Time management for trainee accountants

Time management. What do you think of when you hear the phrase?

Some might cringe, others are bored. In our profession, we sell time, therefore it is essential to manage your time effectively. Not only to be able to accurately bill the client, but also to manage stress, manage your life and be a better employee or student. It might be more applicable to the newer entrants into the profession, but with this article, I hope to provide some healthy tips on how to effectively manage your time.

Time management is the process of planning and conscious control of time spent on specific activities. A tool that especially increases effectiveness and efficiency or productivity. Time is the greatest equaliser in life. No matter who you are, no one has more time than the next person. The difference comes in how effectively you manage your time.

People are different and therefore different things works for different people. Some people have found what works for them while studying, others have spent years in their chosen career and are still trying to find the right fit. The starting point for essential time management would be to know yourself.

If you just open Google and type in ‘time management’, you will find multiple options of advice. Clearly it is a universal obstacle and many good time management systems are available. The key is to find one that works for you. Here are some examples:

Create a daily plan

Not only is it important to create this plan, but it would be useless if you didn’t reflect on the daily plan. Have you done the tasks you set yourself out to do? If not, why not?

Peg a time limit to each task

Break your ultimate goal up into smaller pieces. This will make it easier to achieve the longer, bigger goals and will give you a much greater sense of achievement. This aids in overcoming procrastination, conquering perfectionism, sharps focus, increases efficiency and boosts motivation.

Use an organiser/calendar, know your deadlines and plan to be early

The quadrant time management system splits your activities into four quadrants, based on urgency and importance. Those activities that are neither urgent nor important are the ones you want to stay away from.

Learn to say no

Saying no can sometimes be an asset to your career. Be true to yourself and don’t feel guilty when saying no. How you phrase your response makes the big difference.

Set reminders

Not only for tasks to be done, but also to take frequent breaks. You might think that you don’t have the luxury of time, but hours upon hours bent over your desk can be a bigger waste of time than clearing your mind every so often.

Focus and block out distractions

One of the biggest time wasters are our bad habits. Whether it is scrolling through social media, binge watching your favourite series, playing games, frequently partying, procrastinating or so on, those bad habits take away the precious little time we have.

Track your time spent

This is not only important to accurately bill your client, but also makes the dreaded process of submitting timesheets so much quicker, with less frustration and less time unnecessarily wasted. Thereby you can reflect and increase the proficiency of assigning time to future tasks.

Don’t fuss about unimportant details

Don’t let trivial issues, or too much focus on the detail, become an obstacle to meeting the objective of a task. If you met the objective of the task at hand and the time limit has been reached, move on to the next. Don’t make something out of nothing which is nothing.

Prioritise and delegate

Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it is best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” His point is to tackle your biggest tasks in the morning. Accomplishing those, will give you momentum to aid in sailing through the rest of the day.

Identify and eliminate time wasters

Balance is key. If there is no balance, you will feel stressed out. Don’t underestimate the importance of taking time off. Do things like taking a walk in the park or sit and listen to your favourite music. By doing this you will achieve some balance. Remember, life is short, so don’t ignore those seemingly little things on your way to achieving your bigger goals.

Leave buffer time in between tasks

Don’t rush from one task to the next, if you so you may not feel good about how the new task was started. The mental transition from one task to the next hasn’t been made.

“Time management is really a misnomer – the challenge is not to manage time, but manage ourselves. The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” Stephen R Covey

Martha Hamming

Trainee Accountant, Johannesburg