No one has more than 24 hours in a day, yet some people seem to be more able than their peers to get work done and still have time for personal pursuits. Their secret is effective time management. It’s certainly not a new concept, but it’s an accomplishment that’s easier said than done. In a Robert Half survey, 46 percent of executives polled said their biggest challenge was organizing and controlling their time.
For senior executives, there’s no question that time seems always in short supply. By scrutinizing how work hours are actually spent, accounting and finance managers can better control their day and improve their productivity on the job. Here are some suggestions for crafting a time-management strategy:
Reassess work style
It is impossible to gain control over time without a clear idea of how it’s spent. For a full understanding, keep a detailed log of work activities each hour of the day over the course of a week. Divide findings into categories such as “financial reporting,” “accounts payable” and “managing e-mail and correspondence.” Review the amount of time spent on each category and look for patterns. Are the categories that are receiving the greatest allocations of time the highest priority projects? Where can improvements be made?
Also take note of tasks performed repeatedly during a typical day. Are there ways to manage them more efficiently? Macros or shortcuts can reduce the number of key strokes used for phrases or paragraphs frequently used in document preparation. A prepared signature line with contact information saves time on outgoing e-mails. In addition, tackling similar tasks — such as reviewing reports, answering e-mails or returning calls — during the same block of time can maximize efforts.
Time-management tools can also help organize a daily schedule. Keep in mind, however, that the latest handheld device or software application won’t save time for executives who do not commit to learning and using the technology. At the end of the day, the best time-management system is one that will actually be put to use.
Set realistic expectations
Adhering to high standards is a must, but setting unrealistic goals can lead to frustration and waste valuable time. When beginning a project, accounting and finance managers should consider what they would like to achieve if resources and time were unlimited. They will then need to adjust that vision to reflect what can be reasonably accomplished with the available resources and looming deadline.
Delaying work on less appealing projects can impair an accountant’s ability to manage time. It may be tempting to postpone less challenging assignments for more exciting initiatives. While this may not necessarily be detrimental when done occasionally, it can have negative consequences if it becomes a regular practice. Procrastinators may find that they lose time addressing situations that would not have arisen if they had focused on matters more promptly. In addition, they may strain important work relationships and create unnecessary stress as they strive to catch up.
Keep meetings on track
Many financial executives spend a considerable amount of time in formal discussions. While some are productive, others are unnecessary or seemingly endless. Lack of preparation — either by those in charge, those attending or both — is frequently the culprit.
To keep meetings on track, leaders should distribute a detailed agenda prior to the discussion so everyone will be apprised of the topic at hand. Meetings should begin and end on time. Those requested to attend should review the preliminary materials carefully to make sure their participation is necessary. If not, they should request to be excused. For those who do attend, staying focused is vital. During meetings, participants should avoid raising tangential issues that will derail attention from the agenda. Keeping a narrow and clear focus helps ensure that time spent in meetings is productive and brief.
The accounting and finance profession has always been known for long hours and demanding work. However, that doesn’t mean that senior-level professionals should sacrifice breaks and vacation time to gain the necessary hours to manage responsibilities. In fact, failing to recharge periodically can be counterproductive, leading to a decline in productivity and lack of enthusiasm. Budgeting time for even a short break each day can restore a sense of control and enhance motivation.
Greater efficiency and a better sense of control over work flow are the rewards for senior finance professionals who master the art of time management. Managing time can be as simple as tackling similar tasks together or keeping meetings focused on key issues. Added together, the seemingly small actions that accounting and finance managers take to administer their tasks efficiently will result in significant savings in time and increased productivity.