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4 ways to carve out 8 hours a week to create the time to work ON your small accountancy firm

by Jan 8, 2020Time and headspace

Struggling to find enough time to work ON your firm? How can you carve out and make sure that you will have 8 hours a week to work on just improving your accountancy firm and growing your business?

Here are some action tips shared during a webinar we ran for our members in May 2018.

How to create time to work ON your firm?

With the same old way of thinking, you’ll get the same old results.

You need to reduce the demands on you from your staff and your clients. Some common excuses that businesses have had for why they don’t delegate to their staff is… 

Only I can do this

Letting go of this view and engaging your staff is really important. Give your staff the development stretch to work on the things that you’re working on, and this will give you time back, and give them an opportunity to step up. 

It’s easier and quicker if I do the work myself:

This mindset keeps you working in the practice rather than on the practice. It might take them longer to do the work, but it will give you more time, and with practice and support your staff will be able to do it quicker. It also increases their capability and your firm’s capability. 

I can do the work better than my staff

So, you want to do the best job that you can for your clients. Now, you may be concerned about the quality of the work would slip by letting someone else do it. You need to ensure you’ve got the right people with the right skills to do the work. But if you don’t develop them so they’re competent and they can do the work, manage them out of the business and replace them with people who are competent to do the work.

My staff doesn’t get it

Often it’s that staff aren’t effectively briefed on how to take on the work. Show them how to do it, support them in giving it a go.

Provide constructive feedback, supervise in making any adjustments necessary, and let them run with it. Think about it as having a scaffolding for a building, so you’re giving them something that they haven’t done before, and you provide that scaffold to their learning, with the right support, and eventually, you can take the scaffold away and they can do it on their own. Give them the opportunity to develop new skills and develop themselves in their career.

My staff might make mistakes

Delegating effectively, you can manage risks and build controls, and we’ll look at that in a few minutes.

My staff just don’t care

If this really is an issue, you need to consider letting them go and getting staff that you deserve.

These are excuses of people who don’t want to or don’t know how to just let go and let the staff do the jobs responsibly. Your business needs you but not every single day. So, consider that time away, an opportunity for everyone to take a step up in terms of responsibility, and developing their skills. Shifting your mindset is what you need in order to have time to grow your practice and work fewer hours.

Save your time, delegate effectively

To delegate effectively is a learned skill, it’s one that will take some adjustment but it’s really worth persevering at because if you can’t free up time by delegating you will be forever stuck in working in your practice, not working on your practice. You won’t be able to achieve the business growth and the personal goals that you want.

Think about tasks that;

  • take up more time than you can afford.
  • you do yourself because you like doing them. 
  • can be done by one or more of your team? 
  • cause problems when you’re away because nobody else can do them, and you rely on you to do them?
  • you do that you could delegate to give somebody else a development opportunity?

In delegating effectively…

  • Set expectations…
  • Setting clear objectives.
  • Performance standards.
  • Outcomes, and,
  • What you expect for the person taking on the role.
  • Be clear about what needs to be done, why and when.
  • When you’re giving out the work, ask the person to reflect back what he or she is supposed to accomplish, to ensure that the goals and the desired outcome are achieved.
  • Establish boundaries, and the amount of time or money to spend.
  • Identify the risks.
  • When you’re delegating responsibilities the first time, identify the risks in which you’re delegating, and put in an action plan and some sort of structure to minimise those risks.
  • Monitor the risks, particularly in high-risk areas.
  • Get regular updates and check how things are going, instead of supervising and communicating, and keeping track of what’s happening.
  • Use management by exception.
  • Once you’ve had a plan of action agreed with the person you’re delegating to, agree when you’ll have a progress update, and what to do when a problem occurs. This allows your staff to just get on with the work, and it allows you to step in if anything deviates from that idea, so, when you do need to step in, build contingency plans to allow the staff to manage work if they get off-track.

