How are you spending your work time?

Accountants may be experts at balancing books, but balancing time is another matter. So if you feel like there are never enough hours in the day, how can you maximise your time and work smarter, not harder?

Previously we discussed the battle of urgent versus important — and how time-critical but low-value tasks often get in the way of activities that will have a real benefit for your business.

While being busy is great, it’s not always the same as being productive. Accountants who only focus on day-to-day operational tasks risk missing out on opportunities to grow and strengthen their business and adequately prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.

Here are five ways to use your time wisely, so you can position yourself and your firm for future success.

1. Allow time for strategic planning

Every successful business needs a vision and a long-term strategy. For accountants, a sound business strategy is one that allows you to maximise your firm’s resources and adapt to changing client needs and regulatory demands.

You should regularly block out time to work ‘on’ the business, rather than ‘in’ the business. Even spending as little as 30 minutes a week with your phone turned off and your email closed can make a big difference. The key is to lock in the time and stick to it, so you can track your progress and prepare yourself for any upcoming challenges.

2. Make small improvements

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

Once you’ve set your long-term strategy, you need to work out the steps you and your team will take each day to achieve it. A useful approach is to create a 90-day business plan that sets out the incremental changes you’ll make to the business during the next quarter.

When putting together your plan, don’t be overly ambitious — if you set unrealistic goals, targets and timeframes, you’ll be less motivated to plan ahead for the next 90 days. On the other hand, if you commit to making just five business improvements per quarter, that’s 20 a year.

As long as your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely), they’ll each play a useful part in helping you achieve your long-term strategy.

3. Allow yourself to make mistakes

An incremental approach to business improvement has another advantage — if one of your initiatives doesn’t work, you can scratch it and move on, with minimal disruption to your business.

For example, you might be looking to add a new service line to your offering, such as business advisory services in an area like succession planning. Trial the service with one or two clients, find out what works well and what doesn’t, and ask the clients for feedback. That way, you’ll learn from the experience and be able to start your next initiative on the right foot. 

Remember, you won’t achieve results without action. While it’s important to do some pre-planning before you get started, the real value will come through testing and learning. In the years to come, you probably won’t regret any small mistakes you made — but you’ll almost definitely regret the things you didn’t try.

4. Don’t be an island

Many accountants and small business owners don’t have access to an external coach or someone they regularly talk to about their business. Missing out on opportunities to learn from the experience of others.

Each month, invest some time in connecting with your industry peers — whether it’s through attending conferences and networking events, or through informal discussions with accountants from firms similar to yours. Ask them about their recent business initiatives to find out what has worked for them and what hasn’t — and be willing to share your own experiences.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be ready to pursue similar opportunities for your own firm. And by avoiding the mistakes of others, chances are you’ll even save your business time and money.

5. Connect with your clients

Your clients should be at the centre of everything you do. For every business plan or process improvement you make, think about how your clients will benefit.

To truly understand each client’s needs, and be able to meet those needs as they evolve, you need to ask. Don’t limit your client interaction to annual reviews — schedule in a regular phone call with each client every few months to check in on their progress and ask if there’s anything else you can do for them.

Maintaining a high level of client contact takes time, but it will be time well spent. This is because your clients will come to see you as a trusted adviser who understands their unique circumstances and goals. In turn, this will allow you to build deeper client relationships that will sustain your business for many years to come.