How To Create More Time
Let’s talk all about how to create more hours in the day. Teaching better time management to accountants is one of my superpowers. It’s also why I’ve been able to have stress-free tax seasons.
Time management is a topic I’ll probably be discussing often on this podcast, but for now, I want to start by asking you to consider a few questions:
Have you ever found yourself wishing for more hours in a day? What would you like to do with that extra time?
What are your top time-related challenges as an accountant?
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with your workload? How do you usually cope with it?
What’s your relationship with time like? Is it your friend, a foe, or something in between?
As accountants, I think we all have a love/hate relationship with time. Most of us have said things like, “I don’t have enough time,” “There simply aren’t enough hours in the day,” or perhaps, “I wish I had more time for the family.” Sound familiar?
You’ve probably experienced the relentless ticking of the clock, especially during frenzied tax seasons, quarterly reports, or year-end audits.
The funny thing about time is that, on the one hand, it can be your worst enemy, adding stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. But on the other hand, it can also be your best friend, offering you moments of rest and satisfaction.
In today’s episode I want to help you turn time into your most loyal ally.
The truth is that your struggle with time isn’t unique to you; it’s a universal challenge within the accounting profession. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting your accounting journey, the battle against the clock is real.
I’m going to be diving into the complexities of your relationship with time and uncover the two main culprits behind time wastage: overwhelm and perfectionism. By understanding these issues, you can regain control and create more time for yourself.
My purpose with this episode is to provide you with practical insights and real-world strategies to revolutionize your approach to time management. Whether you’re working in a firm, managing your own practice, or starting your career, the principles I’ll discuss can be tailored to suit your unique circumstances.
I want to help you conquer time, boost your productivity, and attain a healthier balance between your professional and personal life.
Your Relationship with Time
The first thing I want to discuss is your unique relationship with time. Just like you have relationships with the people, places, and things in your life, you also have a relationship with time.
To simplify this, think of time like that mysterious friend you can’t quite figure out. Sometimes, it seems like it’s got your back, and other times, it’s just playing tricks on you. Your relationship with time can be quite complex.
Now, here’s where brain science comes into play. Your brain is like a sophisticated control center, managing everything you do, and it has a few quirky ways of handling time. It’s not just a clock on the wall; it’s deeply intertwined with your thoughts and feelings.
As I’ve shared before on this podcast, your lower, primitive brain is motivated by three things, referred to as the Motivational Triad. It’s motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and, most interestingly for our topic, it tries to use as little energy as possible.
Imagine this: Your work and personal life pile up with tasks and responsibilities. The more you load onto your mental plate, the more your brain can start to freak out.
Next thing you know, you’ve got thoughts like, “There’s no way I can accomplish all this,” “I don’t have enough time,” and “This is too much!”
These thoughts create a feeling we all know well: overwhelm. It’s like your brain’s warning sign that it’s about to go into overdrive. But here’s where it gets tricky.
Your brain, in its quest for conserving energy, sees overwhelm as a sweet escape. You see, it’s not a fan of spending a lot of energy, and it thinks that when you’re overwhelmed, you’ll take less action and do less things.
So, it sort of lures you into procrastination and distraction, like email, social media scrolling, or easier tasks, because it’s less effort than tackling your to-do list. In other words, your brain prefers less action and more distraction to save energy, even if it leaves you feeling overwhelmed.
Basically, the trick your brain is playing here is that it equates overwhelm with doing less, which, in its energy-saving logic, seems like a win. But in reality, you’re not getting more done; you’re getting less done, and you’re wasting time in the process.
But that’s not the only time thief. There’s also perfectionism, which is a common challenge for accountants. It’s this belief that you can always do better, but unfortunately it often leads to overthinking.
Here’s where brain science comes into play again. When you spend a lot of time thinking about how to do things perfectly, your brain expends a ton of energy, leaving you feeling exhausted and less productive.
Picture this scenario: You have to prepare a financial report for a client. Instead of diving straight into the data analysis and number crunching, you find yourself obsessing over the formatting, font choices, and layout of the report. You meticulously go over every detail, fearing that even the tiniest imperfection might cost you a client.
