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Procrastination - is there a cure?

I am suffering quite badly from procrastination at the moment - there is a fair chunk of work in my office but there always seems to be something to do to avoid tackling it!

I am not sure if this is caused by overwhelm, not knowing where to start, not having the right systems in place, a combination of these factors, or something completely different, but the days seem to be flying by without me actually achieving a lot!

I start something then immediately think of something else I could (or should) be doing; also I spend a lot of time on administration tasks - clearing emails, returning calls, that sort of thing - whilst the work builds up, and that's without even thinking about marketing the practice and the like!

I don't want anyone on here to think bad of me, it's just a problem that I can't seem to shake off - however I do love my job and have a very happy practice and (hopefully) happy clients... but need some anti-procrastination/time management advice... if anyone could offer me some golden nuggets it would be much appreciated.


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Time slots

Maybe if you split your day up between type of work?: 1 hour on phone calls, 2 hours on clearing emails, 1 hour marketing, the rest on other client work. I think if you work long hours for a couple of weeks you will see a big difference.

Don't worry. I think most growing small/sole practitioners have the same problem.


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Cures most ails, I understand.

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I can help ...

... but not at the moment

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It actually sounds like you need a holiday

If you can possibly manage it get a complete rest away from the office for at least 1 week - ideally 2 weeks. 

You don't even need to go anywhere, just don't go in and don't check emails etc.

It's amazing what this will do for your productivity on your return.



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@Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen wrote:

If you can possibly manage it get a complete rest away from the office for at least 1 week - ideally 2 weeks. 

You don't even need to go anywhere, just don't go in and don't check emails etc.

It's amazing what this will do for your productivity on your return.



... thanks Steve, funnily enough we have a week's holiday booked soon, and I have PROMISED my wife I won't do anything to do with work while we're off...

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List of jobs to do that day. Break it down into targets ie, "by lunchtime I would like to do....", "by the end of the week". That way you can crack the whip a bit on yourself, or go easy and read accounting web if things are doing well :)

Also list out what you do do, and tick it off as you go. Even if its "ring so and so" You might be surprised what you are doing but it feels like you are doing not much.

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I think we all go through this as some stage. I tend to focus on trying to complete one thing at a time. I saw a documentary that suggests that although we think we can multi-task we cannot and it was very convincing. Its best to just focus on one thing at a time and complete that.

Then go for a walk before you start something else -its suppose to help to relax you


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Core work times

Between 10-12 and 2-4 you are unavailable. Do not even answer the phone during these times. Do not do any admin during these times. Do not accept any interruptions during these times.

Amazing how you will soon start to be more productive and develop a routine that sustains this improved productivity.

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... to add further...

... thank you so much to everyone for their contribution so far... very helpful.

I was also going to ask about systems - what sort of systems does everyone have in place to control when jobs are due, not missing deadlines, preparing work well in time, recording client activity, filing systems... is there anything in particular that everyone does or is a combination of things?

I think having secure systems/structures in place would help my procrastination no end...

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Which CRM do you use, Jaybee?

Do you need something separate to your CRM?

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I have to confess I don't have a CRM Shirley, but only have about 50 or so clients - are there any you'd particularly recommend as it would be good to log client activity - to be honest I think that would help me a lot!

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I will put off answering this until tomorrow!Ha Ha

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A CRM would help you a lot

Something that is easy to search for those year ends & Vat qtrs, etc.

Pre-populated letter templates saves a lot of time, too, plus the ability to record client events.

A well designed excel workbook would be better than nothing.

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Excel & Word

Although I have Digita Practice Management, I still have to take the time to set up reports.

Presently I use Excel with one sheet for company accounts, one for company annual returns and one for personal tax.

I can sort by year end, deadlines or any other column. I also have columns for dates of chasing.

Every month I note what I need to do in the next month. I enter these jobs in Word along with notes showing what needs to be done and deadlines.

Using this system, despite duplicating some information, I have an overview in Excel and a view of urgent work in Word.

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... that's really helpful actually Peter, thank you... can I ask - what does Digita do that your Excel/Word sheets don't - in other words, do you think it's a good investment, bearing in mind I have 50 or so clients?

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First thing ...

... avoid AWeb until after 5pm!

Apart from that it is difficult. I think it is down to what I call "squirrel syndrome" in part - because you have a nice store of nuts to get you through winter you feel good but don't want to eat them in case you can't find anymore and get hungry.

Also, avoid opening the post until lunch time, there is always something more interesting than what's on your to do list. This way you can knock a couple jobs off that in the morning, and have the afternoon to deal with anything pressing the postman brings.

