Tips on How Accountants Can Banish Clutter
Being organized is undoubtedly one of your strengths – otherwise, why would you enter this profession? In the life of an accountant, three of the biggest culprits to staying organized, when you are striving to do so, include junk mail, mismanaged reading, and other people’s clutter.
Eliminating Junk Mail
Even with the wondrous web, paper still plagues us all. Books on time management traditionally discuss how often to handle a piece of paper. Some say once; some say twice. It always depends on what the paper says. The ideal number of times to handle most pieces of paper is zero, by not receiving them in the first place!
When you make a purchase by web or by mail, your name can be sold and circulated to dozens of catalog houses. Even your state’s department of motor vehicles sells its list of licensed drivers to anyone with money.
In an era when each piece of hardcopy mail adds to environmental glut, it’s your civic duty, as well as an effective technique for achieving breathing space, to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. To trace who is selling your name, when you make a mail-order purchase or a donation, add a code to the end of your street address, such as “1A” or “2D.” Later, if you receive mail with your coded address, you know who sold your name to whom.
When making any mail-order purchase, feel free to mention or include a preprinted label that reads: “I don’t want my name placed on any mailing lists whatsoever, and forbid the use, sale, rental, or transfer of my name.”
Managing Your Reading
The typical professional faces one to four hours a day of job-related reading. Much of the reading is online, and much of it is not. With hardcopy items, if you can, read at a desk or table. Get paper, scissors, postage, and file folders ready. When you encounter something you choose to enter into your system, you can do so easily. If you’re reading on the web, take advantage of bookmarks or favorites to quickly save and store those items that merit a second look. And keep weeding out the excess.
While it might seem ruthless at first, tear out or copy only those pages of magazines, newsletters, and reports that currently appear important to you. Copy key pages from books. Get to the essence, which is all you are likely to retain and act upon anyway.
Practice skimming (reading the first sentence of each paragraph) and scanning (looking through the entire body of your material) to see which parts are important to you.
Delegate quantities of reading material to your staff at work. It won’t take more than 10 minutes of instruction and a few follow-up sessions for you to train others to quickly find and highlight topics and themes of interest to you. If you are reading the local newspaper because of some belief that you need to, or it is the thing to do, STOP. Only buy a copy when you choose to read it. Web versions are getting better all the time.
Dealing with Other People’s Clutter
While visiting someone else’s office, you notice reports and folders piled high and a desktop strewn with papers. Things are in disarray. You immediately know that you have little chance of being treated efficiently by this person. You don’t have the resources to straighten him out. Sometimes, of course, you have no choice but to deal with this person. God forbid, he or she may be your boss – or your spouse!
Andy is a young associate in a CPA firm. His job involves reporting to a boss who is hopelessly deluged with clutter. Andy knows that his boss’s job involves handling an endless stream of communication and paperwork. This boss’s office and desk, even in the age of the Internet, has many more stacks and piles than Andy has ever seen in one room.
Andy’s solution is ensuring that his submitted work will be easily found by buying a box of fire-engine-red report folders and always turning in his clearly labeled assignments in these folders. If his assignment is to be turned in via email, Andy sends a backup copy, purposely, to ensure that his work will be seen, and he uses the clearest-possible subject line.
When You Have a Choice
If you have the option, avoid dealing with clutter bugs – a decision you’ll have to face with increasing frequency as this era of too much information overcomes more people.
How do you declutter at work? At the bottom of this article, share some best practices or strategies you use.
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Jeff Davidson, a.k.a. “The Work-life Balance Expert”®, speaks to accounting firms and associations on increasing their work-life balance so they can be more productive and competitive, and still have a life away from work. He is the author of Everyday Project Management, Breathing Space, and Simpler Living. Visit breathingspace.com.