5 Steps to Boost Your Efficiency and Improve Your Workflow
It’s the first month of a new year and we’re all thinking the same thing: we have to get started on the right foot and set the intention for 2021. We’re going to be more productive, we’re going to reach that next level in our careers, we’re going to take care of ourselves better—and we’re going to make it stick.
But, something that a lot of us don’t notice is that developing those intentions into real, true habits doesn’t happen overnight; and, a desire to change or adapt a new way of doing something isn’t enough to make it happen.
Instead, we need something else: organization. And we’re not just talking about cleaning all those coffee mugs off of your desk.
Over the summer, we had the chance to sit down with Janelle Williams, MPH, Professional Organizer, and Member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, who talked about one of the biggest reasons women in accounting can struggle with their productivity, workflow, and time management: clutter.
Clutter can be physical, like a messy workspace or a dirty kitchen sink now that we’re working from home.
But, there can also be digital clutter, like the constant dings from your phone and the unopened emails in your inbox, and emotional clutter, like thoughts that are weighing on your mind.
And they all affect how effectively you work.
Janelle has dedicated her career to helping people increase their efficiency, boost their productivity, and live more manageable, fulfilled lives. So, we’re sharing her 5 tips for women in finance (yes, you) to increase your efficiency and improve your workflow.
Before we get started, it’s important to note that a lot of people like to skip ahead and go straight to addressing clutter and organizing. But this isn’t just a list: this is an order of operations. For us to be able to address clutter, take care of our mental health, and productively work, we need to go through each and every step if we want to reach success.
First things first, it’s time to sit down and do some self-reflection.
Janelle says that you’ll want to conduct your own audit on why you’re struggling with your workflow: do you have an issue with time management? Are you stressed out? Do you struggle with staying motivated?
Then, once you figure out what you’re struggling with, it’s time to explore the “why” behind your inefficiency.
Why are you struggling with managing your time?
What is stressing you out?
A necessary part of this process is going to include addressing certain behaviors or patterns that you have.
Are you easily distracted?
Are you a procrastinator?
What’s distracting you from completing tasks on time?
Once you understand the “what” and the “why”, you can start to create a system to address your inefficiency.
One of the major things Janelle looks at when working with her clients isn’t just creating a pretty picture. Instead, it’s more about digging deep and figuring out why people have gotten into the situation they’re in.
If you don’t address the root cause of the problem, you’re just going to land in the same situation again. Now’s not the time to be shy: be honest about where you’re falling short and you’ll only create more space for you to grow when it comes time to develop your systems!
When you prioritize, you’re creating a sense of purpose and clarity for yourself as well as facilitating efficiency.
As women in accounting, this step is particularly important because we work in a service-based industry: we’re getting calls and emails from clients at all hours who are all telling us to put them first.
So, there are a few steps to successfully prioritizing your tasks.
First, you want to establish specific time frames for when things are getting done weekly, monthly, or yearly.
Then, you’ll want to establish consistent routines and create schedules based on those routines and tasks. Consistency in scheduling not only leads to more structure but also decreases anxiety and helps you get things done on time.
When you’re putting together your schedule and routines, you’ll want to make time for rest and mental health checks. We all get overwhelmed in our lives at one point or another, so you need to find time to take care of yourself to avoid fatigue and burn out.
Especially now that most of us are working from home, it’s harder to establish a set cut-off time for the workday. But, you can’t keep working all those hours and think you’re going to improve your productivity.
Instead, you’re going to burn out and won’t be able to do anything at all.
So be deliberate and schedule time for breaks—it’ll help you stick to your routines and workflow, and your health will thank you.
Now, we move on to the next task: making to-do lists.
One of the biggest elements of starting small has to do with prioritizing what’s on your to-do list.
Janelle always encourages her clients to make a list of 3-5 small tasks at first, so you don’t overwhelm yourself. As business professional women, when we make lists, we’re creating to-do’s for the day that are 10, 15, 20 items long—but this is exactly what you should avoid!
When you make such long to-do lists, Janelle says that what you’re really doing is overwhelming yourself and adding to your clutter. And increasing your stress and anxiety.