As for holidays, although they recharge the batteries, they certainly don't increase my productivity, they just give me an even longer lists of tasks to sit and stare at wondering where to start!

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I will always enter new client details in Digita but I have to remember to include new clients in my spreadsheets. I have sections for my spreadsheets - eg. THE DISAPPEARED for clients/ex-clients who just don't reply to communications. I will keep track of these in case I get some correspondence from Companies House/HMRC/others or they reactivate themselves. The spreadsheets are easy to do this.

For example, I had a "client" who had put off sending me information for very simple tax returns for about six years. HMRC would adjust his tax code for small penalties but he didn't seem to care. A few days ago he jumped out of his skin when he got a £1,200 penalty!

The advantage of Digita is that every client will automatically appear on a report for all clients so I can immediately see if information is missing.

Certain information will automatically get updated on Digita although some may not but regular sorting will highlight anomalies. Once you start categorising in Excel (by means of several rows grouped together) you lose the advantages of being able to sort on fields. You could always have other columns to identify certain characteristics but this is an added complication. excel is essentially two dimensional although you can use it as a flat file database.

Fundamentally, the advantage of Digita (as well as being integrated) is that it is a database and you can have as many categories and reports as required and you are able to design reports to provide important and regularly useful information and keep other reports for less regular use to ensure problems are not overlooked.


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... really helpful Peter, thank you.

I have just realised I do actually have WorkflowMax (Xero's PM package) so I need to look into setting that up really... it does seem Excel is very powerful though and can be tailored quite well.

I really do believe that if my systems/structures were in perfect working order then a lot of my procrastination would disappear!

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info in, job done, billed, banked ... relax

... that's my philosophy. i prefer to rattle through my work - then take a break when its done.  yesterday i sloped off to the gym for a couple of hours at lunch ... sandwich in the park ... bliss.  but i wouldn't be able to enjoy that if i had a stack of work to do.  


we're all different ... i employ 4 staff to do the main accounts / tax work.  i see my job to build the practice, have meetings / calls with clients to 'present' their year-end work, and marketing.  i probably "do" about 5-10% of the actual work per client.  for me, that's the reason to be self-employed - to be able to "outsource" to staff the work that i don;t really want to be doing ... so that i enjoy my job more.  if i had a stack of stat accounts & ct600s to do, i would probably spend a lot of time faffing around avoiding the work, so maybe have a think about what parts of being an accountant in practice you like, and which you don't. 


my approach was to blast the marketing hard, so bringing clients, so enabling me to bring in staff, so freeing me up from the work i don't enjoy.  my job is to 'hunt and gather', pass the work onto my very capable team, and 'front' the work to the better / larger clients (the staff can handle the smaller / lower fees clients). 


core work times - spot on andy P!  i block out 10-1230, and 1400-1600 for work i need to focus on.  it's rare for a client to need to speak to you desperately (often it's just impatience), so i set aside time in the day to return calls.  i also try to 'book in' phone calls (most clients are not local), so that they are 'trained' to know that they need to book a slot unless it's a quick query - and most of those can be emailed in. working without interruption is the key to productivity. 


i would definitely think about a holiday too!  personally, i take my ipad with me, and check emails each evening ... usually just pinging on stuff for the team to deal with, though my 'number 1' knows how to deal with most things, and when to call me, and my 'out of office' with re-direction details is always on. 


having said all that ... some days i'm just not in the mood to work ... so i don;t - just try to do something i enjoy / isn't too difficult / admin / whatever ... or, take the odd afternoon / day off when you can!

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Two types

I think there's a world of difference between accountants who have staff and those who don't.

I think jaybee is on his own and therefore has to deal with all the less "important" work that still needs to be done. The problem is caused when all these small tasks take up so much time that you have trouble getting round to accounts and tax returns.

I don't think taking an holiday is the solution to too much work!

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yes and no

we all have work to do that that we don;t want to do ... and so procrastinate sometimes.  using staff to 'take away' those tasks is one solution - not the only solution.  i still procrastinate when i have an article to write for example - but as there is no one other than me to write it, i try to schedule it, and do it then.  procrastination is an issue that affects everyone, 1-man bands as well as larger practices.  


sometimes 'procrastination' is actually a sign that you need a break - and a holiday will help - sometimes its not!  i was always the one with the pristine exam revision timetable ... and left the study to the last possible moment! LOL  a holiday would not have helped, but in my daily life now, sometimes i run out of steam ... and i know i need a break, after which i can carry on as normal. 

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Getting things done

I know where you're coming from! Have a read of this book called 'Getting things done' by David Allen.

