I have yet to meet an accountant that isn’t dealing with productivity issues in one form or another. I see it time and time again – accountants trying to tackle their never-ending to-do lists and working too many hours.
I’m particularly sensitive to this issue for accountant moms because I am one. I know how important your time is, especially when you’re raising your children and don’t want to be tied to your desk more than you have to be.
But the truth is that your ability to be effectively productive is one of the key determining factors of your professional success. Those who are able to consistently produce high-quality results at a sustainable rate get ahead in business and life.
The problem for most accountants is that we tend to have a love/hate relationship with time. We’d love to have more of it, especially when there’s a deadline looming, but we hate how much time seems to be in control.
Every accountant I speak to and coach says the same thing – there’s never enough time. Thankfully, you can have enough time when you learn a simple process for getting more done in less time.
The time blocking process I’m going to share with you is how I get more done than anyone else in my office, but I work the least amount of hours. It’s how I’m able to do so much without feeling drained or burned out and what I teach in The Balanced Accountant Program.
This time blocking process is how I am able to be a CPA in public accounting, a Professional Certified Coach for Accountants, the Community Manager at CPA MOMS, write a book, create a weekly podcast, coach my accountant clients, create daily social media posts, take care of my family, have time to myself, and more. I would never be able to get all that done if it wasn’t for understanding how to get more done in less time.
When practiced, the process I’m going to share will become easier and easier to implement. Before you know it, it will become a habit, just like brushing your teeth.
If you want to improve your productivity and have more time for the people and things you love, what I’m going to share will be incredibly helpful. I promise you can improve your relationship with time by adopting my fool-proof time blocking process.
This week I’m going to discuss the importance of time blocking and share the simple time blocking process for getting more done in less time.
The importance of time blocking
Let’s be honest – you can probably count on your fingers the number of times you’ve completed 8 hours of work in an 8-hour workday. Whether it’s endless meetings, constant emails, or coworkers popping in for a “quick chat,” your productivity rarely makes it through the day. The problem is that you’ll get yourself in trouble when you design your to-do list for an 8-hour workday but end up with just 1-2 hours of productive time.
As I’ve shared before on the podcast, to-do lists are one of the least effective ways to manage your time because of one very important factor – you have a human brain. Your lower brain gets completely overwhelmed by to-do lists and cannot put things into context. In other words, it thinks everything is urgent and overwhelming.
Thankfully there’s a better way, and that way is time blocking. Time blocking is the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities.
While a standard to-do list tells you what you need to do, time blocking tells you when you’re going to do it and how long you’re going to take to do it. The simple reason why time blocking works is that it’s designed for focus.
The truth is that, just as your car needs barriers on the highway to keep it traveling in its lane and not veering into oncoming traffic, your human brain needs guardrails at work. By using time blocks to schedule your day, you not only guard against distractions but also multiply your focus exponentially, allowing you to get more done in less time.
Time blocking works so well because when you are making decisions about what you put into each block of time, you use your higher brain. That decision-making part of your brain is the secret to getting more done in less time because when your lower brain wants to do something else (and it will), you can direct it back to what was planned and focus your attention.
You get much more done when you train your brain to be more focused.
The simple time blocking process for getting more done in less time
There are 10 simple steps to the process, but not every step is necessary each week. A few of the steps apply only when needed.
It might seem like 10 simple steps don’t sound simple or would take a lot of time, but once you’ve begun to implement them, you’ll see how easy they are to practice and become second nature. In essence, don’t be overwhelmed by the number of steps because, again, you won’t be doing all of them every time.
Step #1 – Sell yourself
You may only need to do this first step a few times, but you must sell yourself on the importance of implementing time blocking. If you’re used to using a to-do list, your brain is on board with what you’ve always done and not on board with something new.
You have to sell yourself on implementing time blocking by showing yourself why what you’re currently doing isn’t working. Look at the ways you’re procrastinating, never feeling like you’ve done enough by the end of the day, forgetting things, losing track, spinning in confusion about what to do next, never seeming to have enough time, and so on.
I suggest you sell yourself on trying the process I’m going to share for 90 days. Once 90 days are up, you can go back to what hasn’t been working, but for now, try this fool-proof time blocking process and see what happens.
Step #2 – Time audit
You might only need to do this second step once or twice, but it’s an important step. As we learned in our audit accounting classes in college, a time audit is taking a sample of your time and tracking what you do; typically 24 hours, 3 days, or a week.
You want to track your time every 30 minutes by setting a timer and writing down what you did the previous 30 minutes. For example, 10 minutes answering emails, 10 minutes scrolling Instagram, and 10 minutes cleaning the kitchen.
Why track your time? Because you want to understand how you currently use your time, what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s normal or typical – where are you people-pleasing, not having boundaries, not getting enough sleep, or when do you feel the most focused for complicated work and what habits are working for you?
Step #3 – Block what’s typical
Now that you know what your typical day looks like with getting up, getting ready, taking care of the family, getting to work, getting home, activities with kids, meal times, family times, etc., you want to calendar those things in blocks of time. You want a visual representation of what a typical day looks like with the things you gained awareness about during the time audit.
