11 Time-saving Tips For Busy Finance And Accounts Departments
It’s month end and you’re up against it. It seems that no matter how much you try to plan what order you’ll do everything in, your To-Do list doesn’t seem to get any shorter.
Every time you go to finish running that report for the contract’s manager who needs the figures for his cost and value reconciliation, the phone rings because somebody is chasing payment or there’s a query with an invoice.
And, before you know it, it’s time to go to your team meeting and you remember that you’ve barely touched your slides since last month. You’ll have to wing-it again and rely on remembering all the key figures and where your major accounts are up to.
Time’s ticking, so you better get a move on. Here are 11 time-saving tips for finance professionals and accounts departments. Underneath the list is a breakdown of each tip and some suggested tools and downloads to help you save time and make your working life easier:
- Switch Off Emails
- Get Tough Jobs Done Early
- Plan Better
- Do, Dump and Delegate
- Multi-Task Less
- File Digitally
- Automate Expenses
- Use Two Screens
- Have Quiet Space
- Get Really Under The Hood On Typical Programmes & Software
- Adopt Uniform Reporting
Switch Off Emails
Get out of your inbox and turn-off the desktop notifications. You will NOT miss anything major and the world will not end if you don’t reply straight away.
If a genuine emergency is in progress, somebody wouldn’t be emailing anyway, they’d pick up the phone or kick down the door!
The benefits of staying out of your email inbox are two-fold:
First, you will be able to manage your focus and concentration a lot more readily because you won’t be tempted to “just take a look” at that email which just landed and then get back to your original task. It takes over 20 minutes to get back on track. Was it really worth opening that email that you did nothing with?
Second, the more you reply to emails straight away, the more it encourages people to email you. This means you spend more time retrieving files and documents that people could find themselves if they really tried and more time getting involved in overly-long email chains which don’t actually need your input.
Reverse this trend by turning off the notifications and giving yourself an allocated couple of times in the day to check your emails for anything that’s genuinely one of your action items.
Get Tough Jobs Done Early
Another great tip is to get tricky jobs out of the way before you do anything else. This habit will get you into the right frame of mind for the rest of the day and stop you, subconsciously or otherwise, procrastinating throughout the day.
That means you won’t be extending email discussions or getting ahead on other tasks in order to avoid or defer sending that tricky email or having the awkward conversation you’ve been dreading all day.
Getting big tasks smashed out the park when you first land in the office will make the rest of the day seem like a breeze in comparison. Not only will this save you time, but it’ll also decrease your stress levels.
Bite the bullet and do that job first.
Part of these first two tips is skirting around the elephant in the room. If you’re struggling for time, you’re going to need to think about how you plan your working life.
Set long (monthly), medium (weekly) and short (daily) term plans and to-do lists for yourself. Then make sure you are only doing tasks which help to achieve completion of them both. If a new task lands on your plate and it means you won’t be able to complete today’s to-do list, but it does help to achieve your long-term plan for the month, do it.
If not, dump it or delegate it…
Do, Dump and Delegate
Be ruthless with this activity. You are in your position because you have the capacity to think and plan a vision for your department. The business needs you to strategize for the greater good. You’re not just a doer; you’re a thinker too.
Whenever possible, if you can’t get a task done without it delaying something else, delegate it to a junior or dump it altogether.
Delegation will help your department to stay productive and stop you being a bottleneck as well as stopping you feeling the burden of having no time to get anything done.
Another aspect of your working life which most probably needs addressing is that you’re multi-tasking far too much. Emails are one thing – we’ve already covered that issue – but try to work only on one task at once. Rigidly.
Don’t get sucked into trying to start another task until the one you’re working on is completely off your plate and onto somebody else’s. Or, better yet, it’s 100% completed and can be truly ticked off as done.
Working in short bursts with high focus is the secret to achieving this goal. Close those other windows, keep only the vital tabs open that you need and keep less obvious other tasks hidden too. To focus properly means no Facebook and also putting your phone on Do-Not-Disturb mode.
The next time somebody comes and asks for that invoice, you know, the one that you just had a minute ago, you’ll find it in a minute. Here it is. Wait, no, that’s the wrong account. Is it this one? Check the amount and the date. And the invoice number… oh, no, here it is.
It’s okay. You’ve just found it via the search bar instead.
Set up a 100% electronic filing system. Files letters, invoices, statements and anything else which comes into your department, digitally instead of physically. This new filing system will stop your desk from becoming a staging area for paperwork and speed up your whole storage and retrieval process.
The amount of time it takes to come up with a suitable filing system (we suggest a nomenclature system like this one from Stanford) and to input each physical document is a tiny amount when compared to the cumulative time wasted under a traditional, physical way of filing.
Too many businesses, and maybe yours is one, still spend far too much time manually inputting, approving and issuing expenses and travel claims.
There is a whole host of tools available to make both the accounts and finance team’s life easier at the same time as helping the claimants too.
Take a look at Expensify and Free Agent, two of our favourites, if you want to streamline and automate the whole expenses procedure. These help you to spend your time working on more impactful items instead.
Likewise, set up limited-balance credit cards for regular expense claimants to save their and your time in the long-run.
Use Two Screens
Back to more personal tweaks, installing a second monitor or screen is proven to improve your productivity by 20-30%.
This extra screen is so great because it means that whenever you need to switch between tabs or programmes, to find data or instructions for example, then you are shaving seconds off your process. And this time-saving applies each and every single time you do it. Every day of the week. Once you add it up over the full year, you can see why your productivity will receive such a boost.
Have Quiet Space
Less of an instant win for some office spaces but still wholeheartedly recommended, there are times in every working week where you wish you had a little peace and quiet.
The fact is that some tasks require high-focus and low-noise in order to get done correctly. But they’ll also be completed more quickly if you can work on them in silent surroundings.
Every department will have tasks that require quiet, so if your office doesn’t have an available space, it will be near enough certain that it’s beneficial to the business to create one. This space could be a working pod, a dedicated quiet room or simply installing noise absorbing screens.
There are quick wins to be had when it comes to managing noise in your office and they all help to improve productivity, freeing up more time in the working day.
Get Really Under The Hood On Typical Programmes & Software
Like others in this post, another often overlooked way of finding yourself more time is to go on some proper training for the most mundane pieces of software we all use every day.
From Microsoft Excel to Google Gmail, whatever mainstream, typical office programmes and software you use, it’s a pretty safe bet to say you don’t use anything beyond the most basic features.
But these programmes are the biggest, most popular office tools in the world. They’ve had years and years of development and improvements put into them… yet we all just use the basic functions – the way we were shown them or discovered them and the way we have always used them.
Find an online course to help speed up your usage and speed up your working. As a result, you’ll find you have more time in the day.
Adopt Uniform Online Reporting
As much as possible, the biggest way to save time in your department is to make reporting and documenting easier and more automated.
Think about how much time, collectively, your business spends collating invoices, assessing and checking agreements and making sure everything is compliant with company policy and procedure. Now imagine if you had a computer programme that did all this collating for you.
Digitising your management processes, from filing which was mentioned earlier to something like your leasing portfolio, will give everyone in the business more time to concentrate on more pressing issues – such as the impending implementation of IFRS 16.
Read more on how digitising lease management through an intuitive piece of online software can save you and your colleagues valuable time every single day.
Open this free download to find out more.