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Updated: April 26, 2024

Improving productivity: Why it matters and tips to run your practice more efficiently

Published By:

Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA

Accounting and bookkeeping professionals are all about numbers, precision, and timeliness. Being productive and making sure your accounting practice runs efficiently isn’t just a good idea — it’s essential. In many cases, productivity leads to happier clients, more engaged employees, better work/life balance, and a thriving practice.

 

Do you feel like your productivity could use a boost? Below, we’re sharing some pointers you can use to take your output up a notch and ideas for what to do with your efficiency gains.

What does it mean to be a productive accountant or bookkeeper?

At its core, productivity is about accomplishing more with the same or fewer resources.

 

Productivity can take two forms:

  • putting out more work
  • creating more value in your work

 

For accountants, that can mean churning out more reconciled accounts, tax returns, or financial statements per hour, or it can mean offering additional value to clients and ensuring a balanced work-life for your team.

 

While putting out more work per hour is nice, the second definition of productivity is what most accountants are after.

10 tips to amp up your productivity

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to refine your practice, boosting productivity can lead to transformative results.

 

Below is a blueprint: use this curated list of ten tips to amp up your productivity to enhance your workflow, elevate the client experience, and ensure you (and your staff) maximize every hour of your work day. They are broken down into three sections, covering the following:

 

  • Keep projects moving forward in less time
  • Practice productivity that moves the needle
  • Productivity pointers for peace of mind

 

Let’s dive in and look for ways to get operations running more efficiently.

Keep projects moving forward in less time

Tip #1: Leverage automation

Chances are, you use a lot of software tools in your firm’s day-to-day operations. But are you leveraging all of the software’s automation features?

 

Automation options in modern software include automating invoicing, reconciling transactions, running reports, entering data, and collecting e-filing authorization signatures (just to name a few). This can free up time for nurturing prospects, building relationships with clients, or pursuing other goals you have on your list.

 

Work with your solution providers to ensure you’re taking advantage of the software’s built-in automation features, or consider investing in new tools that allow you to use technology to your advantage and minimize manual work.

 

Tip #2: Embrace keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys

Keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys might not seem like productivity magic, but they can be when you use them consistently. In fact, according to Brainscape, if your job requires you to work on a computer throughout a standard eight-hour workday, using keyboard shortcuts can save you eight entire workdays per year!

 

For example, in Windows 11, you can use:

  • Win + A to open the quick settings panel and toggle features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth or adjust your screen brightness and volume
  • Win + C to see recent messages and contacts in Microsoft Teams or start a new meeting or call
  • Win + E to open File Explorer
  • Win + S to open Windows Search and find apps or files on your computer

 

In Excel, you can use:

  • Ctrl + PageUp to move to the next worksheet
  • Ctrl + PageDown to move to a previous worksheet
  • Ctrl + F to quickly pull up the find and replace dialog box, where you can search for specific text or values
  • F2 to edit the contents of a selected cell without having to double-click on it
  • Ctrl + Shift + $ to format a selected cell as currency with two decimal places

 

The takeaway is that these are only a few potential time savers to incorporate into your daily work, as many more can be found in seconds online with a quick Google search. To keep from getting overwhelmed, pick one or two new ones to try each week. By the end of the year, you’ll turn saving precious seconds into hours — or even days of increased productivity.

 

Tip #3: Leverage asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is any form that doesn’t require real-time back and forth. Email, messaging and project management tools support asynchronous communication, while synchronous communication, such as meetings or phone calls, typically demands immediate attention.

 

While synchronous communication has a time and place, asynchronous communication can improve productivity by allowing you the deep focus some tasks require, such as staying on top of tax law changes or understanding cybersecurity regulations. It also gives you more ownership over your workday because you can plan your day around your more productive times.

 

Encourage team members to try taking an asynchronous communication approach when appropriate. And be sure you are giving this a whirl as well: Turn off notifications on your phone and email when you need to focus, and try to stick with checking email and messages at set intervals throughout the day. This allows you to stay on top of employee needs without having to constantly refresh your inbox, minimizing interruptions that could be preventing you from making progress on your task list.

 

Next, let’s talk about some ways to keep your firm moving forward.

Practice productivity that moves the needle

Tip #4: Invest in employee education

An informed employee is a productive one. Support your team members’ professional development by subscribing to online resources, sending them to industry conferences and workshops, and encouraging them to take time out of every day for learning with webinars, podcasts, and reading.

 

Remember, education isn’t just about technical skills like the latest audit techniques or tax law changes. While that kind of education is important, it’s just as crucial for people to learn about emerging technologies, leadership trends, and soft skills.