I guess the approach may not work for everyone, but I have tried to follow it diligently and I have noticed a marked improvement.

In terms of systems, I use an app called 'Omnifocus', to keep track of ALL (personal and professional) the things I have to do. It is basically an app developed to apply the principles in the 'Getting things done' book.

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We are all different

What works for one will not work for another. You need to find out what works for you, and if you don't know then try different things until something clicks.

For me, there are three main elements involved.

1.  My 'second in command' keeps reminding me of any deadlines and makes sure the 'work to do' list is kept in priority order.

2.  I do jobs in priority order (mostly), but I find it helps if I look down the list to spot a task I know I will enjoy. The jobs in front of the 'nice' job seem to get done much quicker that way.

3. If the 'work to do' list becomes empty then I take time off work  :)

Overall, you need to look at your practice management. If you aren't enjoying your work and putting it off, then think what would make your work more pleasurable. Are you allowing clients to dictate to you and wasting endless time doing tasks that you shouldn't be doing? It's your practice. Do what makes you happy. If an unpleasant task cannot be avoided, can you find a way to make it more pleasant?

Last but not least, these changes take time, but a little improvement each year will eventually get you where you want to be  :)

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One solution

Just work harder!

Work for 18 hours with only short breaks. Don't go shopping or for long lunches. If you do that for two weeks you will make great inroads to the outstanding work. Obviously if you feel shattered then lay down and sleep but when you wake up get back to the grindstone.

If you have too much work to do then don't take a holiday.

Holidays are for wimps!

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work hard vs take it easier?

petersaxton wrote:

Just work harder!

Work for 18 hours with only short breaks. Don't go shopping or for long lunches. If you do that for two weeks you will make great inroads to the outstanding work. Obviously if you feel shattered then lay down and sleep but when you wake up get back to the grindstone.

If you have too much work to do then don't take a holiday.

Holidays are for wimps!




it's interesting you say that ... one thing i have been surprised at on aweb is the number of peeps that prefer a short (normal?!) working week, and to not work to hard, versus a more 'corporate' type of mindset i.e. 60-80 hour weeks.  i work less hours now that i did in a big 4 or industry role yet i have friends and family who think i work really hard.  i have worked hard in the past but 2012 has seen a slowdown in work rate ...


i'm not making any judgements either way about this - we all have our own ambitions / objectives - but personally i have always been a 'worker' i.e. a week's holiday is enough for me every 3-4 months ... i'm quite happy working sunday mornings or evenings ... after 10+ years in big business its just the way it is / was for me.  i like working hard - as long as its me calling the shots!  i love seeing a clear desk too ... 


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Hi Jaybee 

Hi Jaybee 

Could it be possible that you are overtired.   I am really guilty of this and I know the signs are, I lose concentration.  One thing I suggest is to not drink tea or coffee after 5pm, drink loads of water .  I find this helps.    I could stay up all evening and claim I am not tired which is not always the case.

I now go for a walk or a cycle every morning before work as it wakes me up .   When I lived in Ireland I had a swim every morning all year in the sea. I do miss that refreshing feeling but the walk or cycle helps it is amazing what 30 mins can do of fresh air. 




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Listen to Peter and outsource

Jaybee, I have the exact same issues. I've been spending loads of time meeting prospects, signing up clients and dealing with admin. Then I start the 'proper' work late in the day and finish late.

Peter's advice is great. I use excel spreadsheets which tell me at a glance where I am with each client, I use colour coding to identify in which month work is to be requested, when I plan to complete it, when it has been completed and also the filing deadlines.

I have a glut of  limited companies and corporation tax returns to do over the next two months so I've outsourced a good portion of this work. This has the benefit of allowing to take on more clients (2 signed up already this week and 4 more potential clients to see (all from referrals) and reduce my working hours.

Outsourced work is to prepare draft accounts and CT comp. I then review, finalise, discuss with client (usually via e-mail/telephone) and file.

Outsourcing has reduced stress levels, has given me the opportunity to increase profits and stay on top of all the bits and pieces that need doing. It doesn't need to cost a lot, e.g. £1,000 fee for accounts, CT and simple SA returns - outsource draft accounts and CT comp working from Sage back up - cost £200, I do the rest.


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Working long hours

I don't think working long hours all the time is good for you but sometimes we can overreact when we get a chance to be our own boss. Being your own boss gives you the right to decide what's best for you. I find that sometimes when you get behind with work trying to change systems can put a bigger workload on you in the short term. Being behind with work can also mean that you firefight and do some things that you usually wouldn't have to do if you were up to date. Pressure of work can lead to tension and reduce our effectiveness. We can all improve our ways of working, time management and systems, but to actually catch up when we get behind it can just be a question of working long hours for a short time.