Working Independently

The idea is not to be a firefighter yourself, but to enable your staff to fight fires on their own, with you only stepping in when absolutely necessary. So, give your staff the space to solve the issues themselves, and if they have exhausted all resources and still can’t resolve the issues, then you can step in. Monitoring these risks, so you’re not just letting them off on their own, but you’re monitoring them, and taking a high-level view, keeping communication open, getting progress updates, and then get on with the work.

  • Building in controls.
  • This is about ensuring the work stays on track; spend, budget limits, milestones you need to hit, KPI’s.
  • Get regular feedback and updates.
  • Agree on this upfront when you handover the work, how often do you want to get progress updates? How often do they want you to come in and give feedback on their work? How often do you want to come in to review and give feedback on their work? Agree on this beforehand.
  • Review and debrief.
  • Assess how the outcome turned out, and debrief the process, the decisions that were made, and the approach to problem-solving. One of the benefits of doing this is that it helps you to build trust, that you’ll feel more comfortable delegating, it also builds their confidence. Doing this will also allow you to pull out any learnings, and re-jig things if they need to happen in a different way.

Delegating well by active coaching

When you’re delegating work, be yourself as a coach, you want to explain the rules of play, what’s expected in terms of outcome and behaviour, and give feedback from the side-lines. You rarely see a sports coach take over a player’s position on the field, just occasionally they do but it’s a rarity. They normally stay on the lines, observe, provide feedback in a positive way, and advise.

Actively coaching from the side-line means providing that feedback, praise, the advice, and sometimes talking about their work and giving their own perspective, and their thought processes; ‘So, why did you do things this way? Let’s just talk about that a little bit’, get their perspective. It also means celebrating achievements and successes in their efforts in developing new skills and knowledge.

Mistakes are teaching moments

Mistakes happen, so when things don’t go well use the opportunity as a teaching moment. Talk with them about what happened, what they were thinking and why they made the decisions they did. People often learn more from making mistakes than actually initially arriving at the correct answer. 

Make sure your players know how to play, and they get the practice and training they need to build their skills. When you delegate a new task, keep in mind that the person you’re delegating to is learning how to do it, which means the task will take more time, and so your expectations need to be more realistic, and not measured by how quickly you can accomplish the task.

The point is, you’re trying to delegate and get somebody else to do the task, so it frees up your time, so it might take them longer and eventually, they’ll get quicker. Your staff will develop their own skills and problem-solving ability, the more competent they become the more work they can take off you, and that gives you time to focus on growing your business.

Minimising interruptions

To have the time and space that you need to work on your practice you need to minimise interruptions from your team, your staff, and your clients. 

Some tips:

  1. Switching off your phone or putting it on silent.
  2. Turning off notifications on email, phone, social media, so you’re not distracted with a new ‘ping’ notification, or an email that comes through.
  3. Close any applications you’re not currently using.
  4. Block out time in your diary, and letting your staff know you’re busy. It’s a kind of virtual ‘Do not disturb’ sign. You can also put up a physical ‘Do not disturb’ sign! Some people do.
  5. You’re more likely to ignore distractions if you’ve got a defined amount of time set aside. So, set aside time in your diary, ‘Working on the business’, then people are more likely not to interrupt you.
  6. Work somewhere else, in another office, or in a meeting room. You don’t actually need to leave the building, you can just work somewhere else, so you’re not as easily accessible. Or, get out of the office, work from home, or go for a walk.
  7. Get to the office earlier, my husband does, he’s in by 7 o’clock every morning in Canary Wharf. He likes going in early because he doesn’t get disturbed, he can just get work done. So, if it’s a possibility to get to the office earlier you can carve out some time before other people get in.
  8. Be assertive, and tell people, ‘I’m just not available right now, can we schedule a time to talk later?’ Learn to say, ‘Not now’, and to say, ‘No’, or, ‘Let’s sort something out later’. And if it’s hard to say no, then practice how you can say it, to make it easier.

