As a tax and accounting professional, making your working hours more productive can not only help you get more done - it can help you grow your business, better plan your days, and work more efficiently. Many of us know the general idea of increasing productivity: Don’t waste time, see a task through to completion, and avoid distractions.
Productivity sometimes takes place at the expense of wellbeing. Consistently long hours crunching numbers might enable you to get more done, but may leave you feeling exhausted and actually lead to underperformance. There’s a better, more balanced way.
With these productivity tips for accounting professionals, you can work smarter, not harder. Keep reading to discover how you can get more done at work without burning the midnight oil and sacrificing your much-needed downtime.
Come Up With a Daily Plan
For the most productivity, every workday should have a plan. If you try to develop a plan first thing in the morning, you’ll end up spending valuable time just mapping out a game plan. Instead, CPA David Almonte says the best time to create a plan is at the end of the workday.
Not only will this simple action give you a clear direction for the upcoming day, but it also takes into account what you were able to complete and cross off your to-do list today. By planning ahead and deciding what tasks have priority tomorrow, you reduce work-related stress and prepare yourself practically and mentally for the day ahead. Over time, planning ahead will encourage you to dedicate time to specific, prioritized tasks rather than any task that is in front of you.
Put It Into Action
During the last 15 minutes of your work day, spend some time making a plan for tomorrow. What tasks have priority? What deadlines are approaching? What would you like to get done if you have time leftover?
Create Time Blocks
With a daily plan to follow, the next step to increasing your productivity is blocking off time to dedicate to specific tasks. Creating time blocks will ensure you don’t spend too much time on any one task while helping you stick to a focused schedule that works for you.
Some recurring tasks, like checking email and managing invoices, are endless. There’s always more to do, but not enough hours in the day. If you create a time block dedicated to recurring tasks, you can focus your attention to them for a period of time, then get back to other essential tasks when that time block ends.
Time blocking is a form of the Pomodoro technique, a productivity-boosting method invented by Frances Cirillo in the 1980s. The technique is named after Cirillo’s preferred Pomodoro tomato timer used in the method. The Pomodoro technique dictates that you work in small 15-60 minute sprints rather than completing a task in one sitting. Not only can this help you make the most of your time, but it can also aid you in being more purposeful about your work.
The Pomodoro technique involves a short, 5-minute break after each productive time block. You might work on a longer task for several short bursts, taking a break in between each. You might dedicate just one “Pomodoro” - the brief working period plus 5-minute break - to a task like checking email, then move onto another task. The technique describes taking a longer break (20 minutes or so) after 4 Pomodoros to reap the best benefits.
By assigning dedicated time to prioritize and work on tasks, you reduce distractions, increase efficiency, and allow yourself time to recharge in between each time block.
Put It Into Action
This is how you can start time blocking with the Pomodoro technique:
Decide what task you’ll work on
Set a timer (or use a Pomodoro timer app) for 15-60 minutes, depending on the task
Work steadily on the task until the time is up
Take a 5 minute break
Repeat the timer and 5 minute break
For longer tasks, take an extended break after 4 Pomodoros
There are several Pomodoro timer apps that can help you put the Pomodoro technique into action easily. Check out PomoDone ($2.29/month), Focus Booster (free), Focus Keeper (free), or Focus-To-Do (free) to start tracking your time blocks and boost your productivity.
Pay Attention to Your Work Habits
There are periods throughout the day when you’ll be more productive. Those time periods are different for every accounting professional, but paying attention to your usual working habits can help you accomplish more in those highly productive periods.
Using your natural working habits to your advantage will not only enable you to get more done, but it will also make the day flow more naturally for you. Think of it as swimming with the current rather than against it. Let the current of your naturally productive periods carry you instead of forcing yourself to get things done at an inopportune time.
Put It Into Action
To get the best sense of when you’re naturally most productive, enlist the help of a time-tracking app like Harvest or Toggl. You’ll be able to get a clear, data-based picture of the times of day where you have a heightened drive or ability to get things done. Your most productive times might surprise you!
If you find yourself checking off multiple items from your to-do list before 10AM, schedule your most intensive tasks during this time period. If you’re most alert and “in the zone” in the late afternoon, plan your day accordingly.
One Thing at a Time
Giving each task you’re responsible for your full attention will also help you increase your productivity. In the multitasking culture we live in today, we often reward ourselves and others for taking on as much work as possible. While it might seem like multitasking increases productivity, multiple studies have found that the opposite is true.
Even if you feel you accomplish more when you juggle two or more tasks at once, your brain is only capable of giving full attention to one task at a time. If you want to get more done at work, you should reduce the number of things you’re giving attention to at once.
Put It Into Action
Focus on one task at a time to finish it faster and more efficiently. If you’re prone to distraction, consider turning off your phone notifications, avoid checking your email excessively, and try to see a task through to completion. If you can’t finish a task, plan how long you will dedicate to it and stick to it. When the 15 or 30 minute period is up, move on to the next task on your list.
Keep To-Dos Together
If you’re tracking some tasks mentally, others in an app, and some in a spreadsheet, it’s easy for things to get lost in the sauce. Keeping up with multiple to-do lists will hamper your productivity and leave you at risk for forgetting deadlines, appointments, and recurring tasks.
Everyone has a different preference for tracking a to-do list, so consider what works best for you and keep it all together.
Put It Into Action
Avoid trying to track your to-dos mentally. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget important tasks, especially during the busy tax season. If you’ve found a great app that helps you keep your list organized and updated, stick with it and move all your upcoming tasks there. If you prefer an old-fashioned notebook approach, keep it with you during working hours and keep the list updated. After all, is there any better feeling that crossing an item off your to-do list?
If you’re looking for an intuitive to-do list app that enables you to keep your upcoming deadlines and tasks together while integrating with other tools you use, try nTask, Todoist, Any.do, or ToodleDo.
Being a more productive accounting professional starts with being purposeful about your time. Productivity doesn’t have to mean longer hours, more stress, and an increased workload. Come up with a daily plan, create time blocks, pay attention to your work habits, focus on one task at a time, and track your upcoming tasks in one accessible place.
Apply these productivity tips to your professional life to get more done with less effort and experience the satisfaction of an efficiently managed workday.