Well, we’re officially deep into the 2017 busy season. And that means, you’re probably bombarded with more tasks than you can possibly handle and you’re trying to find some ways to remain efficient and productive to stay afloat. We’ve all been there! Fortunately, we have a few productivity tips here that can help you get to the finish line (a.k.a., the Tax Day Office Party).
Quit Letting Email and Notifications Distract You
Emails, texts, instant messages, Facebook and Twitter notifications, and voicemails result in a never-ending trickle of ring tones that result in a raging case of Productivity Death by a Thousand Papercuts. Our advice: kill all of the notifications—at least during the busy season. Close Outlook, put away your iPhone, and close those social media browser tabs. Instead, schedule specific times in your day to address the various forms of communication. This will allow you to focus on the actual work you need to do and allow you to keep your train of thought locked in. We have even gone so far as to draft emails in Word or putting Outlook into offline mode, sending them at scheduled times, to avoid the deluge of inbox items. It takes some discipline, but if you can master this, you’ll find you get more work done in much less time (and maybe even manage to work fewer hours).
Take Care of Yourself
The office can be a minefield of unhealthy snacks, caffeine, and a lack of physical activity. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to mitigate these issues. First, pack your own lunches and snacks to avoid unhealthy elements like simple sugars, which can cause blood sugar spikes and dropouts (hello, mid-afternoon energy slump). This will keep you from simply grabbing the first available item in your haste to get back to work. Second, combat fatigue with water, not caffeine. Fatigue is often caused by dehydration, not a failure to consume coffee. Third, move! Get up and walk around regularly. Exercise daily if you can manage it. See if you can even invest in a desk at which you can stand rather than sit. All of these things will help keep you operating at your mental and physical best.
Managers often fall into this simple trap: “It’ll only take me five minutes, as opposed to handing it off to someone else who’ll take longer.” This is fine when you have legitimate capacity, but not when you’re already working 80 hours a week. It’s all-too-easy for you to look at your to-do list at the end of a day and find a dozen or more “five minute” items that you didn’t pass on and now have to knock out before you can go home. And, let’s be honest, what projects ever actually take just five minutes? This can add hours to a day at the worst possible time, when you’ve already worked a full day and are mentally less efficient. If your team has capacity, use it!
Seek Easy Work Early
We all have clients who would have sent us their tax information early, if only we’d called in January. How much easier would our lives be if we could knock out some of these easier projects early in January or February, rather than having to cram them in during March or April? Plan for next year to start communicating your needs to your clients early and reap the benefits. After all, you and your staff are quicker and fresher during this period than down the stretch. Plus, as a bonus, clients will appreciate your proactive communication and desire to help them get done early.
Firms often wait to have new staff start in December or January. Instead, for next season, consider hiring staff on in September or October. This provides ample opportunity to train them thoroughly before the busy season kicks in. Think about it: how much time do you have to train up staff and answer questions in January or February versus, say, October or November? Yes, this might cost a bit more since you’re paying for staff for a few extra months, but a little extra investment on the front end can pay dividends in productivity gains and fewer distractions during the busy season.
By doing just these few things, you can set yourself up for a successful, productive, and maybe slightly-less-stressful busy season. And, of course, if you need a breather or some motivation, you can start planning your post-season vacation. After all, who doesn’t like a nice light at the end of the tunnel?