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Top tips to tackle tax season time management

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10th Jan 2013
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With just three weeks to go before the Self Assessment deadline Carol McLachlan and other members offer productivity advice.

So far we've provided a series of stress-busting tips, but how can accountants manage their time more effectively and boost productivity in the final stretch? 

Here is AccountingWEB's guide to effective time management:

1. Ever play with Lego as a child? Put those skills to use 

Building blocks of time into your schedule and breaking down bigger tasks into smaller, bite-size digests can make you more efficient, McLachlan said.

"The biggest time-stealers are interruptions. So protect yourself by building isolated, small blocks of time where you cannot or will not be interrupted by anything. Break down the biggest jobs into smaller chunks which will fit into these smaller blocks," she advised.  

2. You may be able to do the robot, but it doesn't mean you are one

You are an accountant, not a robot, so brainstorm and prioritise your tasks and don't try to tackle a superhuman list of tasks at once, McLachlan said. 

“Many, many times I’ve worked with clients and it’s only when we've brainstormed their to-do lists and got everything down on paper that they realise their job isn't humanly possible. So they have to accept that they have to choose." 

3. Take a leaf out of Rocky's book...

...and get a coach. Not Mickey, however, but rather a business coach to teach you how to be more effective and efficient.

According to McLachlan: "I agree with Tim Ferris that efficiency is meaningless unless you're doing the right things, i.e. being effective. Most time management training will only teach you to be efficient. Business or executive coaching on the other hand can help you identify your value activities, goals and priorities and help you learn to keep on track and avoid the millions of other displacement activities we let ourselves be drawn into."

4. No, nein, non, nyet

Whatever your preferred language of choice, if you're an accountant, add this word to your dictionary. While you're at it, crack out the pencils and draw some boundaries. 

“Accountant DNA makes them always say yes. They've probably been born and bred never to say no as a point of professional pride. At SA time particularly it is crucial to have realistic boundaries as to where they'll draw the line when taking on new work or promising clients they'll meet deadlines," McLachlan said.

"But actually these sort of boundaries should be in place anyway as a fundamental practice strategy. Take a leaf out of the books of other professionals. Lawyers and doctors will say no if your breach your operating agreement and sometimes accountants really do need to do the same," she added. 

5. To do or not to do?

Identify what you're most effective at and which goals take priority in terms of being crucial to bigger or longer term goals. 

"The flip side of this of course is that you're going to have to decide what you're not going to do and live with the consequences," McLachlan added. 

Other tips and tricks include using time-saving technology to help you manage your workload. 

Cloud, tablet and mobile apps can help you get to grips with managing your time - check out the AccountingWEB app directory to see which ones can help you. 

Other ways technology can help include these tips from our AccountingWEB guide to getting things done: 

  • Manage data from the web: Subscribe to RSS feeds 
  • Use "to-do" lists and calendars 
  • To keep up with social networking at time of work pressure, use apps like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck to schedule updates 
  • Use cloud document and file management including Google Docs and Dropbox to ensure access in or out of the office 

AccountingWEB members also debated effective time-management on Any Answers recently. Here are some of their practical top tips: 

  • Refs8: Balance your time - ask yourself: Do I need to do it now, or can it wait?

“As a practice we have run now for 22 years and many of our clients have been with us for 10 years or more, so I look at the time-consuming processes that can be done in February. An example for us is dividend vouchers. We agree them with clients and then prepare them in February, signed off in the same month”  

  • Paul Scholes: Refuse to process late tax return information in January and change up your tax return season. 

"Our tax return season has been July to November for several years now. This means we don't have any bottle necks and so don't need to do or plan anything unusual. After we had three late ones turn up in January last year, we've also told clients that subject to illness and other reasons we will not be processing any late tax return information in January unless we have nothing else to do, meaning they are likely to have to wait until we can fit them in in February or March," he said. 

"We spent years regarding the December/January frenzy as inevitable, but it need not be," he added.

  • Flash Gordon: Don't waste time on the internet, delegate, make lists and prioritise.
  • Coolmanwithbeard: Another advocate for not spending too much time on the internet. 

 "I would say avoid reading Any Answers in January but the fact that the London Bird Club are on Twitter has really amused me today."

  • Scohen: Be ruthless with time and gracious with people - make schedules, including relaxation time, lists, reduce networking and marketing and other tasks that are "indirectly productive." 

For further reading on time-management and getting things done, see: 

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