Jason Deshayes, CPA, CGMA, hit his limit in 2014. As tax season blew through his small Albuquerque firm like a dust storm, he worked almost every waking hour. His wife and infant son were largely left to fend for themselves. “This year I made it a point to say, ‘That’s not going to happen,’” he said.
Deshayes, vice president of Butler and Company CPAs and a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy, faced a problem familiar to many accountants: poor time management.
Common issues with time management include giving too much priority to phone calls and emails, failing to delegate, managing client expectations poorly, or focusing on immediate work while neglecting long-term goals. Fortunately, these problems have solutions.
For Deshayes, the answer was to leave his office at a reasonable hour on weekdays and limit weekend work—even during peak season. “I would get home at 5 or 5:15, have dinner, get my son to bed, and then I’d work at home for the rest of the night,” he said.
Whether you work in public accounting or business and industry, it’s crucial to develop strategies that give you enough time to take care of your most important work, your loved ones, and yourself. Here are a few of the best:
One technique time-management coach and author Elizabeth Saunders recommended is to set priorities after creating a comprehensive list of all the work on your plate. Acknowledge all of your top projects while giving yourself permission to focus on just three to five in any given week, she said.
Learning to do just that has helped Michael Elliott, CPA, a partner with Dittrick and Associates in the Cleveland area and a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. Like Deshayes, he is married with a young child, and has another on the way. “My wife has to listen to me go home every night and say, ‘I didn’t get anything done!’” he said. “She’d say, ‘Well, did you make a list?’” Simply writing out his top priorities for the week, Elliott said, has helped him get a better handle on his work.
Delegating work can also help you focus on the important stuff. Deshayes, who acknowledged being “a little bit of a control freak,” used to handle all of his own appointment scheduling and travel booking. Since his administrative assistant took charge of these tasks, he has seen improvements in both his work and personal life. He returns home from business trips earlier and now has more time to help his firm grow.
Block out time for long-term or recurring tasks.
Work that doesn’t rack up billable hours immediately, such as business development, refining the pricing structure, and hiring new staff members, can be easy to neglect. “If you keep telling yourself, ‘Oh, Friday afternoon I’m going to do this,’ it’s going to keep getting pushed back,” Saunders said. “But if you say, ‘Every Tuesday morning I’m going to spend an hour on business development,’ you’re a lot more likely to make progress.” Elliott said he blocks out designated times on his calendar for his nuts-and-bolts administrative duties to ensure he makes progress on them.
Use technology to organize your time—and don't let it waste your time.
Computers and smartphones can be useful time-management tools. Deshayes uses Microsoft OneNote to organize his ideas and projects. Saunders uses Evernote for that purpose and Google Calendar for task management, while recommending the Things app to iPhone users for more immediate tasks. Many of her clients recommend Wunderlist for task management.
Be sure to keep technology from becoming a distraction, though. Saunders recommended turning off pop-up email notifications and scheduling two or three blocks of time a day to answer emails and phone calls. That’s a technique that has worked well for Victor Amaya, CPA, a partner with ClearPath Accountants in the Denver area and a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. “We usually tell our clients that they should expect an answer within 24 hours during the off season and within 48 hours during peak time,” he said.
And remember that most issues can wait a day or so. As Deshayes put it, there are very few “accounting emergencies.”
Eddie Huffman is a freelance writer based in Burlington, N.C.
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