Make Every Minute Count

BY DANIEL MARKOVITZ

CPA firms often end up writing off time they should be charging to their clients. How can you get more done in less time and avoid spinning your wheels? Follow these simple tips.

Filter out low-value information. Thirty-nine percent of executives squander between a half and one full day per week on e-mails, voice mails and meetings with little value. Lighten the burden on your time by unsubscribing from mailing lists and publications you don’t read. Reduce unnecessary “FYI” e-mails by telling coworkers what information you don’t need.

Do the worst first. It’s only human to put off the most unpleasant tasks and do easier or more enjoyable ones first. But postponing chores destroys efficiency, because people subconsciously slow down their work pace to avoid the unpleasant jobs. So do the worst task first thing in the morning. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll get the rest of your work done.

Deal with it now. When something enters your system—an e-mail, a phone call, a memo or a project—take one of four actions: Do it, if it can be completed in less than two minutes; delegate it to someone better suited to handle it; designate time for it in your calendar, if it’s a more complicated task; or dump it, if it’s irrelevant or insignificant.

Batch similar tasks for greater efficiency. Multitasking, though often considered essential to effectiveness, actually reduces efficiency by 20% to 40%. Instead, try batching your e-mails, voice mails, outgoing phone calls and even interactions with coworkers.

Improve meeting effectiveness. Ensure the greatest return on your meetings investment by providing the agenda and reading material 48 hours before the meeting. Start and end on schedule. Create a follow-up plan with specific action items, the name of the person who owns each item, the due date and an agreement about what constitutes its completion. Publish minutes and action plans within 24 hours, since most people wait for the minutes to arrive before they begin to act.

Disseminate best practices. Hold regular meetings between managers and partners to share best practices. For example, teach staff to purge all to-do and open-items lists from work papers and teach managers how to delegate engagement tasks. Constantly disseminate this information to promote audit efficiencies and reduce avoidable errors.

Schedule your own work in your calendar. Calendars are not just for appointments; they’re critical for scheduling your own work. Get into the habit of blocking out a specific date and time with the client name, the nature of the service you’re handling (for example, audit or review) and the subcategory you’ll be working on, such as planning, balance sheet or income statement.

Schedule “unavailable” time. If walk-in interruptions bog you down, carve out blocks of time during which your office door is closed and you can work uninterrupted. Post your calendar on the door so coworkers know how long you’ll be busy and when you’ll be available to talk.

Practice the “salami technique.” Large audits or other projects can be daunting. Slice them into smaller, manageable pieces and budget time for each task.

Plan, plan, plan. Ensure you’re doing the right things at the right time by allocating five minutes for planning each morning. Give yourself 10 minutes on Sunday night or Monday morning to step back, consider the entire week and focus on critical client issues.

Source: Daniel Markovitz, president of Time Back Management, a corporate efficiency consulting firm ( dan@timebackmanagement.com ), and Nicholas Giangrande, CPA, manager, Financial Services Group, RSM McGladrey, www.rsmi.com .

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