In the process, your brain is working overtime, expending precious energy on these non-essential aspects. Unfortunately, your brain can’t distinguish between overthinking and productive action.
So, by the time you’ve finally completed the report, you’re mentally drained, and the hours have slipped away. You’ve spent so much time perfecting the appearance of the report that you’ve lost valuable time for the actual financial analysis.
This kind of perfectionist thinking can be a major time waster for accountants. It’s important to recognize when it’s happening and learn how to strike a balance between attention to detail and efficient time management, which we’ll delve into in the sections that follow.
So it’s important to understand that your brain often chooses shortcuts that, in the end, waste more of your time rather than save it. Overwhelm and perfectionism are the two major culprits here.
How to Create More Time – The GPA System
Now I want to share a simple system that I teach my time management clients – the GPA system. It’s a simple yet incredibly helpful framework designed to help you make the most of your time.
Getting Things Out of Your Brain
While your brain is fantastic at processing information, it’s not the ideal place to store your to-dos. Imagine it as a computer overloaded with too many applications – it slows down and gets confused.
As an accountant managing client meetings, financial reports, and personal commitments, trying to remember everything can lead to chaos. To alleviate this burden, the first step in the GPA system involves offloading tasks from your mind onto paper.
Although digital tools have their place, I recommend starting with traditional writing. Why? Because physically jotting things down triggers a part of your brain that aids in processing and remembering, unlike digital tools that often lead to distractions.
For example, if you have various tasks cluttering your mind, such as “Client meeting at 10 AM,” “Submit quarterly financials,” “Remember to get a birthday card,” and “Contact the client about open items,” centralizing them on paper frees your brain from the burden of remembering every detail.
By externalizing your tasks, you create a mental space where your brain can perform at its best, focusing on the actual work rather than worrying about what needs to be done.
Putting it on the Calendar
The GPA system’s true strength lies in scheduling, not just listing tasks. Instead of vague to-do lists, you’ll craft a well-structured plan for your day.
Here’s what you need to know about to-do lists – they are incredibly overwhelming to your brain. And do you know what doesn’t help you get more done in less time? An overwhelmed brain.
You must learn to calendar everything and make as many decisions ahead of time as possible. Here’s why – when you are deciding and planning, you are using your higher brain.
For instance, instead of noting “Work on Client X’s financials” on your to-do list, take it a step further. Insert it into your calendar as “Work on Client X’s financials from 2 PM to 4 PM on Thursday.”
This level of detail brings clarity to your day. Your brain gets a clear roadmap, knowing when and where each task is happening, eliminating confusion and overwhelm.
While scheduling, I advise my clients to begin with planning their free time first. Just like dessert, knowing there are rewards at specific times can maintain motivation throughout the day.
Why Bite-Size Pieces Matter
As accountants, we excel at breaking down complex financial tasks into manageable steps. The GPA system mirrors this approach. By dividing your day into smaller, actionable pieces, you make it easier to tackle.
Take, for example, handling a tax return with numerous K-1 forms and brokerage statements. Breaking it down into smaller, manageable tasks, such as collecting documents, reviewing them, checking deductions, inputting data, and reviewing the return, makes the overwhelming task more achievable.
By following this method, you turn a daunting project into a series of smaller, doable tasks, ensuring that you make steady progress while maintaining focus and energy throughout the day. In simpler terms, you’re taking a big task and breaking it down into smaller, doable parts, making it less intimidating and conducive to effective time management. The best part? You get more done in less time.
Assessing Your Follow-Through
The final piece of our GPA system involves assessing your ability to follow through. Reflect on what went well and what didn’t by asking questions like:
Where was my time well spent?
What made me follow through?
Where did I waste time?
Why did I fail to follow through?
Where did I get stuck in confusion or overwhelm?
What led to distractions?
What can I do differently next time?
By assessing your follow-through, you gain insights into your own actions and self-awareness, empowering you to fine-tune your time management skills.
