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Time management: What’s old is new again

1st Nov 2016
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Everyone is aware of time management but Bryce Sanders asks whether anybody actually does it.

Did you hear the joke about the lawyer who died young? He complained to St. Peter at the heavenly gates that he died too soon. St. Peter countered the lawyer must be quite old. St. Peter was looking at the billing records.

If you work at a large firm you are likely in an environment where you bill time towards individual client projects. The firm encourages you to maximize billable hours. However, as the joke implies, there are only 24 hours in a day. How do you manage your time as an accountant?

There’s nothing much new in time management. You’ve heard it all before. Most of it is common sense, but are we doing it?

Ring the cash register

You have several tasks on your to-do list. Which ones bring in revenue or support the metrics related to your performance review? These tasks should get priority.

Financial advisers are often burdened with paperwork, which some assign a priority to completing at the expense of other activities. I’ve explained: “If you are great at bringing in business and lousy at paperwork, the firm will find a way to get the paperwork done. If you are great at paperwork and lousy at bringing in business, the firm will fire you.”

Immediate v important

 Support staff can be spectacular at managing those who manage them. They walk confidently up to your desk and hand over papers. Using that certain tone of voice you know well, they say: “These must be completed immediately.” They have mastered the art of getting paperwork off their desk by putting it on someone else’s. Yours.

Apply a test. Suppose you were stuck in a tube or commuter train delay for two hours. What would happen to that paperwork? Would your assistant be walking the tracks, papers in hand to find you and get them completed? Of course not. They would wait. You can let them wait while focusing on more important items.

Difficult tasks get done early

 There’s a part of your daily routine you despise. Hopefully it’s not interacting with your co-workers. It might be marketing. Maybe it’s returning calls to difficult clients. Get this out of the way first thing, otherwise you will be dreading and avoiding it all day.

You’re the man or woman

What tasks must be done by you and only you? They can’t be delegated. It might involve reviewing and signing reports where you assume legal liability for their accuracy.

It might be keeping an important client happy. You must do those tasks. Many of the other tasks can be assigned to junior team members or support staff, assuming you have some.

Manage phone calls

Some people take so long to get to the point! It’s likely your phone has a time elapsed counter, useful for billing time to client projects. You hear from friends and co-workers, catching up on current news. (It would be unkind to call it gossip.) It’s fine to take breaks, but you need to be aware how much time is passing.

You have that time counter on your phone. You also have a timer on your smartphone. Years ago people used egg timers. Know when you’ve stayed on long enough to be polite. You should also have a strategy for wrapping up a call and getting off the phone quickly. “Thanks for the call” is a standard. “I’m going to let you go” implies they’ve been struggling to get free. Now you are accommodating them.

Fill wasted time

When people ask: “Where did the time go?” I think about all that time we waste staring at our computer screens waiting for websites to load. Seriously, you have lots of pockets of time during the day. A client is late for an appointment. A meeting in the conference room has been pushed off 15 minutes.

Keep a mental list of a series of tasks that can be knocked out in a few minutes while waiting at your desk. This includes responding to e-mails, completing those immediate papers that were dropped off yesterday and checking phone messages. Truthfully, you don’t know when that client will eventually arrive. It’s a good way to put the time to good use.

You’ve heard a basic rule of saving money is “pay yourself first” when your pay cheque comes in. Time management works on similar principles. Focus on what rings the cash register.

Replies (4)

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By Malcolm McFarlin
02nd Nov 2016 18:20

I had a colleague in one of the big four accountancy firms where they had a policy of free initial telephone consultations. He used to advise potential clients 'that their 10 minutes was up' and now he would have to start charging for his time.

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bryce sanders
By Bryce Sanders
14th Nov 2016 11:00

How did that policy work out? Did people immediately get off the phone? Did ten minutes convince them it was worth proceeding further?

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Replying to brycesanders:
By Malcolm McFarlin
15th Nov 2016 14:26

Bryce, I think it generally did work for him but that very depends upon the personality of an individual. I have spent the best part of an hour today speaking to a potential new client who wanted to make a tax disclosure to HMRC since it all happened a long time ago and he was now too embarrassed to speak his own accountant, a Chartered Accountant, to make the disclosure. I explained the HMRC processes of making such disclosure and left it with him -he will probably go back to his own accountant since he was hopeful that his accountant would not get to know about the disclosure! He found my company via the internet. I'm not overly worried about spending time speaking to potential new clients on the phone but I won't step out of the office without an upfront payment and incur expenses. Seems to work for me but my overheads are low.

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Replying to Malcolm McFarlin:
bryce sanders
By Bryce Sanders
22nd Nov 2016 20:02

Thanks! I can see why that makes sense.

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