Take back control of time

If work feels overwhelming at the moment, take back control by changing mindset, dealing with interruptions and adding more structure to the day, advises AVN’s Shane Lukas

I speak with accountants in practice every week and the message I hear from almost all of them is that they are overwhelmed.

It is not surprising, is it? With so many changes over the last few months and so many business owners needing additional help, it is no wonder accountants feel they are being crushed by the demands on them.

But there’s a difference between being genuinely overwhelmed and just feeling out of control. Once you take control of your time, that feeling of overwhelm starts to disappear.

Here are three simple actions that will change your mindset and put you back in charge.

  1. Be more productive

Did you know that when you start a task it takes an average of 11 minutes to reach your peak productivity level? And that an interruption of just 2.5 seconds sets you right back to zero?

That is one of the reasons it is so hard to get things done. We get interruptions all the time: phone calls, emails, colleagues all disrupt our focus and lower our productivity. Research in both the US and the UK shows that in an office of just four people, you will be interrupted an average of 14.2 times per hour. And the more people there are in the office, the higher the number of interruptions.

So, it is really important to find a way to work undisturbed. You will no doubt say that you are too busy to set aside hours at a time without any interruptions, but you do not have to do that.

In fact, we cannot maintain our focus for that long anyway. We can only properly focus for short periods; after that our concentration wavers and we get distracted by other things.

But you can still achieve a huge amount in short bursts. The Pomodoro Technique is a very effective way to manage this and it is simple to follow. You focus on one task for 25 minutes, without being distracted or moving between different jobs.

At the end of the 25 minutes, you have a five-minute break - you can use it to make a drink, take a walk, or do any small tasks that will not take up more than a few minutes. Then it is back to another 25 minutes fully focused on your work, repeating as often as you want. It is amazing how much you can get done by following this system.

No interruptions for 25 minutes is much more workable than trying to have no interruptions for three or four hours.

  1. Clear your mind

That feeling of being overwhelmed happens when your brain cannot trust that everything will be dealt with. Instead of focusing on what you should be doing - whether that is working on an important project, relaxing with friends and family or even sleeping - it keeps going over all the things you have to do.

I am sure you know the feeling: I must remember this, I must not forget that, this meeting here, that appointment there. You do not switch off because you simply dare not to, there is too much to remember.

So, you need a trusted system to ensure that all those things do get dealt with. It is not rocket science; it can be as simple as a pen and paper by your bedside or a message recording function on your phone.

Log everything that comes into your head as it happens and create a system to put it into your diary in the morning or when you are back at your desk. Keep on top of this and your mind will start to clear straightaway.

  1. Structure your day

When you have a proper plan each morning, you will find you do more of the things that really count and waste less time on the small stuff.

In a typical day, there will usually be some small tasks to do, some of medium importance and some really big, important jobs. Most of us are at our best in the morning, when we have clearer minds and more energy, so schedule your most important jobs for the morning.

If something is likely to take longer than that, finish it over a few days. In the early afternoon, work on your medium tasks and then in the late afternoon do the small things that will not take you long to complete.

Towards the end of the day, as you tick off all those little jobs you will really feel you are making progress. And of course, if you follow the Pomodoro Technique, you will also be able to finish some of the small jobs in your five-minute breaks.

Feeling overwhelmed may be a natural response to the turbulent times we are in, but remaining that way is bad for your mental health. Making these changes will not stop you being busy, but they will help you prioritise and put you in control of what you do each day.

 

About the author

Shane Lukas is Managing Director of AVN, a training and coaching organisation for accountants. His book, Putting Excellence into Practice, can be downloaded here.

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