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Eight tips for self assessment time management

15th Jan 2015
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As part of our three-part article series on tips to help you cope through the final weeks before the tax season deadline, we've compiled an article on time management.

Over the years on AccountingWEB, we've built up a wealth of articles from resident editors and expert contributors including Heather Townsend, Carol McLachlan and others.

The below is a compilation of eight of their best tips. 

1. Start with your inbox

We all know preparation is key. During our mentoring project in 2012, Russell Smith advised his mentee to start his time management preparation by examining his inbox. 

Many of you will think that clearing your inbox isn't achievable, especially during this time of year. However, by adding tags or rules to emails so they divert to a certain folder - i.e. social media emails in a specified folder, all HMRC emails in another, then you will achieve a clear inbox.

In addition, the automatically labelled emails will leave you with clear groups of tasks to tackle. Simply pick a heading to tackle at a particular time, and go for it. You know HMRC and client emails are far more important than those from LinkedIn or otherwise, so check them first. 

Set time as to when you can read emails. Turn the notifications for emails off during blocks of time you have set aside to work on filing a return. 

2. Lego time blocks

With your inbox labelled and sorted, now break your time into various blocks. Work out how many returns you've got left to do and how many working hours you have left to do them in, advised Finola McManus.

Then analyse this list, break down into 'done', 'started' and 'not touched'. Then prioritise them in order of importance, for example, by how long each one will take. Then slot them into the relevant number of time blocks per day. Don't forget to give yourself time for breaks - there's no use in burning out. 

You could also use an app to keep track of what you're supposed to be doing and when. Some people however prefer physical lists they can tick off. 

3. What's got priority?

So you've sorted your inbox, turned notifications off, blocked off your time, analysed and documented what needs to be done and when. What next?

Getting to work, of course!

However tax season is never smooth running and there will always be cases where you need to contact either HMRC or clients for help or missing information. In this case, have a plan in place. Ensure you've got the correct phone numbers and contact details for authorities, software vendors and clients in case of contact. 

Pick up the phone, too, especially to clients. Even if they are exasperated, it's the quickest way - usually - of getting what you need. While you might have to wait a little longer in HMRC's case, put them on speaker phone and continue working to the beat of their hold music. 

4. Learn to say the word 'no'

"Be ruthless with time and gracious with people," scohen told us back in 2013. And she's right, to a certain extent.

Learn to say no to clients, colleagues and to anyone asking unreasonable demands on this already taxing time of year. Stick to your time schedules as much as you can, and as much as this will lead to you turning down any number of things including late clients and demanding colleagues, learn to do so graciously. 

Simply explain why you can't do something, and if it's reasonable, offer to do it in February or pass them to someone else better placed and with more time on their hands. 

5. Decide what to do with heel-draggers

According to Finola, trying to drag last minute overdue information in from clients is a "perennial headache".

You've not got long left before the deadline, so you may have to take remedial action. Of course, there are some clients who are last minute merchants and you may jump through the hoops for them because they pay a handsome fee to mitigate the pain.

"But for clients who don’t fall into this category, you need to decide if whether you actually want to carry on acting for them," she suggested.

However for the 'good' heel dragging clients, you may want to consider collecting, or organising information you are missing to be collected. 

6. Use technology 

Better still, make use of technology. Ask a client to send files via the internet - all you need is a scanner and a secure and reputable service. WeTransfer and Dropbox are commonly used, or if you have your own client portal/email encryption, all the better. 

And for receipts, if you've got a good relationship with the client ask them to download an app such as Receipt Bank and photo their receipts to then be sent to you. If you've got cloud software that integrates with these apps, even greater still. 

7. Re-evaluate your plan daily 

At the end of every day, it's a good idea to review what you've done and what you've got left to do. Take 10 minutes to look at your tick list, either via your smartphone, PC or notepad.

Re-write anything you didn't get done into a new list for tomorrow and shuffle things around to get what you need to completed. 

8. Schedule some 'me' time 

You're more likely to meet targets and stick to your schedule if you also write in not only breaks, but rewards for yourself. 

However, remember to make these healthy rewards! A pint down the local on Friday evening is fine, but don't let it turn into 10. Likewise, a chocolate bar at lunch is great, but not sprawling across your desk with half of Asda's confectionary aisle. You get it - everything in moderation. 

More effective still is 'me' time or time for yourself, away from the office, from family and even friends. Go for a walk, swim or bike ride or simply crash out with an episode of Game of Thrones. 

Other handy links for time management tips include: 

Of course, not all of these tips will work for everyone. But even if one or two helps, then we're glad to be of help. Comment below with your top time management tip.

Replies (10)

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By coolmanwithbeard
16th Jan 2015 11:32


My first thought was don't spend all day reading Accounting Web articles but I guess you're not really likely to put that!!




Thanks (3)
By Rachael White
16th Jan 2015 11:43

Of course not

Besides AccountingWEB is work related and a good way to spend that block of time taking a break from tax returns. ;-) 

Thanks (0)
By Marlinman
16th Jan 2015 15:57

HMRC emails?
Hmrc emails? I never get any and thought they still lived in caves and are too feeble minded to use email. Everything I get from them comes by second class post and I have to get the office to scan and email it to me.

Thanks (0)
By Briar
16th Jan 2015 23:34

Boring and Obvious

Nuff said?

Thanks (0)
By johnjenkins
17th Jan 2015 15:22

I prefer

the excitement of what might come through the door.

After 50 years in Accountancy I still get excited about the next day, even in January. I'm really at my best when my back's against the wall. Can't be doing with methodology - only when going to the bank, and drinking champagne cocktails, and finding a nice restaurant, and booking a weekend away in our motor home, and clashing with HMRC etc. etc.

Thanks (0)
By coverack
18th Jan 2015 15:53

SA Deadline panaceas


How about this also?  You’ve found the particular bit of HMRC Guidance that sorts (say) a query you have about a client’s claim for research and development expenditure – instead of simply making use of that for “31st January” purposes, send it to your “HMRC Guidance” folder for use in the future.  Shouldn’t take long as most stuff can be copied and pasted onto a Word Document in a matter of seconds – plus it’s a welcome distraction from any current panic you might be experiencing about the SA deadline.

Thanks (1)
By philipprice
19th Jan 2015 19:06

Tips for self assessment time management

I was fascinated to read through your tips for time management. I found it so interesting and it took me back a long time. When I got to the end I found myself thinking that the comments were so interesting and well worth reading. Then I remembered that I had retired nearly 20 years ago and that I did not have to worry about any of it.

Memory is wonderful when it reminds you of things that you can now forget

Thanks (1)
20th Jan 2015 13:30

Clearly those of us reading this blog have the 31st Jan season down to a tee. So why are we sill reading it, well - there's little else to do!


Thanks (0)
By Rachael White
26th Jan 2015 11:31


Great tip, thanks for sharing! 

Thanks (0)
By allenweaver
23rd Jan 2016 09:25

Time Management

Time management is definitely a crucial part and therefore we should take good advantage from time management. Most probably professionals are unable to manage their time as due to lack of knowledge on time management; but it is really essential to manage times to avoid failure. In busy schedule we are unable to spend time with friends and families; therefore we require time management system in our work structure and life.

Thanks (0)