so I’ve got a decent amount of time on my hands!

8. Enroll for TSA PreCheck

If you’re a frequent flyer, enrolling in TSA PreCheck is a no-brainer. Think of it as your fast-pass through the biggest airport headaches, like security. Ask anyone who’s currently using PreCheck – it’s a total game changer. Just think…no more taking off your shoes or sifting through your bag for liquids. You are automatically eligible if you pay $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA PreCheck only. If you want to pass through security even faster than TSA PreCheck check out CLEAR.  What’s more valuable that getting back some of your own time?

9. Upgrade your team communication tool

Rather than cluttering up your email inbox with quick questions and correspondence, use a direct message system. Slack is completely critical to our team’s internal communication process. Slack users can even make voice or video calls directly within the app. Our team comes first, and Slack helps us prioritize that internal communication. It’s the one internal tool that our team would throw a mutiny if we were to get rid of it. 

Zoom is a great web conferencing tool we use for to bring our team together over video so that we can be face-to-face virtually, instead of juggling so many logistics and schedules to host an in office meetings.  Google just announced that their more robust Hangout Meets will replace their older Hangouts video which should make video meetings even more common within accounting practices.  Video conferencing has been a tremendous productivity tool within our firm.

10. Be transparent

Is everyone inside of your accounting practice always on the same page?  Of course not.  But when team members are unclear about what the firm’s goals are and what role they play in achieving those goals, you end up with a recipe for lost productivity. We use a strategic planning methodology called OKRs (“Objectives and Key Results”).  Everyone in the firm participates and plays a part in our planning and all goals and results are completely clear to everyone. 

While the primary goal of our OKRs is to improve our firm’s performance through specific goal achievement, it also functions as an alignment tool.  When our goals and priorities are transparent to everyone, our teams are clear on what initiatives are most important.  And when they have that clarity, the organization has must less non-productive activity.  As your own accounting practice grows, you’ll need to be more and more transparent with your team so that everyone is aligned.

11. Embrace automation

Too many accountants and bookkeepers are worrying about whether the robots are coming to take their jobs.  What they should be doing is embracing new tools and automation to make their practices more efficient.  Most accountants I speak with have started moving toward cloud-based software, but often they’re not maximizing their capabilities. 

Both Xero and QuickBooks Online have rules you can create to automate transaction categorization and eliminate manual data entry. Hubdoc automatically fetches bank statements and uploads documents into accounting systems for you using object character recognition.  Avalara can automate a huge portion of your tax compliance. These are just a few automation tools available to accountants, but each of them can help save a significant amount of time for your practice so that your team can focus on more strategic issues for clients.

12. Get rid of the old

Author Jocelyn K. Glei says it best, “Productivity is really what you don’t do.” One of the most critical aspects of working efficiently revolves around getting rid of what no longer works for you. Make a list of the processes, tools and habits that DIDN’T work and set up a strategic game plan for eliminating them. Again, this plan needs to be actionable. Set measured goals and completion dates right from the start.

Final Thoughts

This year, what does being productive mean to you and your firm? For me, it means prioritizing what actually matters to live a fuller, more balanced life. This sort of laser focus keeps me calm and in control, no doubt benefiting my relationships and my practice.

Any can’t-live-without productivity tools or processes I missed? Feel free to comment below – we’re always on the lookout for the best business tools on the market.

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