Organization hacks for overworked accountants
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like busy season is all year long. Between work, kids and laundry, and keeping up with the latest Avengers movie, so many of us are overwhelmed by long hours and the stress of ever-changing to-do lists. If this sounds familiar, here are a few ways to reset and reorganize.
Track your time
I know, I know … everyone is telling us to step away from time tracking. Here’s my take on this: it’s the ONE resource we all have the same amount of, so it’s important to see how we’re using it. Being more efficient with your time starts with being acutely aware of how you spend it. When are you most productive? When are you most likely to get distracted? How much time do you spend sorting emails? How much time do you spend on deliverables? You may have a good idea, but probably aren’t exactly sure. With the help of a time-tracking app, or even old-fashioned paper and pencil, you can find out.
Twice a year, my partner and I spend a month tracking our time. If a month seems too onerous to you, consider spending a week keeping a time-spent journal. Each day, record what you do and when. A digital time-tracking system, such as TSheets by QuickBooks®, allows you to tap in and out to mark your start and stop of time of various tasks. This app even syncs with your calendar and GPS to shorten your input time, and then produces a time-spent report at the end of the day.
If you’re using pen and paper, just make a note of how much time you spent on each item of your to-do list. Be sure to add items that weren’t originally on your list if you spent time working on them during the day.
No matter how you track, the real game changer will be when you identify distractions, time wasters and any areas of improvement that you can capitalize on.
Be proactive, not reactive
After tracking your time, you’ll see patterns in how you spend your days. You already knew you were working long hours, but to see that most of them are spent sitting in meetings or handling hundreds of emails can be shocking. So, make a change. If your inbox is overwhelming, organize it. Start by cutting the sheer volume of emails you receive by unsubscribing from anything that you don’t regularly read – even if you wish you could, or intended to. To help you with that, the free service Unroll.Me will generate a master list of all your email subscriptions and then allow you to unsubscribe from any of them with a single click. For subscriptions you choose to maintain, you’re given the option to continue receiving emails from each sender directly in your inbox, or to bundle those emails into a daily roll up.
If email isn’t your only digital distraction, consider an app like Silent Time. It automatically silences your phone based on your weekly schedule, allowing you to periodically work without any interruption. Don’t worry about missing an important call – the app allows users to set exceptions and then have the option to silence them with an easy-to-access Quick Quiet widget.
If you feel overwhelmingly busy all day and go home wondering why you got nothing done, you’ve got a problem: you think everything on your to-do list is equally important. It’s not. Try not to confuse activity for accomplishment. Even if everything on your to-do list eventually needs to get done, to actually achieve your end goals you have to do more than put out fires (aka focus on busy work) throughout the day. So, prioritize your time. Start by using the 1-3-5 model.
The 1-3-5 model works like this: assume you can only accomplish one big thing, three medium things and five small things in any given workday. Now, look at your long to-do list and choose nine corresponding items. In the beginning, you may want to leave one or two items blank in preparation for unexpected tasks. Then, get to work. If something unexpected pops up, determine its level of priority and then add it to the list (but only if it fills in a blank or bumps out another task that can be pushed to the following day). By forcing yourself to abide by this prioritization guide, you’ll finish the day feeling satisfied, instead of just tired out on being busy.
If it needs to be done, put it on your calendar. If you want to make sure you do it, put it on your calendar. If you have an idea for a blog post, put it on your calendar so that it gets written. Add your workouts to your calendar – and add time to shower after! Obvious things like paying personal bills? Add them to your calendar. This assures that you won’t get sidetracked with other things, and for those of you that have a difficult time saying no to every commitment asked of you, this gives you a reason: I have something scheduled for that time.
Give yourself permission
I hate grocery shopping. I find it to be one of the most inefficient, yet necessary tasks. We have to touch the groceries so many times: to put them in the cart, take them out of the cart, put them in bags and back in the cart, put the bags in the car, take the bags into the house, then put the groceries away. GAHHH. The best thing I ever did was tell myself that it’s okay for me to just start ordering my groceries to be delivered. My time is better spent – either making money working or doing something that I enjoy.
It’s okay to step away from work – whether it’s emails or laundry – and take a break. A few weeks ago, I found myself with a day that had no deadlines and no appointments. You know what I did? I have NO IDEA. I honestly cannot remember what I did, but I’m pretty sure whatever it happened to be was blissfully relaxing.
So, give yourself permission to slow down, relax and not be running at 90 miles an hour, 100% of the time. We’re accounting professionals, folks: no one’s life depends on what we do.