What you should focus on instead are those small 3-5 tasks and getting to understand the process behind them. Once you have, you can move on to bigger tasks.
Remember: not taking on too much is a key element of staying efficient. Only take on what you know you can handle, and your workflow won’t suffer.
Just like we mentioned in the beginning, we’re not just talking about physically messy spaces here. We’re also talking about emotional and digital clutter.
So, not only do you want to clear your workspace physically, but you’ll also want to commit to checking on yourself mentally and emotionally.
One way to commit to a holistic approach to decluttering is to limit your distractions throughout the day. Things like answering emails or taking a few unscheduled phone calls are all distractions that interrupt your workflow, and ultimately your productivity.
Something that Janelle suggests to her clients is to schedule certain blocks of time in the day to devote to answering emails and returning calls that you didn’t have planned. This way, you can get to all the things that you can’t necessarily schedule in advance without sacrificing your efficiency.
If you’re feeling utterly distracted, something you can also do is a Brain Dump to declutter your mind and improve your focus. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy! Just grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down whatever’s on your mind.
Janelle breaks it down for us:
Take a piece of paper and write down whatever’s weighing you down.
Once you’re done, set the piece of paper aside.
Now that you’ve emptied your brain of what was distracting you, focus on whatever it is that you have to get done immediately.
When you finish your task, go back to that piece of paper and reflect on what you need to do to resolve that piece of emotional clutter.
Another suggestion that Janelle has is to use the Eisenhower Matrix of prioritizing your tasks.
The Matrix is broken up into 4 sections. In each section, you enter your tasks in order of importance.
Do first: These are urgent, important tasks that need your immediate attention. This will be a report that’s due at 5 PM that day, for example.
Schedule: Tasks that are less urgent, but still important. This could be a bill that you need to pay soon or a meeting that you need to schedule at a later date.
Delegate or outsource: These are tasks that are less important and can be handed off to someone else to save you time.
Don’t do: These are unimportant tasks at the time that you don’t really have to pay attention to right now. This could be like an event at the end of the month that doesn’t really require your attention, but you just need to write it down and make a note of it.
Now we have the last step: getting organized.
When you’re getting started with your organizational process, something women in accounting may gravitate toward is a program to do the heavy lifting for you.
It’s also important to notice where you can delegate tasks. To effectively delegate, you’ll have to focus on people’s strengths and what they’re good at, as well as what you could use more help with.
Outsourcing is another way of getting more organized. There are so many services out there to get that extra busywork off your shoulders so you can continue to be productive. You can hire a social media manager to take care of your social presence, or a virtual assistant to manage your scheduling and day-to-day administrative tasks. So make sure you’re looking up your options!
When you start building your team through delegation and outsourcing, you’ll have to start defining roles and responsibilities clearly, if you haven’t already.
For each to-do on your calendar, the following information should also be addressed (and included):
Who’s going to be responsible for the things that need to get done?
What are the tasks for the things that need to get done?
What are the due dates?
You’ll also want to start creating templates and guides. One of Janelle’s go-to favorites when it comes to template-making is to pay attention to things like emails that you are sending consistently. If there’s a certain type of email, onboarding for example, that you find yourself constantly having to re-write and send each time you sign a new client, then create a template! Find places in your business where you can standardize a task, and do it!
She also recommends having a guide, or standard operating procedure. You should be able to have a guide that has your procedures outlined for the different roles and responsibilities that need to take place so there is continuity in your operations. This way, there’s no lag in your workflow.
And, above all else: be consistent!
To improve your workflow, you’ll need to be consistent when you’re implementing your plan (your guides, your outsourcing and delegating, your scheduling, etc.) and addressing areas that may need improvement. It’s important to consistently audit your processes so you can fix the holes in your strategy quickly and effectively—as women in accounting, that should be no problem.
Organizing your workflow reduces stress, improves your productivity, and increases individual accountability.
Not only that, but it also decreases micromanagement, helps you prioritize what’s important, and manage your time effectively.
What are your strategies for creating (and maintaining) an effective workflow?