Advice for finding that elusive work/life balance.
Having raised two children, both who had busy schedules, and a husband with a career who had much responsibility, time has always been in short supply. My sister used to say I was a drill sergeant. That our lives ran on schedule and a list(s).
These days, I own a busy bookkeeping and tax business. Although kids are grown, and a granddaughter that lives in another city, life is still crazy busy. I have found that I have to be even more diligent with my time to get the list(s!) complete. This includes strategically blocking my calendar using various colours for the different types of activity!
A few years ago, I worked with a business coach who had a track record of managing his own very successful businesses. One session was related to improvement of my productivity. He said, you need to block your calendar for various management tasks. At the time, I pushed back. How could I block time when clients and Team Members needed me through-out the day, every day! It turned out that by not planning time properly my “so called” productive work was relegated to evenings and weekends. I was drowning in work and knew that my situation could not continue. I decided to follow his advice (thanks Sia!). I started small. I began to compartmentalize my different activities using different colours for meetings, those in-house and those out of the office including travel time (pre-pandemic). Next came my volunteer meetings for my professional association, CPB Canada #bookkeepersrock. This was helping but I continued to work evenings and weekends.
What was taking up my time? Many, many things that I did not even realize.
Silo daily interruptions
The interruptions for phone calls and questions. We have always been users of Office 365 but have not always used all of the tools available. We implemented Teams for our office communication. What a game changer! Our Team members could forward their question and it can be answered during a block in my calendar specific for this purpose. Phone calls are now scheduled in the calendar. Instead of via email or Teams messages, the phone messages are listed in an appointment in my calendar for returning. If it becomes telephone tag, an email is sent to the recipient requesting they call the office to set a time when we will both be available. Lately phone calls have become Zoom meetings and it’s so much better when you can see the other person. Many of my colleagues have moved to online scheduling platforms. For my practice, I prefer the personal touch.
Disrupt the endless scroll
Social media! Scrolling through Facebook, LinkedIn etc can just have you going down a rabbit hole. I am working on restricting my screen time for social media to twice a day. It is hard. Sometimes, I swear I can hear it calling.
Manage constant interruption
Requests from everyone. With clients having many different ways to contact us, I was losing requests. I have now instituted a policy that requests of me must come in an email. From there it can be set to a task through our office client management system, Aero. Nothing is lost and I am finding everyone is respectful of this request. I block time in my calendar to deal with my emails.
Create focused lists
How many times have you told yourself you are a great multi-tasker? I have found having too many projects on my desk at the same time takes away my focus. One project at a time and take it to completion or as far as you can go. We use our client management software, Aero, to track all tasks in the office. When we start a task, we open the Aero and use the checklist and the notes field to document where we are at. If the task cannot be completed, follow up notes are added, then the task deferred until the additional information is received to complete the task. I like the ability to defer to a more appropriate time. It takes it off my current priorities and will come back on at the time I have scheduled. This also allows other Team members to see where I am at with a task.
Clear your workspace and create privacy
There are many in my profession that love paper. In my office, we are on a mission to eliminate paper and filing cabinets from our office. Real estate rental is costly. Why have square feet taken up by cabinets and paper? Everything that our clients do not put in Auto Entry (a document management system) is scanned when it comes into the office. Our client files are kept on our secure server. We have recently implemented a portal on our website using ShareFile by Citrix. This will allow clients to send us documents securely through the portal. We will also have the ability to send documents securely back to clients. Citrix also allows us to send documents for signature. RightSignature provides us a secure way for clients to sign tax documents and return them to us.
We have an open office. It is great for problem solving amongst the Team but sometimes can be an annoyance when others are having discussions. We encourage everyone to use headphones or ear buds. I found that when I plug in and have soft music playing, this allows more focus on the tasks at hand.
5 minutes can change your day
Procrastination. I am guilty of this. If the project is weighing heavily on your mind, set aside 5 minutes. Usually 5 minutes will allow you to get a grasp on what is required and time to make a plan. Sometimes that task only needs the five minutes. If it requires a plan, schedule it into your work plan for the week, add your notes to the task, and then put it aside. I love lists. Having a list also helps with reducing my procrastination tendency. It’s the ticking off of the items on the list that gives me immense satisfaction.
Time can be our friend
Time is always going to be in short supply. How we respect time, will ensure we accomplish all that needs to be done.
“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend,” said Theophrastus. Ancient Greek philosophy is known by its smart combination of theoretical thoughts and practical approach. Theophrastus understood time as an accident of motion that cannot be stopped or reversed, and he said that the waste of time is the most extravagant and costly of all expenses.
Hopefully the lessons I’ve learned along the way will help you create your own time management plan. There are enough hours in the day if we get smart about how we use them.
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