Being a busy professional is tough. With constant meetings, deadlines, emails, projects, and interruptions, it's easy to feel like you're always trying to catch up.
So how can you capture all those questions, to-dos, deadlines and requirements to stay on top of your work and feel less overwhelmed? In this article, we'll look at some of the best ways to keep track of things during the workday or week, helping you take control of your time and to-do list.
The toll of task switching on productivity
First, let's consider the toll that task switching takes.
Task switching, or moving from one task to another, can significantly erode productivity.
Think about the last time you were deep in thought, working on a project, when the phone rang, a notification dinged on your phone, or someone stopped by your office with a quick question. While these interruptions might take just a few seconds or minutes, when we switch tasks, our brains require a certain amount of time to readjust focus. This is known as a "switching cost," and these brief mental blocks can cost as much as 40% of your productive time.
Moreover, constant task switching can lead to errors due to inadequate attention given to each task, not to mention the mental fatigue accrued from continuous shifts in focus. Thus, we get less done and with lower-quality results.
How to take control of your time and to-do list
Taking control of your time and to-do list might seem impossible, but it's possible with some strategic planning, focus, and productivity tools. So let's review some effective methods and tools to help you take control of your time and tasks.
Block out focus time
Blocking out focus time on your calendar is a powerful strategy for maintaining productivity and reducing the impact of task-switching. This process involves designating specific time slots in your day exclusively for focused work.
You can use a digital calendar like Google Calendar or Outlook to create these blocks, setting them as "Busy" to prevent others from scheduling meetings during this time. Be sure to label these blocks with the specific task or project you plan to focus on.
During these time blocks, turn off all notifications on your phone, close your email, and close your office door (if you have one). This will prevent (or at least minimize) distractions, allowing you to get more done.
Designate meeting-free days
At Boomer Consulting, we started designating Tuesdays as internal meeting-free days within the past year. We'd reached a point where internal and external meetings were filling so much of our time we had to work outside of regular "office hours" to get work done.
Blocking off one day on a firm-wide level allows us to have one day where we know we can put our heads down for a good stretch of hours and get work done.
Use project management tools
While many firms leverage workflow tools for tracking client engagements, a surprising number of accounting firms have yet to integrate project management tools or apps into their internal project workflows.
Think of all the things you do in a day that aren't related to a client engagement: evaluating a new technology, completing your CPE hours, writing a blog for your firm's content marketing plan, scheduling a monthly check-in with someone on your team, rolling out a change to your processes. These are all tasks that fall outside of client engagements but may be essential to your role.
Project management tools like Asana, Monday, or Trello provide a centralized platform to manage tasks, deadlines, and milestones, fostering a culture of structure and organization that can significantly reduce bottlenecks and increase project success rates. By implementing a project management tool, firms can streamline their internal workflows, increase transparency, improve collaboration and, ultimately, enhance productivity.
Have a process for capturing to-dos
What happens when you get an email or phone call from a client that needs to be addressed or answered but isn't so time-sensitive you have to drop what you're doing and handle it right now?
Having a process for capturing these to-dos is crucial. Instead of relying on your memory, a sticky note, or using your email as a task manager and risking forgetting a task, have a process for capturing the task and moving it to your workflow later.
Your process for capturing to-dos will depend on how you prefer to work. You might move all such emails into a separate folder, print them out, have a notepad on your desk for jotting down tasks, or use an app like Google Keep or Apple Reminders.
Whatever your preferred method, take time at the end of every day to review what you've captured and add those tasks to your workflow tool so it doesn't get overlooked.
Automate where you can
Automation is another powerful way to stay on top of your work and avoid getting bogged down in mundane tasks. If there are repetitive tasks that you perform frequently, consider setting up automated processes to handle them. For example, you might use automation tools to run a particular report every month or set up an automatic email sequence for onboarding new clients. By automating these tasks, you can save time and focus on more important things. Being a busy professional can be challenging, but with the right tools and processes, you can take control of your workday and stay on top of your to-do list.
Remember to give yourself uninterrupted focus time, utilize project management tools, have a method for capturing tasks and automate where you can. With a little effort and the right mindset, you can streamline your workday and achieve more than you ever thought possible.
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As a Project Manager for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Jacqueline plans, executes and manages the people, resources and scope of many of our firm’s projects, programs and events. Her primary focus is on managing projects for IT Consulting, Strategic Planning and Talent Consulting. In addition, Jacqueline works closely with leadership to oversee the company’s human resources by managing hiring, onboarding, training and development and overseeing our Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS). She also supports our Allyship for Diversity commitment at BCI, which seeks to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion within Boomer Consulting and the accounting profession. Jacqueline also works on the strategy and development of our eLearning initiatives.