Thank you to www.speakandwrite.com for bringing the HBR blog post The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time to my attention. Multitasking was a buzz word for a long time and certainly in the accounting world during tax season, accountants are managing multiple tasks at any one time. The article suggests that switching between activities without completely focusing on one increases the project time by as much as 25%.
That can’t be good for work schedules, budgeting or client satisfaction. But before we talk about remedies let’s also face the root cause of why accountants are multitasking and having a negative impact on productivity. One challenge accountants face is poorly trained clients. That is, clients bring in their information incomplete, yet accountants start the project. Accountants need to be disciplined in not beginning a client project until they have all of the information. They need systems in place to review the client work papers early in the process and let clients know what is missing. Compare these 2 firms:
- One firm we work with has systems in place that scans the information the day it arrives and within 24 hours the client is made aware of any missing documents AND that work will not start until they have the missing information.
- Another firm (for whom we did a Client Satisfaction Survey) however receives client information towards the end of January and February, but typically doesn’t start the engagement until March. They then make the client aware of missing documents in the middle of March.
What do you think is the level of client satisfaction in both of these firms? Which firm do you think comes in on budget? The lesson here is that you need systems!
The HBR post offers a number of tips for both managers and individuals and its certainly worth checking out. I think the best tip is:
Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time.
This tip is certainly not new – Stephen Covey (and a whole host of other authors) called it “First Things First” in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
I think another tip not mentioned in the blog post is to plan your day. Start the day with a plan.
- What needs to be achieved today?
- What deadlines are looming?
- What calls do I need to make?
And then tick them off as you do them. I also like to finish the day with a plan.
- What needs to be done tomorrow?
- What meetings are coming up that I need to prepare for?
- Are there any changing priorities?
Some people keep paper lists, some create tasks in Outlook or their practice management software and some use the sticky-notes download which is an electronic version of post-it notes.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s time to take a step back and look at all the projects on your plate. Could some be delegated? Those that can’t need to be prioritized and a plan created to tackle them. And as the article suggests, tackling them one-by-one might be the most productive way of doing it.
Read the full article at http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2012/03/the-magic-of-doing-one-thing-a.html
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