Following their first session on practice structure, mentor Russell Smith moved on to practical tips to help Tim Charles deal with his time management and efficiency issues.
Smith kicked off by asking Charles how many hours a week he worked and found that he had a fairly irregular work pattern.
“I’m not sure”, Charles said. “As I'm working from home I dip in and out. I've got a young baby, so after he's gone to bed I might do a late shift, say 7pm until 1am, particularly if I felt I hadn't done enough during the day.”
Looking at how long he deals with each client might focus his mind on the whole thing, Smith suggested. He explained that the real goal, in addition to increasing profits and decreasing the number of clients, was increasing the amount of time you get back.
“You've got every chance of doing it, because you're giving good service and you've got a lot of people coming to your website,” the mentor said.
Charles promised to start completing a timesheet to analyse the time spent on each client.
Smith moved on to efficiency: “If you got an output everyday of say 100 [not pounds], everything that we talk about now can improve your efficiency.
“I can probably get your efficiency to around 120 or maybe 130, but if you're talking to the best time management expert in the world, they're never going to get you past 150. As an accountant your output is never going to be 50% of what it is.”
He added that with the right team or systems in place, it could be 100,000 a day. “So you are confined by the fact that you are just one person,” Smith said.
“Do you like doing chargeable work?” he continued.
“I don't mind it,” was the response, “but I much prefer client care and client management.”
Smith said small practitioners are in a business where most of their time had to be devoted to production of the work.
“But actually what you really love is the people contact,” Smith said.
“Presumably you like talking about the numbers and the accounts; it's not that you don't want to do accounting, you like that aspect of it - that's potentially a big issue for you because even if we make you hugely efficient, if everything about you is 'actually I just want to speak to people'. So sitting in a room doing a tax return and accounts might not float your boat."
Smith acknowledged that it can be difficult for him to discipline himself to get his head down to do a large amount of work.
It would be “one to dwell on” and that the next time he does a tax return or a set of accounts, to ask himself, would he rather be with a client?
Moving on, Smith asked how often he checked emails. “It's on constantly,” replied Charles.
Smith advised that the first thing would be to take the ping off: “You need quiet, and with that ping going off that's hugely distracting.”
He then asked how he read his emails. “As an email addict, we don't want to go cold turkey, but we want to be looking at starting to fast your email time,” Smith said.
“Maybe check your emails four or three times a day and the goal should be you looking at your emails once a day really.”
He explained that there are two ways of looking at emails - going down the prioritisation route so you go into emails and answer the things that really need to be answered. Or you basically clear your inbox every time you open your emails.
Charles replied that he dreamed of clearing his inbox: “It would be like a weight, just saying that word, would be off my mind.”
With 400 emails to clear Smith said it was achievable.
Charles quipped that maybe he shouldn't read all the AccountingWEB Any Answers, because they take “ages to read”. However, he added, “The thing is I learn so much and benefit so much from AccountingWEB, so sometimes it can take me an hour just to clear the Any Answers.
Smith replied that he didn’t have to action everything in those emails, but just get them out of the email inbox. He also advised setting up an AccountingWEB sub-folder and reading them at his leisure.
“The key thing is the clear inbox, it does seem like you need to have some time to go through 400 emails. The issue is, once we clear it, in a weeks’ time it might come back and be even more cluttered,” Smith said.
He went on to advise checking emails three or four times a day, but clearing the inbox every time, to which Charles committed to action.
Speaking about his own system, Smith said he doesn’t respond to everyone, but rather only responds to people he want to: “I'm quite happy to ignore emails and that doesn't bother me at all. I won't ignore client emails and I won’t ignore emails from my team, but there will be people who want to speak to me by email who I will happily ignore.”
Smith also added that using the phone can close down queries a lot quicker. “In my team I always encourage them to phone clients rather than email, unless the client specifically likes email,” he said.
The next suggestion was a to-do list. Charles currently keeps a page-per-day diary and writes a list of clients whose work needs to be done that week.
Smith said that it doesn't really matter where the to-do list is written, but it's what works for you.
“The key thing is that you do do one” he said. “If you write the to-do list the night before your efficiency will go up the day after. I call it ‘cashing out’ at 5.15pm.”
For 15 minutes Smith writes a task list for the next day and also writes when he’s going to do stuff.
He added that it's whatever works for you: "But it's important to start the discipline of actually doing it. Many of the points of action seem simple, but are actually quite difficult to see through”.
Keep tuned for the next instalment where we catch up with Smith and Charles to see how the changes were implemented.
About Robert Lovell
Business and finance journalist