It wasn't always this slick!

One of the things I’m known for in work is being organised and efficient, and whilst this is true (without blowing my own trumpet), I’d love to say it was something that comes easily to me -but the opposite is true.

Left to my own devices I would procrastinate until the cows came home or get myself in a tizzy not knowing what to do first , but a conversation with a senior manager very early in my career changed this.

He took me aside for what I thought was going to be a positive conversation, and why shouldn’t it be -I’d smashed all of my targets, my team was over-performing, and our client feedback was in the top percentile.

How wrong could I be?

It wasn’t the positive conversation I was expecting, although it started off with some positives…. He said I was an amazing salesperson (positive); my team loved me (positive), and the numbers were looking great (positive), but then he said something that I really didn’t expect -he said that he wasn’t sure I was cut out for the job. He said he couldn’t fault me for my attitude, my work ethic, my expertise….however I was terribly disorganised, I was constantly finishing work right at the deadline or even worse, not meeting deadlines, I was over-promising and under-delivering because I wasn’t planning properly, and it was affecting how people viewed me.

As you can imagine, it was devasting to hear, but deep down I knew he was right. I had taken quite a big jump up the ladder and wasn’t coping with the additional responsibility well. I was working really hard to ensure I excelled in my job and exceed my targets, and was scared to say no to taking on additional work as I thought it would be good for my prospects , but I was saying yes to far too much and then able to deliver. There just weren’t enough hours in the day.

I actually thought he was going to sack me, but instead he gave me a present, something that was quite ‘high-tech’ back in 1999, - a To Do book.

I’ll be honest, I was sceptical. 

How was writing a to-do list going to make me organised overnight.  My boss asked me to give it a go we’d catch up when he was back in the office two weeks later.

 

In addition to the To-Do  book he gave me some sage advice “Don’t say yes to everything, people will take advantage of your good nature – it’s better to say no and concentrate on doing your own work well.  And plan! Put plan in place for your day, your week ahead and the week ahead of that. Be realistic and don’t over-promise”

It may sound twee but that day, the wake-up call, the advice and the To-Do book changed my life.

I’m not the most organised person naturally, but I am now highly organised thanks to years of forming consistent habits and following a very strict process in the way I handle my work.

Do I have off days? Absolutely! If I’m not in the zone I can wander about like a fart in jar, but thankfully those days are very rare and usually I am too focused on being focused to succumb to my natural disorganised state.

 

You may be surprised to hear I still use my trusty To -Do books to this day ( I even got a fancy one for Mother’s Day) and some of the team use them, and some use Outlook Tasks or other online tools.

So, what are my top tops for being organised (especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you):

 

  • Have a to do list which you review regularly. The first thing I do every morning and the last thing I do every evening is review and update my to do list.  I also update my list during the day and re-prioitise if need be.

 

  • Block time out – book slots out of your day for key tasks, if it’s in my diary it’s sacrosanct. When blocking time out, be realistic about how long things are going to take, what else you have to action, what deadlines are clashing.

 

  • Have a place for everything -you can’t be organised if your desk is a mess, or you have 4,000 emails in your inbox -the clutter on your desk and the clutter in your mailbox will affect how efficient you are. If you are constantly looking for things you are wasting time better spent on something productive.  Simple solutions such as desk trays and folders really do help and email folders are invaluable.

 

  • Eat the Frog!  If you ever pop into our office, you might hear one of the team say “I’m being Very French this morning” It’s our wee office mantra- if you are being French and eating lots of Frogs (legs) it means you are doing the hard to swallow jobs first and not putting them off.  Inspired by Brian Tracy and his famous book Eat that Frog! The longer you put off that job you are dreading the more it weighs on you, and it for some reason the longer you put it off, the longer the task actually takes when you do get round to it-tackle it right away and get it off your list.

 

  • Automate where you can – there are probably lots of routine tasks that you do every day that can be automated. It may take a bit of time investment initially, but it will be worth it to save the time in the future- for example, it can be simple things like setting up template emails in outlook for regular/routine emails that you send often, automatic email responses and custom auto reminders for meetings. Other common easy to automate tasks are setting up invoice reminders in your accounting software to help with credit control or use scheduling software to publish your business social media posts.

 

  • Create and use checklists for complex, multi-stage tasks- this works really well where you are working on volume tasks or tasks that have lots of stages that happen over time -it’s so easy to complete 9 out of 10 tasks on a piece of work then completely forget to do the last part because you get busy on other things and it goes out of your head. There are lots of tools out there that you can use that can use to track your tasks which will also send you reminders, or if you are like me and love a spreadsheet then an simple RAG (Red/Amber/Green) checklist is fantastic, free and easy to create and use .

 

  • Be proactive- not reactive. It’s not always easy, especially if something urgent crops up unexpectedly, but the trick is to be in control of your day -not let your day control you. Have a plan and stick to it as far as possible, don’t be distracted by the ‘noise’ around you or the latest email that has just popped into your mailbox. Stay on task and if something urgent does come up and you have to re-plan -then that’s fine, take time to re-plan properly and if you need to push tasks back, let everyone know that will be affected.  This is especially important if you are in the middle of eating a frog and something more appetising pops up 😊.

 

  • Ask for help and learn to say No.  This is a big one. It’s not always easy to admit you have too much on or have over committed yourself, and if you are like me, it’s really hard to say no to things. It’s never shameful to ask for help if you need it or say no to something you know you can’t give your best to. This month I’ve said no to 2 big long-term projects that would have generated a lot of income for us. However, I know realistically I don’t have the time to do them justice and it wouldn’t have been fair for me to commit to them -it’s tempting to just say yes and manage it, but I would have been doing both myself and the clients an injustice if I had. Handled well saying no doesn’t have to be a negative, in fact it can strengthen the bond of trust you have with others.

Just incase you were wondering 😊, 2 weeks later when my boss came back for his check in at our branch I had made massive improvements -I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be, but the difference was visible to all, and I felt in control rather than chasing my tail. I stayed in that job for another 2 years, was promoted, and gave out a fair few To Do books of my own, before moving on to pastures new. I have never forgotten the kindness and support offered to me at that time and the difference it has made to me personally and professionally.

Clarity Accounting (Scotland) Ltd
20-23 Woodside Place, Glasgow G3 7QL

Telephone: 0141 582 1214
E-mail: info@clarityaccountingscotland.co.uk

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