When you are young and we hear Dr. Seuss ask the question “How did it get so late so soon?” you are puzzled by what he means.
But when you are running your own bookkeeping business, you understand totally.
You start each day with a long list of tasks from multiple clients. You want to keep all clients happy, and most days work well. But suddenly, four clients have a crisis on the same day and you find yourself absolutely swamped.
When you get into the work all night and get at it the next day cycle, you cannot sustain it. Jobs that involve careful attention to detail and deal with numbers mean your mind has to be focused and sharp, or small mistakes can become big problems.
So how do you use your time more effectively? What can you do to protect yourself from being sucked into the vortex?
Protect yourself with an “urgent” firewall
The most difficult thing when several clients suddenly need additional services all at once is to stay focused and avoid having their urgency and desperation permeate your attitude toward the work of the day.
That is harder than it sounds. Emotion is all pervasive, and it can leave your client and be transferred to you without you consciously absorbing it. You hear their problem and you know you can solve it, so you immediately look at your schedule and figure out where you can absorb this crisis.
Then the phone rings again or you get another email about another urgent matter. Even as you are scheduling it in, you feel your own tension mounting as their urgency transfers to you.
That is when you need to put up your firewall to prevent their emotion from passing to you.
If you stay calm and scheduled, you can absorb these unexpected challenges. You can move something you were planning to work on but that is not urgent to another day. But if you get upset, the schedule starts to crumble before your eyes.
The important thing is to focus on what is important and MUST be done that day, and not to let other people’s urgency plow you down.
(An awesome guide to help you in determining the difference between urgent and important is the Eisenhower matrix)
Remove all distractions from your day
When you work for yourself, you cannot totally avoid distractions, but you have to do your best to keep them to a minimum. You do not need the television on or music blaring, unless it really does help you focus and think.
Disengage your notifications from social media sites. When you want to find out what your friends and family members are doing, go to Facebook at the end of the day. You don’t need constant updates.
Allow yourself time to kick-back and play on these sites and to absorb the social information you need to sustain your engagement with those you care about. Otherwise, keep these sites at bay while you work.
Schedule your work realistically
About three quarters of our time challenges occur in business because we over-book ourselves and have no room at all for emergencies or reasonable interruptions.
(If you have ever wondered why we are so poor at estimating time to complete a task it is worth learning about the Planning fallacy.)
A long time ago I started setting up my own work day in 45 minute increments. The remaining 45 minutes of the hour were left opened.
This has worked really well for me. I am able to return phone calls, answer emails, make notes about upcoming projects, and keep the day organized so at the end of it I don’t have to stay another hour preparing for the next day.
If the rare day came that the time was not filled, I could just keep right on going and quit an hour early and use that time for “me-time”. Either way, it is a win-win situation.
Another trick that many people use and which I have found to be effective is to try not to work on too many projects in one a day. Multi-tasking is not your friend. You will accomplish more if you dive into the bookkeeping of one client and spend three straight hours on it than if you spin the plates on 10 client portfolios but don’t really complete anything.
Be judicious about what goes into your “to do” list
Before I put any task into my “to do” file, I ask myself three questions:
- Does this have to be done?
- Am I the best person to do it?
- How quickly can I reasonably complete this task? (I also ask myself is this a task – or a project that needs to be broken down into smaller tasks)
This little group of queries that I refer to as my “task trio” ensure that I make good decisions about the use of my time.
The day I have scheduled the task, I then have a reasonable timeline for completion.
Keep all your requests in one place so nothing gets mislaid
As soon as you are asked to do something, enter the request in either your paper notebook or digital tool, whatever works best for you.
No matter how tired you are at day’s end, never quit until those tasks have been moved from the file into your active schedule.
Even a small request like resending a form means a lot to someone, and you can keep things from falling through the cracks by ensuring all items are on your active calendar at the end of the workday.
(If you ever have difficulty finding a system that works for you when it comes to organizing yourself an awesome guide that helped me an enormous amount is the GTD method.)
Good time use means rewarding yourself
Ensuring that you use your time wisely isn’t all give and no take.
No matter how busy you are, take time every morning and afternoon to schedule small breaks for yourself. Walk around the block in the afternoon sunshine. Have a cup of coffee with your feet up. Call a friend and line up something fun for the weekend.
Most of all, keep a daily reminder of the work that you complete each day and a few notes on why what you do is worthwhile.
Did your bookkeeping help a client make a key decision about business expansion? Did your careful work help a client save money on his or her taxes? Did you delight a customer with excellent service today? Did you get a new client or get a current client to sign up for a more comprehensive service package?
These are the little triumphs that help build your business. Treasure them, celebrate them and keep track of them. When you are having a bad day, look them over and know that you are slowly and meticulously, task by task, growing your business and becoming increasingly sustainable. Always, always….celebrate the wins.
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