Once things are a little less pressured then it will be easier to introduce better working practices and taking holidays.

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The answer for me on systems for being organised is to keep changing them - that way I get as much satisfaction from using the systems as I do from doing the work.  It has taken me many years to realise that if I'm bored with the systems I use, my procrastination is worse than ever.

Currently I'm using Toodledo for my to do list.  It's a free web based system so you can pick it up anywhere you log on and there's an iphone app too.  It's not just for work things either, I put all sorts of home stuff on there too - send birthday cards, clean out the hamster, car MOT etc.  You can organise things into folders, due date, priorities and easily switch between views.  I really do get pleasure out of using it.

Then I've got an A4 landscape sheet of paper on the wall beside my screen with the top priorities on it - the list of things that would make a great deal of difference if only you could find time to do them - that helps no end.  You can find a lot of time that you didn't know you had if you have a constant visual reminder of the things that are important to you.

I liked my 2011 diary very much indeed but unfortunately they don't make that particular brand any longer and my 2012 diary doesn't give me the same little frisson of joy each time I touch it - I'll be looking for something different again for next year.

I use clear plastic wallets to organise my in tray - it makes it look neater and less overwhelming.  If the stuff is in a wallet I know I've looked at it and the action is on my to do list.

I echo the recommendation for David Allen's 'Getting Things Done' - that's where most of the above came from.  And I even bought a label maker to label my files - it just makes you feel better when it's all neat and tidy!

Don't work longer hours - just figure out how to use the time you've got more effectively.


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Jaybee: time to decide

It's up to you to decide NOW - don't procrastinate!

You can do one or more of the following - only some are mutually exclusive:

Work longer to catch up in the short term

Improve systems

Use the various tips above to improve your working methods

The above are my preferred methods.

Below is advice I disagree with:

"Don't work longer hours - just figure out how to use the time you've got more effectively." - Obviously you have to figure that out but until you get that sorted I think working longer reduces the outstanding work and therefore the pressure.

Go on holiday - Great idea until you return to work and then you will see it's not so good!


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It looks good.

I am using Outlook Tasks but they are not very flexible.

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Intersting read and something I suffer off badly at times but I blame that on all the pretty bags and shoes that I can view online at Selfridges!  Think I might buy that book and also considering banning Selfridges online at the office!

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Adopt "one touch"

Many years ago, I attended one of those motivational seminars and this topic was included.  Rather than advocating setting up "to do list" systems, the speaker told us about a "one touch" system where rather than organising your in-tray, you just "did it" straight away.  Obviously, it can't work for long jobs such as accounts prep that may take several hours, but it can certainly be made to work for incoming post, emails, small jobs etc.  At the time I was working in a largish practice so had to conform to their systems, but after a few years on my own, in a remarkably similar position to the OP with piles of half-done work, half read emails and post, etc., I decided to try it out.

First thing is to put the piles to one side.  Don't organise them or list them.  Just concentrate on everything new that happens to stop the piles growing.  So you deal with all post and emails, phone calls, etc as they arrive.  Don't half-read anything intending to deal with it later - either deal with it there and then or bin it.  Then you start to deal with your older pile of work.  Again, no organisation - just pick something up and either do it or bin it - works a treat with mail and emails.  Just keep digging on through the piles and in tray, day after day, etc. - very quickly you see the piles decrease which is good for your moral.  Nothing worse for wasting time than constantly picking up a letter or email, half reading it, deciding to deal with it later - when "later" comes, you waste the same time again re-reading it and maybe even deferring it again.

Tasks that take longer than an hour or two have to be scheduled until you're fully up to date.  You really do need some kind of recurring job control to avoid missing deadlines.  I have a very simple spreadsheet with lists of things (triggers) that recur, i.e. client year ends, VAT quarters, monthly & quarterly payrolls, etc.  I just copy and paste the triggers every month as a kind of crib sheet for me to chase clients for the info I need.

I don't wish to brag, but I'm fully up to date and have been for a couple of years now.  I have no unanswered emails nor post, in fact my intray is empty.  Post arrived a couple of hours ago and has all been dealt with (either answered or binned).  I'm the one chasing the clients for their records etc - I've just submitted half my June year ends and half my July year ends are at draft stage waiting for answers to queries.  Typical turnaround time between receiving client records and completion is around 2-4 weeks.  

It was painful to make the transition, with working longer days and some weekend time, but once I got stuck in and could see the difference, it spurred me on to hack away at the backlog, especially seeing the piles get smaller every day.

