Time management is one of those areas where there is a ton of advice, but not a lot of specific action items to follow. Here are 21 proven time management tips for busy accountants – just like me and you.
#1: Create a generic calendar to organize your time based on six major areas of your life. In The One Minute Millionaire, Robert Allen and Mark Hansen state the purpose is to learn how millionaires think from one minute to the next, so if you learn to think more like a millionaire, guess what will happen? In that generic calendar, you are going to outline your entire life according to the next six areas.
#2: Body – Keep a steady workout routine. For effective time management, I put my workouts on my calendar, just like I would set an appointment with a client. These are appointments with myself. Now, there is no question about when I’m going and whether I have time.
#3: Mind – Set aside time each day to feed your mind. For example, I have two-hour blocks of time on my calendar for “reading time.” This is when I am busy absorbing content, instead of creating it. During this time, I read books. Also, I have a Feedly account, where I’ve linked up feeds to my favorite online publications. In addition, every morning I read The Wall Street Journal online.
#4: Spirit – Quiet your mind. If you are religiously inclined, that’s great, but you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. Plain and simple, on your mobile device, search and install the app for Calm.com. You can meditate for 10 minutes per day. I am up to 30 minutes, twice per day, when I am in my routine. This centers me, and like so many other things I am talking about here, centering myself dramatically improves my time management.
#5: Time – Organize your time. It’s difficult to improve time management without setting aside the time to do it. I’ve set my Chrome browser to always open my calendar when I start Chrome. The first thing I do each day is look at my calendar to see what I’ve got going on.
#6: People – Set aside time each day for the important people in your life. I use Nimble CRM because among other things, it has a feature where I can mark people for follow up. I do this with friends and family, just like I do with colleagues. I mark all of the important people in my life for follow up. Every morning, as I am looking at my calendar, Nimble is also open by default. I look at my “people to stay in touch with.” Many times, the follow up is a very quick, “Hey let’s make plans.”
#7: Money – Establish your “working” hours. My working day is the time I spend on billable work, even though I don’t bill by the hour anymore. I just call that time “billable work” for reference. This is established on my calendar as 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Of course, there are many days when I let that bleed into my reading time, which is from 4-6 p.m. I am working on correcting that because when I allow that to happen, I am not moving myself closer to my goals. Instead, I’m moving closer to burnout, which takes me further away from my goals.
#8: Keep the calendar open and the email closed. This is so incredibly important for good time management. Email is one of the biggest distractions that kills efforts at better time management. The calendar, by contrast, helps me stay incredibly focused. All I have to do at any time during the day is look at my calendar to see if what I am doing in the moment is what is on my calendar. If not, it’s time to shift gears immediately and focus. With Google calendar, there is a line that shows you exactly where you are (supposed to be) in your day, based on what time it is.
#9: Balance is the key to the foundation of time management; the better balanced, the more productive. Much of the tips that follow are actually about balance, more so than time management tips. The point is that when I am balance how I spend my time, I am 1,000 times more productive. Good balance, in turn, improves time management.
#10: Live by your calendar. Everything must go on my calendar. This is time management at its core. If it isn’t on my calendar, it isn’t getting done. It’s that simple.
#11: Use a project management application (ActiveCollab). There are many programs out there, and many of them are very good. I’ve chosen ActiveCollab as my primary, but for certain things, I find Smartsheet works better.
#12: Use a simple To Do List. (Wunderlist). Most project management tools are way too much, when all I need is to bang out a simple to-do list. Wunderlist is … well … wonderful!
#13: Use Digital Sticky Notes (Google Keep). This might be overkill when you are already using a project management tool and a to-do list, but there are some things that this just works really well for. Example: My garbage is picked up every Tuesday. On Monday nights, I have a note in Google Keep that reminds me to take the garbage out. Otherwise, there have been Tuesday mornings when I hear the trucks coming and it’s a mad dash to get the cans out on the street. Google Keep also has Geo location-based reminders. I don’t know of any other tool that has that.
#14: Get plenty of rest. This goes back to balance. When I rest, I am 10 times more productive and get things done in a fraction of the time. As I have made myself more aware of these things, I have seen a definite correlation between how well rested I am and how focused I am. When I am unfocused, I lose a lot of time because I am easily distracted. When I rest, I have great focus and I am less prone to distractions. This dramatically improves my time management.
#15: Set your Do Not Disturb (DND) hours. My mobile device automatically goes into DND mode from 8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. The only people getting through to me during those hours are my wife and my parents.
#16: Establish flat rate pricing. What does this have to do with saving time? It’s simple. I am 1,000 times more relaxed when working this way. I don’t worry about the client getting the bill and getting paper shock. The more relaxed mindset has definitely contributed to increased productivity and efficiency. In short, I get more done in less time and the client knows exactly what it will cost. Everybody wins!
#17: Fill up your toolbox with apps. Apps increase efficiency and save time. When you look into a toolbox, you know what the wrench does and what a Phillips-head screwdriver is for. Well, apps are the same thing. You find an app that solves a problem. Sometimes, you have two different apps that can do many of the same things, but in one situation, one works better than the other, and vice versa. The more tools you have at your disposal, the more efficiently you can work – and that saves time.
#18: Set a goal and make sure it is visible all day. This keeps me focused and helps me better manage my time.
#19: Walk away every two hours. Some say you should do this more often, but I’ve found my sweet spot to be every two hours, a long-enough block of time for me to get something meaningful done. Walking away clears my head. I work at home, so I can take my dogs out for a bit, or call someone and talk about non-work related stuff. I return refreshed, and once again, I am getting more done in much less time because I have extreme focus.
#20: Block out time for emails and phone calls. Who is in charge of what you’re doing? You, or your clients? I hope you answered with a resounding, “I AM!” When I have my email closed, as was suggested above, I get SO much more done. I follow up on all of my emails at once. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, talks about setting aside two times per day to check your emails. It’s hard to discipline yourself to do something like that, but the reward for it is immense. If you’re really worried, you can set up an autoresponder that lets people know when you’ll be checking your emails, and offers that they should call if they need something immediately.
#21: The three sentences rule. Write your emails in no more than three sentences. If you can’t fit it into three sentences, pick up the phone. The illusion is that phone calls eat up too much time. Wrong. Email takes up too much time. Get on the phone, or better yet, use Zoom.us for a video conference. Take notes while you’re on the phone, and outline the discussion. Any of the applications I mentioned above make this note taking very easy to do and easy to read. Then, share your notes with the person who was on the other end of the line and continue the discussion via comments in the app you’re using.
Many professionals have their own systems set up to save time or get more done in their day. If these techniques and processes are working for you, then that’s great. If not, and you are suffering from too many interruptions or too much on your to-do list, then it’s time for a change.
For more on Seth’s 21 proven time management tips for busy accountants, watch the video below.