To quote a vintage Rolling Stones’ song … time is on your side. You just need to know how to find it and use it to your advantage.
Who wouldn’t want more time in the day? Time management is one of those tasks that, on the surface, seems easy … but if you’re juggling a full workload, personal commitments, and still want to have time for a “life,” how is it possible to squeeze more time in your day?
There are quite a few ways to manage your time. Whole books have been written on this topic, while simple Internet searches yield so much material that reading even the top results will put you further behind. One of the more popular pieces advises to plan only 50 percent or less of your actual schedule (LocalCareer.com). The rationale is that with just half of your time planned, you will have the flexibility to handle interruptions and unplanned client, employer or personal crises.
Sounds great, but how can you tell your manager, director, or even convince yourself that you need to leave half of your time open during the workday for unplanned matters? Short of working until midnight every night, what you need to do is find various ways to either get ahead of your schedule or manage the time you actually have in smarter ways.
What’s your biggest time challenge? Most of us fall into one of two categories: Those who try to do too much and those who can’t seem to focus long enough on any one matter to get anything done. As a CPA, you obviously have the ability to focus; after all, you graduated from college, passed a very rigorous CPA exam, and fulfilled your work requirements. Focus was required for all of this. However, if you do struggle staying focused, you’ve probably already found various ways to compensate for this burden.
Time management is the art of being able to anticipate the unknown and plan appropriately. If most of us walked into our offices each day with a To Do list already made, this list would blow up mid-morning. Instead, find a way to turn your To Do list into a more manageable set of easy-to-accomplish tasks.
Learn to Prioritize: Most of us are over-ambitious with our list of things we want to do. If we don’t make our way through the list on a daily basis, the immediate feeling is that we’ve failed. Don’t beat yourself up! Instead of listing every task, learn to prioritize large projects into daily, weekly, monthly, and even annual tasks by importance and deadline. You have to meet your deadlines, but you don’t have to get everything else done as well.
Track Your Time: Knowing where and how you spend your time is valuable in knowing how you can better manage it. If you work in a timesheet environment, run your reports on a regular basis to measure how you’re doing. Focus on the gaps; after all, not everyone can spend an entire workday on client work. There will be time spent on other matters within the office or perhaps in recruitment and retention, such as attending networking events. If you work in an organization that does not have electronic timesheets, try keeping time on your own. There are many online software programs and even phone/tablet apps to do this.
Ask for Help: There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. If your manager or supervisor assigns you a project, assess the situation and decide if and when it is appropriate to ask for help. Not every project will require help, and sometimes, your supervisor may ask that you complete the project on your own. Is this doable? No one can decide this but you, but realize that most firms and organizations thrive on a team approach to solving problems. Realize your limitations before it’s too late, particularly if your deadline is directly ahead of you.
Know Your Work Habits: Although it might seem cliché to admit you’re not a “morning person,” there is some validity in realizing what time of the day you are at your strongest in terms of getting things done. Pay attention to your body and your brain signals. If you know eating a big lunch puts you in nap-mode, then eat a larger breakfast and smaller lunch. Exercise in the middle of the day if this energizes you for the afternoon. No one can tell you how you feel – so determine this for yourself and find a way to manage not only time, but your energy and drive.
Time management might mean planning for the worst-case scenario, but there’s no need to let emergencies rule your day. Instead, anticipate these blips and remain flexible, both in your work style and attitude. Doing so will provide a healthy balance between work and real life.