Before we enter the realm of strategy, efficiency, and all that lovely productivity jazz (although it is essential jazz that we definitely will get to), we need to figure out where you’re starting from. So let’s do a little self-assessment, shall we?
A quick exercise: Plot out what you get done today, with the rough amount of time that each task took you. Break each task down as far as possible and be as accurate as you can. Throughout the next week, note down every task (no matter how small) you complete, and the time it takes you to do it. At the end of the week, see what your key takeaways are. Highlight which tasks you have to do repeatedly. Assess which tasks are taking more time than they should be.
If it’s taking up too much of your time, can you:
- Stop doing it?
- Automate it?
- Delegate it?
- Refine your process?
We’ve elaborated on how to take each of the above steps in more detail in the linked blogs, so we’d recommend deep-diving into those. For quick fixes or the final oiling of the machine, once those bigger issues are straightened out, it’s time to take a look at your efficiency and productivity in a broader sense.
Spend more time - wait, what?
Sometimes, counterintuitively, you have to invest more time, to be more time-efficient (figure that). A significant drain on time and productivity develops from employees simply not knowing what they’re doing. 71% of employees feel their manager doesn’t spend enough time explaining tasks, plans, and goals.
- Thumbs will twiddle because they don’t have a clear list of things to do - resulting in a huge loss of time.
- Work will be done, that completely misses its mark. Without clarity, it’s likely that heaps of great work will be done, that’s completely unnecessary.
Manager or employee, this is an issue of two sides - a lack of explanation and lack of questioning. The result? Managers with unmet and unattainable standards and employees who’re not only feeling unsure of what they’re meant to be doing, but also feeling distant from the goals and aims of their organization (and therefore unmotivated).
Say you brief a team of ten people, only three people will feel confident to leave the room and turn your discussion into action, and that’s not enough. Especially in an organization where so many of your team members are front-facing, everybody needs to be on the same page.
Define roles and processes
To ensure everybody’s running on the right track, you’ll need to make sure everybody knows exactly what they’re responsible for. When the lines of responsibility are hazy or full of gaps, you’re likely to lose things - the “that’s not my responsibility” lines start creeping in. Not good.
Having defined processes is also a large part of this and gives your team a functional way of working, which allows them to maximize their best ability. With every cog set in place, you can ensure that no job will be left blocked, unfinished or fallen between the gaps.
Find new solutions
On a personal level, a part of this may be delegating more of your tasks to your team or finding a solution that will make your work faster. For example, investing in automation systems that can build forecasts and reports for you. It’ll free up more of your time to dedicate to some of the more important or innovative goals you haven’t had time for in the past.
Besides automation, handy tech functions will take other monotonous tasks away. Create default templates for your reports and your dashboards. Ensure your tech has the ability to fill and sync these automatically, to clear another job off your plate.
One of the biggest challenges facing the accountancy sector today is the concept of ‘proactivity’. 44% of business’s top complaint about their accountant is about their lack of proactivity. So, harnessing tech that can send you alerts provides a simple solution. Futrli, for example, allows you to set variables around your client’s financial or non-financial data to notify you when something’s heading south. Practical, timely information for your client, with little work for you.
Here’s a fun bit. How do you get your team working to their best? Forcibly squeezing every last drop of effort out of them is inefficient and honestly, not very nice. But, encouraging your team to make the most of their time is simple if they’re motivated about the work that they’re doing.
Keep your team in the loop
Host firm-wide meetings to get everybody up to speed on anything exciting that’s going on. Booked tickets for an accountancy event? Great! Had a record-breaking month? Perfect! Something not looking so good? It’s better to talk about it than let the air go stale. Share with your team and create a culture that proves to them that they’re a big part of the company.
Celebrate your team’s success and they’ll be far more likely to repeat good performances in the future. Plan a fun team day, or simply create a reward system. Thank a team member at a monthly team meeting or create a shoutout board. Positive feedback will go a long way at keeping team morale up, and a healthy dose of competition can create some great results too.
Feed it back
Equally, when something’s not so good, talk about that! Your team will be grateful for constructive feedback. They want to progress and improve as much, if not more than you want them to. They’ll value your investment into helping them grow, and you’ll be able to shape them to fit your firm. And you’ll get to see them grow which is pretty great too.
Before we even begin talking about productivity, let’s get the obvious out of the way.
Stop multitasking. Take breaks. Start saying no.
Happy? Checked off? Good, let’s move on.
Having a good ol’ plan
There are hundreds of ways you can go about building your strategies and plans. We imagine you already have your favorite ways of doing things. But, it’s worth trying a few out and seeing which systems suit you and your business best. Maybe your firm can’t plan too far ahead, so creating three-month plans is more practical than six-month plans. Do some experimenting.
Similarly with your day-to-day planning. Would you benefit from an hour-by-hour schedule? Or, do you need to give yourself goals for the week, with no particular emphasis on when each task gets done? These are all things for you to try out, to discover what works best for you.
One of our favorite get-stuff-done strategies is the 1-3-5 to-do list. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a good starting point to see how you can best optimize your days. This framework highlights the importance of balancing your output of large, medium and small tasks. So, every day, try to achieve one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks. Note: include things like meetings as tasks, if a substantial portion of your day is booked up, you can’t expect the same output of work as a meeting-free day.
Our top tips for boosting your productivity:
- Get the boring/difficult tasks done first. Not only are you more productive earlier on in the day, but you’re also far more likely to stay motivated if you’re looking forward to easier or more exciting tasks later. This is a great cure for procrastination.
- Get a notebook. When random spurts of inspiration or a jarring reminder about something you need to remember appear, you’ll need somewhere to record them. Have a notebook on hand. These ideas can often lead you down paths far away from the work you were originally doing, so writing them down ensures that you can stay focused without losing those ideas.
- Always break down your large projects into smaller tasks. Having ‘Onboard new client’ on your to-do list is too vague, and too overwhelming. Break it down into smaller tasks. You’ll be much more efficient, and your to-dos will look far less daunting.
- Don’t keep your email tab open. It’s a bad habit - we all do it. But having that blinking tab at the top of your screen is too much of a temptation. Try to only check your email at specific times of the day (we recommend trying to keep it to as few as 4-5 times if you can) and record the main action items from your emails into your to-dos, to be actioned by priority, when it fits into your timetable. Don’t try and jump on every task as it comes through the door.
- Create cookie-cutter responses (unfortunately, cookies not included). Using canned, default responses for the messages you have to send regularly can save you a lot of time. For obvious reasons, this needs to be controlled and used sparingly (your clients will notice if you always reply with the same two sentences) but building yourself a template, at the very least, will allow you to stop wasting valuable time creating the same niceties from scratch, multiple times a day.
In an industry where we’re quite literal with saying that time is money, optimizing your day to day tasks can make the world of difference to the quality of your services, the happiness of your team, and the number on your bottom line. Some processes will take time and effort to rewrite, some systems will take dedication to implement but, in the end, it will all contribute to your performance and the success of your clients.