When you’re faced with a mountain of work, your initial instinct might be to create a to-do list of everything you need to get done. This technique is popular for a reason—it works. But if you're continuously being overwhelmed with a seemingly never-ending list of tasks, it’s time to look at a longer-term solution. Introducing the accountant’s not to-do list.
This list of five do nots outlines common actions you’re probably doing, which you should stop right now. These are all serial offenders when it comes to sucking time out of an accountant’s day, and cutting them out or finding a better solution will leave you with more hours, give you a greater reward for the work you’re doing, and boost your firm’s efficiency.
Your clients are the lifeblood of your accounting firm, but they’re not all created equal. You probably have a handful of clients who consume a big chunk of your time. They might be particularly needy or difficult, have an unreasonable expectation about what your firm should be providing to them, or consistently be late gathering information before lodgement deadlines.
You need to ask yourself whether it’s really worth the effort and time it’s costing you to keep these clients happy. In many cases, it won’t be. Explore options to automate your firm’s relationship with these clients wherever possible, or even part ways with them.
Accountants spend a staggering amount of time in their email inboxes. In fact, up to 28% of your time at work is spent there. Is there anything else that consumes this much time? The issue is that email is often treated as a means to get in touch with someone immediately—and you might feel there is an expectation for an instant reply. But working in this way is extremely disruptive.
Instead of going to your inbox throughout your day and replying to emails as they come in, restrict this activity to set times—no more than three times during your day. Not only will this give you more time to focus on the work at hand, studies have found that three times is the optimum number to reduce stress and boost productivity. If you can make a habit of just this alone, your efficiency will increase significantly.
Almost all accountants are short on time, yet one of their quirks is they have a habit of saying yes to the majority of requests or enquiries that come their way. So next time, instead of agreeing right away, think about what you’re being asked to take on and ask yourself—will this add value to my practice? Will my practice profit from it? Am I the only one in the team who can complete this task? Unless you answer yes to at least two of these questions, it should be a no.
“I'm terrible at saying yes to a lot of stuff, and I get really busy doing a whole lot of stuff that is not critical.”
This is especially important if you are a manager or Partner. If this is you, remember your key role is to provide leadership, innovation and strategic direction. You need to free yourself from the nuts and bolts of delivering services to allow the time for this.
“We get so caught up in the day-to-day stuff, but we don't tend to step back and take a look at the opportunities in front of us, at our teams, and at the opportunities that are coming through.”
How many times in the past week have you taken a phone call from a client with a question, or discussed matters during a meeting that go beyond what the catch-up was originally scheduled for? This is all guidance that costs you time but provides significant value to your client—and you’re giving it away for nothing.
Rather than refusing to give this advice, the solution is to move to a value-based pricing model and charge for this service up front. Not only will this mean you’ll receive a greater profit for work you’re already doing, you’ll be rewarded for being more efficient, rather than having to justify every hour of work you bill for.
“I would guess that every accounting firm is giving away tens of thousands of value every year, which is going straight off the bottom line. When I ask why it's because they don't know how to charge it. Start valuing the difference that we can make to people's lives.”
No matter what level of your practice you work, there are probably processes that you are always responsible for, which the rest of the team constantly rely on you to complete. Often this will be because you’re the only one who knows how to complete it. Whether this has happened intentionally or organically over time, keeping this knowledge to yourself will only hold you and your practice back.
“As the founder, the only person who knew the business from start to finish was me, and I knew this wasn't a scalable model.”
Documenting these processes is vital if your practice is to grow and operate at its most efficient. It will help your team to know exactly what to do—or if they don’t know they’ll know where to look rather than needing to ask you—and it will also mean that others can take over the most repetitive and time-consuming parts of your day as your role evolves. You don’t plan on doing the exact same thing forever do you?
If you can cut these items out of your day, and make improvements to your firm’s operations in the process, the rewards will follow almost instantly. While you’ll still need to rely on a To-do list each day—in fact, this is something we encourage you to use—you’ll notice it becomes filled with tasks that are adding greater value to your practice, which you actually look forward to competing.