The GPA system is one part of The Smarter Accountant Time Management Program and enables you to create more time by working efficiently, moving tasks from your brain to your calendar, breaking them into manageable pieces, and self-assessing to maximize your productivity. There’s much more to better time management, but this will definitely help you to create more time.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant: Tackling Time Wasters To Create More Time
Now that I’ve explained the process for creating more time with the GPA system, let’s tackle the elephant in the room – time wasters. These sneaky culprits can steal precious hours from your day, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and unproductive.
Let’s go over some of the biggest time wasters and I’ll show you how regaining control over them can help you create more time.
1. Email Overload:
Raise your hand if you’ve ever spent hours digging through your email inbox, responding to messages, and feeling like you’ve achieved very little. Email can be a notorious time waster, especially when it’s disorganized and filled with unnecessary messages.
Solution: Set specific times to check and respond to emails. Use filters to categorize messages, and unsubscribe from newsletters that clutter your inbox. By taming your email, you free up substantial chunks of time for productive work.
Procrastination is one of the biggest time wasters for accountants. It often stems from feeling overwhelmed or unsure of where to start. Instead of tackling important tasks, you find yourself lost in minor distractions.
Solution: First, become aware of the feelings that typically drive you to procrastinate and then learn how to manage your mind. When you learn the skill of managing your mind, you’ll be able to eliminate stress and overwhelm. Second, break tasks into smaller, manageable parts, as we’ve discussed with the GPA system. Set clear deadlines and reward yourself for completing them. By conquering procrastination, you regain control of your time and productivity.
3. Unplanned Meetings:
Endless meetings can be a significant time waster, especially when they lack a clear agenda or drag on without purpose. When your calendar is crammed with unnecessary meetings, your actual work suffers.
Solution: Before agreeing to a meeting, ask for a clear agenda and objective. Suggest shorter meetings or utilize video conferencing to save time. By reclaiming your schedule from aimless meetings, you create more time for meaningful tasks.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking actually slows you down instead of making you more efficient. When you juggle several tasks at once, your brain frequently switches between them, causing time and mental energy to be wasted.
Solution: Focus on one task at a time. Prioritize your to-do list, allocate dedicated time for each item on your calendar, and only do what’s in one block of time at a time. This method enhances your concentration and productivity.
Striving for perfection can lead to excessive time spent on tasks. While attention to detail is essential for accountants, perfectionism often means spending more time than necessary on a task.
Solution: Set clear standards for your work and recognize when something is “good enough.” This approach can help you complete tasks more efficiently, freeing up time for other responsibilities.
6. Social Media and Digital Distractions:
The digital age has brought many benefits, but it also offers endless distractions. Scrolling through social media, checking news websites, or watching YouTube videos can easily devour your time.
Solution: Use website blockers or productivity apps to limit your access to distracting sites during work hours. The truth is that our lower, Toddler brain is not onboard with accounting work and will look for distractions any way that it can. By curbing digital distractions, you gain extra time for meaningful work.
7. Not Having Effective Boundaries:
The truth is that setting clear boundaries regarding your availability is crucial, especially when dealing with well-intentioned colleagues who might not be aware of the impact of their interruptions..
Solution: If possible, establish specific “focus time” during your workday when you’ll avoid interruptions. Communicate this to your team and let them know that you’ll be available for discussions or questions during certain hours. This creates a balance between collaboration and focused work. If the interruptions often come from clients, turn on your away message to say when you will be answering emails throughout the day.
Hopefully you now see that these common time wasters can significantly impact your productivity and work-life balance. By recognizing them and taking steps to control them, you’ll create more time for what truly matters.
As an accountant, efficient time management is your superpower, and taming these time wasters will help you harness that power to the fullest.
Well, that’s what I have for you. Thank you for joining me on this exploration of creating more hours in the day. I hope you’ve gained valuable insights and practical tools to better manage your time.
If you are struggling with any aspect of being an accountant, you can simply go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
I’ll explain The Smarter Accountant 6-week Program and how you can apply it to whatever you’re struggling with.
That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.