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Roger CPA Review is delighted to once again have Dana Jarvis, Development Manager at Burr Pilger Mayer (BPM), as a guest blogger! Working for the largest California-based Accounting and Consulting firm, and an expert in all-things-CPA, Dana brings you the industry ’s hottest topics! Tune in below and learn priceless habits to make you invaluable in the work place!
For a spin off on the famous “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” I wanted to add perspective on the 7 Habits of Highly Organized Accountants. One of the most integral skill sets to learn at an early point in your career is how to stay organized and manage your ever-growing to do list. During my 6+ years in public accounting, the following hints have helped me to manage my life and excel in a land where Type-A personalities have a big advantage:
1. The trusted sidekick: The Notebook
The importance of a $2.00 notepad cannot be stressed enough. Having a central spot where you can keep your to-do list and jot down conversation points from the client is key. I have a couple of guidelines I like to stick by when using your notepad and to do list:
• Cross-off or highlight each task as it is done- Taking that item off the to-do list accomplishes two things; it gives you a sense of accomplishment for an item that is finished and it lets you see what you have not yet done. Writing something down is the first step, but making sure all tasks are done is a close second and just as important.
• Revisit your list at the end of the day- When you are still in the working frame of mind, quickly jot down the tasks that need to be done the next day- with a priority ranking. You won’t catch yourself struggling the next morning to remember what that nagging task was that is due by noon.
2. Not everyone has a photographic memory (aka write it down)
Always default to the “more is more” approach rather than the “less is more” approach. When the client, manager, or partner requests that report is sent, a schedule be completed, or an email be drafted, take a quick minute to write this down. It is rare that the person who asks you to do something will forget- no matter how trivial! By writing the task at hand down, you have an insurance policy against forgetting due to a bad day, high stress, or just human error.
3. Take a Mental Break
During busy season and other times of stress it is important that you periodically step away for at least a couple of minutes to clear your head. A walk around the block, a stretch, or a quick trip to pick up your lunch will get your eyes off the computer and allow your brain to reset. When looking at a difficult tax return or a cash flow statement that just isn’t working, a fresh look is often the trick.
4. Early to Bed, Early to Rise…
Many of the most successful partners I know start their day before 7:30 a.m. Getting into the office early guarantees at least an hour or two of uninterrupted silence where you can cross some big items off the to do list and get a jump start to the day. Another benefit of getting to work early is avoiding the coffee and lunch crowds. Starbucks and Subway alike both get crowded during the traditional 8:30 and 12:00 windows. Arriving early will save you at least 15-30 minutes of waiting in line which you can use to enter your time, finish that last expense report, or study for the CPA exam.
5. Beat the Fear of the Unknown- Practice Structured Procrastination
We all know there are some items on the to-do list that you will put off. One common reason is that there is a fear of the unknown with either the topic or the assigned project. As you climb the ranks at a public accounting firm, you will be assigned to projects that have increasing difficulty. Leaving these tasks to the end can be a mistake and the easiest way to move on to something else, is to just get it done. Figure out someone in your peer group who has performed this type of task, and pick their brain. Also, research can go a long way in the process, along with knowing the related facts. The sooner you get it done, the sooner the anxiety and worry go away.
6. Do Some Housekeeping
Client invoices, bank statements, and loan agreements can stack up quickly. There is nothing worse than scrambling around for a client document, while a set of eyes stare at you. Each time you are handed a pile of papers, you should set an organizational system in place to account for them. I find it helpful to include the person’s business card along with a post-it note explaining what the items are. Also, if the stack has an order to it, it doesn’t hurt to put a post it note on each, with the number written down. Then there is the food and trash issue. A good habit to get into is throwing away your lunch, an empty bottle, or napkins when you finish. You would hate to have any coffee or food spill onto an original agreement that is the client’s only copy. Also, people work more productively in environments where there is clear space to move and to think.
7. Keep your Calendar Up to Date
As an employee moves up in the firm from staff to the upper-level management, it’s important that their calendar-management grows as well. Meetings start to occur on a more frequent basis the higher up you get and the more you will hear “just send me a calendar invite”. By electronically scheduling the meeting, even if it is an informal 15-20 minute brainstorming session, you give yourself a “get out of jail free card” in case you forget. When bill rates are high and time is of the essence you want a systematic method for remembering what you have committed to.
-Dana Jarvis, BPM