Maximise your 9 to 5
There’s a lot of buzz around working smarter. From using methods like the Pomodoro technique (there are some great apps available for this method), through to ‘to-don’t’ lists where you work out what isn’t urgent, the idea of working smarter is that you use your time wisely and improve your work/life balance.
It’s not about condensing existing work to fill the remaining time with extra tasks. It is about quality and accuracy with minimal stress and worry.
Being organised is the number one way you can increase your efficiency. Practice management solutions allow you to easily keep on top of key events and dates for each client, like their filing deadlines. Built-in document management allows you to store digital records and make a note of any physical paperwork. When it comes to organising your daily work, less is more.
Smart workers use a two-level to-do list. Identify three to five priority tasks each day, schedule time to tackle these first thing, and defer anything that isn’t critical. You will be less prone to procrastination if those tasks are given importance and time during the earliest hours of the day.
For the priority tasks, start with a poor version. It’s much easier to draft out a rough copy and then edit it to perfection than it is to achieve perfection from scratch.
This can help beat procrastination, as it gives you permission to be messy and make mistakes, knowing you will be able to hone your work on a second or third read-through. For those critical emails, an editing session is a must – you don’t want to be increasing your work further down the line with firefighting and corrections.
Give those priority tasks a specific deadline. Parkinson’s Law says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – if you give yourself an hour to clear out your emails, then it will take an hour. Be realistic with your deadlines and stick to them. If you allow 30 minutes to clear your emails and you’re not quite finished at the end of that time, set it aside and tackle another task.
Coming back to it later will make the job a lot more bearable and avoid fatigue. Accounts production software can help with this – you can save and return to year-end accounts over a few days instead of trying to cram it all in at the last moment.
A tired mind is an unproductive mind. A “done” list can help you measure and celebrate your accomplishments, instead of focusing entirely on how many hours you have put into a task.
Research from John Pencavel of Stanford University shows that output falls sharply after 50 hours of work each week. By the time you’ve reached the 70 hours mark, there is no measurable increase in productivity – so much so that you might as well have stopped at 55 hours. Overworking on any task can lead to demotivation and even provoke hatred for that job. Software that helps you minimise the data-driven aspects of compliance work can help shoulder the burden of repetition.
Research from Deniz Vatansever and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge suggests that setting up a routine for repeated tasks can harness the power of your autopilot system – the ‘default mode network’ in your brain. Their investigations showed that once participants in the experiment had learned how to play a card game, the DMN took over, and they could respond faster and with more accuracy.
You can apply the same principle to your work. Create a routine and let your personal autopilot mode switch on. It takes you less time to complete the tasks because you don’t have to ‘learn’ how to get going each time. Taking time out to listen to or participate in a range of webinars run by accounting software providers can help you get started with programming your DMN.
Finally, make sure you prep the night before. Allot half an hour before you finish for the day to get an idea of any priority tasks that will require your focus in the morning. Work out if any of your ‘to-don’t’ list tasks have become priority tasks and assign time in your day to look at them. Jot down any lingering thoughts that may follow you home, and then when you leave the office, take a deep breath and leave work at work.
You will spend less time thinking about work in the evening, be able to relax at home, and get a good rest, ready for the next day of smarter working.
To learn more about working smarter and success, TED have some fantastic free lectures.
Alex Thomas, content executive, BTCSoftware