Stop writing lists and become more productive

Managers in many types of organisations have a tendency to want to do everything themselves

Does your to-do list never seem to shrink? You’re not alone, but your business will grow only when your list focuses mostly on setting priorities and delegating tasks.

“A lot of people in business tell me they are too busy, with too many tasks to do and not enough resources to do them,” says Mark Holton, business coach and consultant. 

“The reality is often that they often don’t devote enough attention to time management and setting priorities.”

According to Holton, an accountant and training services provider, many business owners and managers don’t have an effective business plan. In some cases, they may have drafted a plan in order to obtain finance but afterwards they filed it away and forgot about it. 

The result is that their daily workload is driven by the inbox rather than organised around achieving goals.

For many, their only strategy is to put in more hours. However, as they do that the quality of their work falls, and their personal life invariably suffers.

“Their task list needs to be systematic and they need to understand their priorities,” says Holton.

How accountants can help clients organise tasks

This is where as an accountant can help. They can set up a system of metrics to identify which of the businesses’ clients yield the most value and which type of work is best for the firm. In some cases, it can make more sense to say “no” to a customer, and an external adviser may be able to see this more easily because of their broader perspective.

Matt Malouf, business strategist and author of The Stop Doing List agrees that there is a tendency for business owners to want to do everything themselves – although this can be found in managers in all organisations.

“My research shows that many people don’t really know how they spend their time, let alone how they should allocate their time to reflect their value. You’re in trouble when your to-do list is larger than the amount of time in the day. The answer is not making your day longer but reducing the number of tasks.”

The website that accompanies the book,, provides a downloadable time log that allows managers to track in detail how they spend their time. Malouf suggests keeping the log for a fortnight, at least twice a year.

“When you see it written down, you realise that time is being wasted on distractions, such as emails and social media,” he says. 

“Much of that can simply be eliminated. There are other tasks, such as organising meetings and initial website responses, that can be handled by software.”

Holton notes that many managers say they do not have enough time to establish a system of priorities. The result is a to-do list that is disorganised, ad hoc and seldom completed. 

Holton’s response to the “too busy to think” line is that good time management and prioritisation have to be seen as investments in the firm, so that even if there is a short-term cost there will be a long-term gain.

Learning the art of delegation

When a company is at an early stage, an untenable to-do list is usually a sign that it is time to recruit people to handle some of the workload.

Malouf notes that when managers first think of hiring more people they often calculate the cost of full-time employees. However, there is also the option of part-timers or contracting specialists for particular tasks. He believes that hiring specialists rather than generalists is often the better course.

“You have to be clear on the skill set you need, the conditions of the job, and what additional training might be needed,” he says. 

“Delegation is a skill in its own right. There is no point in hiring someone, training them and then redoing their work. Supervision and oversight are important, but so is the need to let people do their job. You need to get past that mentality of ‘if you want it done right, do it yourself’.”

Malouf argues it can be worthwhile to invest some time and money in learning how to delegate effectively. That also helps you to appreciate that it is best to start slowly and build up your management skills.

He says many owners eventually realise that they need to learn how to be a manager.

The trigger is often when they lose a good person or suffer another setback. That makes them realise that business growth is about effective time management, people management and self-management.

Professional Development: Personal productivity improvement: learn the skills to improve your productivity in order to maximise your performance

Time management for accountants

Likewise, Holton emphasises the aspect of investment, arguing that investment in people – including yourself – is as important as investment in equipment or technology.

He says investment in people and time management is no different for accountants.

“We are seeing more management education appear in accounting courses, and an increasing willingness for accountants to acquire management education to supplement their finance skills, but it’s a long process.”

7 steps to becoming more productive

  • Keep a log to track how you use your time
  • Set your priorities
  • Make a list of what you can eliminate
  • Make a list of what you can delegate
  • Consider whether an external adviser can help in the task
  • Consider what technology might help achieve your priorities
  • Ask what skills you might need to acquire/hire

Read next: 10 ways to become a more effective manager

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October 2021
October 2021

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