Supercharging your productivity

  • Minimise interruptions and distractions. We’ve just talked about ways of how to do this
  • Know and understand your natural productivity rhythm. What time of day works best for you, where are you most productive? Some people are more productive in the morning, and some have more energy and work better in the evening. 

There’s a lot of research on alternating rhythms which is the cycle of natural energy peaks and values that are repeated through a 24-hour cycle. At night the rhythm is associated with different stages of sleep, but during the day it corresponds with different levels of energy and alertness. Each cycle lasts about two hours, the brain works at its best for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break, so just hammering out a session for hours and hours isn’t very productive. 

Your brain needs time to just have a little bit of a break, so, spend 90 minutes of really focussed time, and then take a break. Do something completely different like going for a walk, or having a cup of tea, just getting away from the desk, away from the work, and taking a break.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson did some famous research in 1993 on violinists, he found the best violinists all practice the same way. In the morning in three increments of no more than 90 minutes, and each one had a break in between. He discovered the same pattern amongst other musicians, athletes, chess players, and writers. He saw that the future recording artists, the future first chairs practiced more than any other musicians, but they did so in a consistent, deliberate manner, and they slept more, about an hour more a day than any of the others, usually a nap in the afternoon.

Ways to create the time to work ON your firm

I’m not suggesting a nap is going to be the best way in the middle of your day in your office, but the point is to think about ways you can relax and let your brain recharge, that will help your productivity.

  • Play to your strengths. Do what you do naturally well, and then build a team around you to fill in the gaps. If you’re not a detail person get someone who is naturally strong in detail to manage all the details.
  • Block out your diary. We covered this in the last slide, but it’s important that we add it here as well just to reinforce the point.

Being Ultraproductive 

If you want to be ultra-productive, block out time in your diary to work on your practice. It is that virtual ‘Do not disturb’ sign that gives you time out and, ensures that that time is reserved for strategic planning, and you won’t start doing other things.

  • Set aside time to focus first thing in the morning. So, if you can and that’s when you work best, first thing in the morning focus on your business, spend an hour or two doing that. If you can, get to the office before everyone else, and that way you won’t get disturbed and you can focus; we’ve already talked about that, but it’s a good thing just to plan that time in.
  • Stop meetings from eating up your day. Set aside specific times of the day in which you’re available for meetings, and try to corral those meetings into this zone, rather than spreading out throughout the day.
  • Limit email time. Make a point of checking to respond to emails just at a couple of specific times, maybe in the morning and the afternoon, but not letting emails overwhelm you, and the notification pings, and feeling that you need to respond.
  • Delegate. Think about what you’re busy doing and which another person could, or perhaps should do.
  • Rest, relax, and recharge. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep and exercise to relax, or energise yourself, whichever way works best for you, even if its just going out for a walk. Take time out for holidays and breaks. It’s so important to take time away from your business, to not only give your brain a chance to rest, get creative, come up with ideas and solutions for your business but also to look after your own health and well-being.

Rest when necessary

Rest is actually a skill, just like breathing is a skill for singers, we can all learn to do it better, but you need to both work and rest to be at your best. 

Arshad said, ‘Should I block out a full day, or break it up?’ You can break it up, just make sure if you break it up, you leave a good chunk of time, so maybe half a day, and then another half a day, or a good three hours, because what you might find is, you get a rhythm going, you get some ideas going for your business, and then suddenly you’ve got a meeting right afterward. So, ideally if you just have one day, you can just focus on that, and that allows you to free up some other distractions.

If that’s not possible, try for half a day, and if that’s still not possible then try to get three hours, even if you have to get in early, get three hours, and then see if you can extend that to full-day, to think about your business. You create that virtual whiteboard – 

  • What can you do?
  • Where do you want your business to go? 
  • What needs to happen within your business, to get that growth that you want?

To listen to the whole of the virtual masterclass click here (email required).