As things are starting to get busier around the office, many CPAs find themselves struggling with their own time management. As we get deeper into busy season, things inevitably get more stressful, so how do you keep yourself productive and maintain your sanity through it all? We’ve put together some tips and strategies to help you keep your edge during the stress of the season and stay on track with your clients.
Make sure to take regular breaks. Studies have shown people have higher performance when they take regular breaks to recharge. So mosey over to the break room and grab a piece of fruit. Or strike up a conversation with a coworker about the game last night. Even a five to ten minute walk around the block can be a total game changer, when you’ve been staring at a computer screen till your eyes go blurry. Are there stairs in your building? Grab a buddy, ride the elevator down and walk back up to the office. Try to take at least a ten minute break every 2-3 hours. It really might make all the difference.
Make a to-do list. Lists are great motivators… and oh-so-satisfying when you get to cross something off. Put together a list of everything you need to get done that day, then shuffle things around in order of priority and/or chronology. That way, you make sure to get to the most crucial or time sensitive items first, and alleviate that panicked stress toward the end of the day. It can be helpful to put the most difficult or daunting items first on your list to get them out of the way before the inevitable daily distractions creep in. Some people find it works best for them to make the following day’s list at the end of each day. Others find the time during the morning commute, while checking emails. Whichever way works for you— making a list is the best way to maintain your focus when things get majorly busy.
Set specific times to respond to emails… and stick to it. Emails can be incredibly distracting. Just as you’re responding to one, you see another and bounce around your inbox, never quite catching up. And between your computer and your smartphone, let’s face it, most of us are never far from our inbox. So make a pledge to only check your inbox at, say, three regular intervals. Maybe first thing in the morning, an hour before lunch and an hour before you go home for the day. This can be part of your daily routine/schedule so you can focus better on your work and be in the moment of whatever project you’re working on, while still staying connected. If you can, try turning off your smartphone notifications during the day, so you don’t find yourself distracted by the pings and dings each time a new email comes in.
Call people, instead of emailing them. We’re living in more and more of a text-driven world. With smartphones, people often text instead of calling. And emails often seem easier than calling the person. And, indeed, sometimes they are. Especially if you’re communicating with a group of people. But if it’s just one person, calling them on the phone can save you a ton of time, rather than emailing back and forth a dozen times. A quick one minute conversation on the phone can often cover the same amount of information as fifteen minutes emailing back and forth. So the next time you need to coordinate one on one with an associate, try picking up the phone to save yourself a little time.
Refuel with healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up. When things get busy, we often reach for a “quick” snack. And that usually entails a bag of chips, or a candy bar— something we can have on hand in our desk that we can eat without really thinking about it. But with a minor amount of planning ahead, you could actually feed yourself some good old “brain food” and keep your energy levels high. No more afternoon sugar crash. Bring a couple pieces of fruit to work at the beginning of the week. Or keep a jar of peanut butter in your drawer. Or a bag of almonds. Hard boil a few eggs on Sunday night and keep them in the fridge at work. All easy options, and after a week of grabbing something healthy instead of something packed with sugar, you will definitely notice some major results in your energy levels.
Delegate. This one’s pretty straight forward, and yet so often overlooked. A lot of people get so bogged down on all the things they need to get done, they often forget that it’s okay to ask for help. When you start a new project, try to take a step back and look at the big picture. Think of all the steps involved in the process, and determine which ones you can delegate to someone else. Then make plans to do so. This will save you a ton of time in the long run, rather than getting to the point of being “in over your head” and frantically asking for help at the last minute.
Keep your work space organized. This goes for both your desk and your computer. When emails come in, immediately sort them into folders, by client or by action. Or better yet, set up “rules” in Outlook to automatically have these emails sort themselves. This way you won’t be re-reading irrelevant emails when you search for something on a certain project. This goes for your desk as well. Try to deal with paperwork as it comes, rather than letting it stack up. Maintain a good filing system. This way, when you’re looking for a specific piece of paperwork, you won’t have to sift through a million pieces of paper that have nothing to do with what you’re working on.
Make sure your calendar has all your crucial deadlines. Put all the major tax deadlines on your outlook calendar and link it to your phone calendar. You can even set up reminders a few days ahead of time, so you don’t lose track. We’ve made it easy for you and created a downloadable tax deadline calendar. You can get it here. Some people respond to more in-your-face motivations, so try putting up a whiteboard in your office with major deadlines listed. Then cross them off as you go.