Make sure you put the typical things on your calendar accurately because these blocks will help you to see what you’d like to change. For example, if you notice you’re spending too much time doing things others could be doing for themselves, like chores around the house, you might want to implement new rules.
The key is that just because you’ve always used your time in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s helpful or useful to continue. This is a step you might want to do a few times a year to make sure you like what your typical day looks like and how you use your time.
Step #4 – To-do download
If you’re confused because I said to-do lists are an ineffective way to manage your time, don’t worry, you’re not going to work off a to-do list; you’re actually going to throw it away after this step is complete. For this step, I want you to get everything out of your brain and onto paper because your brain is for processing, not storing.
I suggest having uninterrupted, distraction-free time either on Sunday afternoon or first thing Monday morning and dumping everything swirling around in your head onto paper. As you’re writing, keep asking, “What else?” Don’t judge what comes up; just put it down on paper.
You can do this step weekly, daily, or break up your to-do download by having one for the work week and one for the weekend. Begin to get in the habit of writing everything down, no matter how big or small.
Step #5 – What’s most important
Now that you have your to-do download out of your head and on paper, go back and circle the things that are most important. I discussed “The Mere Urgency Effect” in a previous podcast episode, but as a reminder, your lower brain thinks everything is urgent, which is why you need to use your higher brain to decide on purpose what is truly most important.
If you left it up to your lower brain, everything would be considered important, which is why many accountants are so stressed and overwhelmed. You need to learn how to use your higher brain more often to rationally decide what is important.
For most accountant moms, things like deadlines and appointments would be circled on the to-do download, but make sure you also put the people you value most and your self-care on the to-do download and circle as important.
Step #6 – Estimate
In my experience, this is one of the most critical steps in the fool-proof time blocking process. You must decide how much time you want to GIVE to each important item on the to-do download.
Now notice I didn’t say you must decide how much time each to-do item will TAKE. This is the key to getting more done in less time – you get to decide how much time you will spend on something to get the result you want by the end of that block of time.
Most of us let time decide for us by not setting boundaries around our time or deciding in advance how much time we want to give to the to-do item. Don’t let this step confuse you – choose a reasonable amount of time to get the important thing done, and always be kind to the future version of you that is going to get it done in that block of time.
Step #7 – Calendar
So you’ve done a to-do download, circled what’s most important, and estimated the amount of time for the important items. In this step, you’re going to calendar the to-do items in blocks, taking into account what you learned in the time audit step.
Make sure you’re calendaring blocks of time based on what you noticed. For example, if the early morning works best for creative things, don’t block off time to do things that would be best done at the end of the day, or if afternoons are when you get your second wind, block off time for your more complicated accounting work.
One last note with this step – make sure you are distraction-free when you calendar your blocks of time. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time to calendar your most important asset – your time.
Step #8 – Buffer and overflow time
This is an incredibly important step – you don’t want to have your calendar jam-packed every minute, so allow for some white space. I also recommend blocking off half an hour at the end of the work day to finish up anything that didn’t get done in the time block allotted or if something truly unexpected came up.
The key is that throughout the day, you will be tempted to “bleed” into the next block of time if something isn’t done in its allotted time. Don’t give in to the urge to do that; instead, use overflow time at the end of the day for that.
When you give yourself a gap of time, you’ll be surprised how often something is fine the way it is and doesn’t need any more time spent on it. It’s typically your perfectionistic brain just doing what it does, telling you it’s not good enough. Don’t listen.
Step #9 – The rest of the to-do download
Now that you’ve scheduled the important things and given yourself some buffer and overflow time go back and look at what’s left on the to-do list and decide whether those things are necessary, need to be calendared, or can be deleted.
You’d be amazed at how often you’ll realize how many unnecessary things remain on your to-do list download. Make sure you don’t give in to the urge to schedule everything until you’ve used your higher brain to discern whether it warrants your time.
Once you’ve either scheduled or removed the remaining things, it’s time to throw away that to-do list. I promise you that throwing it away and only working off your time blocked calendar will help you get much more done in less time.
Step #10 – Field notes
As you go about your week, jot down what you noticed about what worked and what didn’t. Did you follow your calendar? Why or why not? What did you realize? What will you do differently next week?
Make sure you have an attitude of curiosity instead of judgment. If you didn’t get something done, be curious about why. How were you feeling that led you to inaction? How would you have liked to have felt in order to get the item done? What would you need to think in order to feel that way?
Field notes are simply observations. Allow this fool-proof time blocking process to be just that – a process. Notice, adjust, implement, learn, and continue following the steps.
So to recap the 10 steps:
- Sell yourself
- Time audit
- What’s typical
- To-do download
- What’s most important
- Buffer and overflow time
- The rest of the to-do download
- Field notes
So now you have the process but how do you ensure you follow through with what you’ve time blocked? That’s what The Balanced Accountant Program will teach you. Time management is my specialty, so make sure you join our upcoming group coaching program in December if you want to take back control of your time and your life.
- Those who are able to consistently produce high-quality results at a sustainable rate get ahead in business and life.
- Thankfully, you can have enough time when you learn a simple process for getting more done in less time.
- The truth is that, just as your car needs barriers on the highway to keep it traveling in its lane and not veering into oncoming traffic, your human brain needs guardrails at work.