 

Tip #5: Network with professionals

As a professional or business owner, you must ensure that your client work checks all of the boxes while also marketing your practice there’s a steady flow of new businesses learning about your practice.

 

That said, marketing your business doesn’t necessarily have to mean hours of crafting the perfect social media post or writing blogs and newsletters. In fact, it can be fun, rewarding and create passive leads.

 

Build relationships with other professionals, including other accountants or bookkeepers, lawyers, and financial advisors. If you already know a few, invite them to a round of golf or lunch. Or meet new people at conferences and community events. Building these relationships leads to referrals and potential collaborations, eliminating the need for cold calls or time-consuming marketing efforts.

 

Tip #6: Tap into the gig economy

Chances are, you spend a good chunk of your work hours on tasks that don’t require your education or expertise — for example, managing email, scheduling appointments, sending invoices, and following up on outstanding invoices or PBC or “provided by client” lists.

 

If you don’t have to personally handle the task, consider outsourcing it to a virtual assistant or use a gig worker. This can be a cost-effective way to shorten your to-do list and get more done.

 

Lastly, we have some ideas that keep everyone on an even keel and collaborating without without stress.

Read this next

Read our 2024 accounting industry outlook to learn how accountants and bookkeepers are creating new revenue opportunities, enhancing client relationships, and how they feel about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).

Productivity pointers for peace of mind

Tip #7: Set defined office hours

Flexibility is great. It means you can take an afternoon off to join a friend for coffee or take your kid to volleyball practice and catch up on emails and other projects later, when it suits your lifestyle and family schedule.

 

The problem is that too much flexibility can lead to feeling like you’re working 24/7, potentially leading to burnout. Plus, working more hours hinders productivity rather than improving it.

 

A University of California Berkeley study found that while working 30 to 50 hours per week can improve performance, job performance starts to plateau once people work more than 50 hours and drops off sharply once they exceed 65 hours.

 

Instead of letting work fill all available hours, set your office hours (and do your best to stick to them). Then make it a goal to avoid working in the early mornings, evenings, or on weekends unless absolutely necessary, and even then only for short periods of time. It seems counterintuitive, but working less can boost efficiency and productivity.

 

Tip #8: Invest in multiple monitors

Sure, you can accomplish a lot of work on one monitor but two monitors can make tasks like reconciling or data entry more streamlined as you don’t need to switch tabs constantly. In fact, according to a John Peddie Research study, working on multiple monitors can increase productivity by up to 42%.

 

Investing in multiple monitors doesn’t have to break your budget. If you already use a laptop, add a second monitor using an adapter or docking station. Or simply purchase another monitor for your desktop setup. You can find a decent-quality computer monitor for less than $200 and recoup the cost with productivity gains in no time.

 

Tip #9: Set realistic goals

You know the feeling: work keeps piling up, and your to-do list gets longer and longer. You keep telling yourself, “If I could just get caught up, work will get easier.” But unfortunately, there’s no end in sight.

 

Rather than letting your team get buried under an unreasonable workload, set realistic goals and avoid taking on more work than you can reasonably accomplish.

 

Use task management software to break client engagements down into steps. This helps you better measure your workload and fight the fatigue of working on big projects.

 

Tip #10: Break away for breaks

Taking a break may seem like a waste when you’re short on time. But taking a few minutes to stretch, walk around the block, or chat with a coworker can improve productivity more than trying to power through.

 

According to a compilation of multiple studies by Psychology Today, taking breaks can:

  • Improve your physical and emotional health
  • Prevent decision fatigue
  • Restore motivation
  • Increase productivity and creativity
  • Improve learning

 

So encourage short breaks during work and set an example by taking them yourself.

Using your newly uncovered capacity

So, you’ve streamlined your processes, and you’re noticing extra time on your hands? Instead of drowning in more of the same tasks, consider elevating your services.

 

For instance, transition into advisory and consulting services. Today’s businesses need more than just number crunchers; they need advisors who can provide insights, forecast trends, and guide them in their financial endeavors. As you become more productive, you free up time to understand your client’s business and offer specialized insights.

 

Remember, productivity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a philosophy that can redefine how you approach your accounting practice. As you embark on this journey, remember the dual goal of productivity — improving efficiency and elevating the value you bring to your clients. Your reward? A flourishing practice, satisfied clients, and a motivated team.

Talk to us and see how easy it is to offer payroll services your way.

Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA is a freelance writer with a background in accounting and income tax planning and preparation for small businesses and individuals. She enjoys helping people make sense of complicated accounting and income tax topics. She lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. Visit her website at www.jberryjohnson.com.