An accountant's day-to-day is basically managing a plethora of tasks: from to-do items to email replies, job management, and checklists.
Is there a science to task management? A way to ensure you never miss a deadline and your productivity levels are at their max?
Here are six best practices from accountants around the world.
People are often too generic in their creation of tasks. For example, a direction such as "call back Jan" leaves more questions than answers. Why are you calling her? What is the objective? Is there a time you need to call her by?
Make it possible to be able to get to any future task and get it done in one go. Instead of the general example before, direction like "Phone Jan at [phone number] before [date/time] and discuss/get details on [specific topic]."
This way when you get a chance to do it, you quickly know what it is, what to do, can take action, and be able to track its completion.
Being detailed here makes your life easier and makes doing tasks more fluid.
The second half of this tip is to be as granular as possible. The bigger in scope a task is, the more difficult it is to accomplish. This means you're less likely to be able to complete it in one go (and it ends up lingering in your to-do list.) Breaking things up in specific one-action sentences will allow you to get larger tasks done in less time and with less angst.
For example, "Negotiate with Jan to complete her engagement" is a task that could take days or weeks to accomplish. As a task on a to-do list, it's useless. However, if you break it up into smaller to-do items like:
Get paperwork together
Write down Jan's business needs
Prep the proposal for sending
Request proposal feedback
Then it becomes manageable and its progress can easily be tracked.
If you want to complete everything that you plan to each day, then you have to be disciplined in the prioritization of what you're going to do, when you're going to do it, and how you're going to get it done.
Each morning, while you have your coffee and go through your unread emails, you should be re-prioritizing your work for the day. Even if you need to get more than 10 tasks done, try to choose and write down the 3-5 things that you simply must accomplish at all costs that day.
On the flip side, at the end of each day, look over what you have completed. Did you accomplish all that you set out to? The things you didn't get to will become tomorrow's priority along with anything else you identify the following morning.
When trying to accomplish smaller tasks, it doesn't help to look too far into the future. The further you look, the less relevant tasks will be in terms of prioritization. Start by understanding what tasks need to be done this week, next week and later. Once you’ve determined the collective of tasks that need to be ticked off this week, mark them as today or tomorrow and ladder them as the needs of your firm and clients change.
The remainder of the week’s tasks can be tackled sometime this week and, as you look further ahead, in looser terms such as next week and "later.
At the end of each week, start the process all over again to understand which tasks you should move from later to next week.
There are always two dates for every task: the date it's required to be completed by (due date) and when it's actually going to be done (to-do date). For example, if a task is due Friday, but you have a number of things on that said Friday, then you may need to get it done by Wednesday or it may not get done.
You need to track these dates independently. Be aware that every to-do item in a checklist or process will have two different dates (“do date” and “due date”) so that you're not always rushing to get things done at the last minute.
Set reminders for specific tasks that must be completed by a certain date, or for things like emails you don't address right on the spot. Don't try to rely on memory alone—without reminders, things often get forgotten and deadlines are missed.
Some tasks are one-offs, but most are related to larger processes or jobs. So when you complete one, make sure you address the next by creating another task (better yet, create all following tasks when you are looking at the project as a whole). This keeps you from having to remember the next task in the sequence and keeps the process moving.
If you implement these best practices, your day-to-day, as well as your team's, will become clearer, more productive and, in the end, you'll be running a much more efficient practice.