As a one man band, I obviously don't have to worry about staff job control, and I know that my system wouldn't work if I had people working for me, nor if my practice was larger as I have around 70-90 clients so not a vast number, but I'd strongly recommend it for a sole trader like myself.

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... am enjoying this thread very much!

I just want to say a massive 'thank you' to everyone (particularly Peter) as I have picked up some really good tips from this thread - hopefully it's helped a few others too!

Funnily enough I do have a holiday coming up (in September) so that will hopefully clear my head so I can start fully refreshed when I come back!

Please keep the thread alive if anyone's got anything else to add... it's been massively helpful to me and if it provides others with a few tips as well then so much the better!

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Ken is impressive

I've heard about the "one touch" idea and I had put it into practice. It's really good for moral. Unfortunately, I have slipped behind somewhat but I am aiming to do what Ken says - put a lot of work in - and get back up to date.

I know that "planning" when to do work can take up to half your working time!

I dream of getting data from clients one day and turning it around the next day. Subject to missing information I think that's achievable with the vast majority of clients.

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Overcoming Procrastination Book

I suffer from procrastination too, so I bought a book on how to overcome this problem.

Trouble is, I still haven't got around to reading it...!

My problem is that I'm too easily distracted. Oh look, something shiny.....  :-)

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Coffee anyone?

I have to confess that I am a procrastination sufferer too (look - I'm up to it now - on Aweb and about to go and make a coffee!).  It does help to know that there are others out there too!

I find that lists certainly help - I write a list of what I have to do today and then work down it, and try to ignore everything else, otherwise I get into the 'oh, but I need to do this' type scenario and end up jumping from one job to the next.

I try to include a number of the smaller tasks and also one or two bigger ones, otherwise I find that the little jobs get done and the big ones end up waiting.  If I have something that I don't want to do, I try and do it early in the day, otherwise it is hanging over me.  It always helps to include something that will involve a fee going out of the door too!!

Didn't write a list today, hence I am not getting anything done - off to make a coffee and then write my list while I am drinking it :)

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Will put it off until Tuesday now.

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Which Tuesday?

uktaxpal wrote:

Will put it off until Tuesday now.

That's not procrastination! Unless you mean a Tuesday in 2013 10 mins before a Companies House deadline and resulting penalty....  ;-)

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Have you ever considered getting a helping hand- even temporarily. Let me know if I can be of any help.

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My mum told me...

Too much procrastination makes you go blind...

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My solution is to do ONE horrible job at the START of each working day

I feel great for the rest of the day, having done it and the number of horrible jobs never mount up.

If you set any other time for doing such jobs, you are PROCRASTINATING

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agree with blitzuk

As a "lark" person (up with), I always shcedule the tough work for first thing before energy levels and will power decline. On the other hand, if you're an "owl" person, I guess you would schedule it for last thing.

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I'm feeling good ...

... slain two beasts today :o)



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Sub contract

If you need anyone to sub contract work for you let me know. I have a very small number of clients who all seem to be very poor at doing anything I ask them or sticking to agreed dates/ actions etc.

Would be nice to be able to do some accounts/ tax work and get feedback from a fellow professional on the work done for them.

Oh did I mention I work for a very moderate fee!

I'm ICAEW but stick only to accounts prep and tax, no audits. I am based in the North East.

There are obvious benefits for both of us here and I can guarantee that I would not poach any client.


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Up with a lark - & to bed with a wren - cud cure procrastination

Agree with Red Leader: Up with a lark - and to bed with a wren - could cure procrastination, with objectives settings, doing it, and concomitant rewards/treats!

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twit ...

... twoo

I prefer nightjars to larks - my current favourite jar is Birra Moretti!

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bit of both really.

To avoid disruptions and get tough jobs done I often schedule the work for the evening or weekend. This helps avoid disruptions and something which may take 7 hours in normal working day takes considerably less.

Also allows me to take time off during the day and take children to school (or the beach in summer holidays) and not feel too guilty. Office number diverted to the mobile, so urgent calls not missed.

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What's tough?

I just do what makes more sense to do earlier. I don't have favourite jobs or jobs I hate.

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Not everyone can do that.

petersaxton wrote:

I just do what makes more sense to do earlier. I don't have favourite jobs or jobs I hate.

Which is why you don't suffer from what jaybee is talking about :)

There are some jobs I just want to start and not stop until I finish them, I often find these types of jobs easier to do when there are no distractions - phone calls in particular which is why I schedule them for specific times. 

A big advantage of working for yourself is that you can choose when to work and when to take time off. So not everything has to or does get done between 9-5 Monday to Friday.


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