There’s a lot of excellent, concrete advice about improving time management and executive functioning skills out there, so I’m not going to delve into specific techniques. Instead, I want to talk about the specifics of how to tell when you’ve got a time management system that is working OK, but not working great. In my experience, people attracted to accounting are much more likely than the general population to have a brain naturally wired to be good at tracking and sequencing tasks. As a result, since our time management skills aren’t NOT working, we are unlikely to think about whether they could be working BETTER. I think worn brakes or tires on a car or bicycle are the best analogy to this good-enough time management – you can adapt to them, and get around safely on them for a long time before they absolutely need to be repaired or replaced, but when you do get them fixed? It’s a whole new world – you can navigate turns more quickly, deal with unexpected stops with less warning, and generally feel like you can get where you’re going with more confidence because your connection to the road is more responsive. So how do you tell when there’s room for that kind of transformation in your time management skills?
- You always get things done on time, but every deadline involves a heroic scramble in the last days and hours. Scrambles may be characterized by: all-nighters; asking support staff to work outside of their regular hours for your project; couriering or expressing things that could have been sent via regular mail had they been done earlier; always getting sick immediately after deadlines. (There are legitimate, not-time-management-skill-deficit reasons for reoccurring heroic scrambles in the short term, especially in public accounting since the workflow is extremely dependent on other people. In the long term though, if this is consistently true, there’s room to work with your clients and colleagues on pacing to at least shorten the scramble phase of recurring work. This is accounting: it’s important work, but it’s not an emergency room and it shouldn’t feel like one.)
- You routinely cut back on sleep in order to have more time near deadlines.
- You often sacrifice healthy habits near deadlines, such as: cutting back on exercise; skipping regularly-scheduled occasions with family and friends; choosing between brushing and flossing instead of doing both; and eating out at random places and times when you realize you’re starving instead of planning where & when to eat meals ahead of time.
- You wake up remembering detailed dreams about deadline catastrophe.