More Accounting Tomorrow Posts

How to focus in the digital era

December 14, 2011

Getting through your to-do list faster isn't what time management is actually about—at least not anymore. After all, this is the digital era, baby!  

You have a handheld supercomputer sitting in your pocket, a nonstop barrage of interruptions, and more expected of you than would have been expected of three accounting professionals a mere 20 years ago. 

Rather than managing our existing allocation of time as if it was finite, we need to find ways to make our share of time larger, preferably by a multiple of two or more. Forget the modest notion of merely getting things done. We need to do better, and we can if we employ some "radical" strategies.

What you really need to do is to look at everything on your list, pick the single-most important thing, and then work on it, uninterrupted, until it's completed.

The uninterrupted part is the toughest, by far. While it's easy and tempting to check your e-mail, answer the phone, respond to an instant message, or click over to a website, if you can eliminate the interruptions, you'll boost your productivity significantly and be able to work the same or even fewer hours.

No, you're not squeezing thirty hours into a twenty-four-hour day. Instead, you're making sure two things happen:

First, you're working on the single-most important task at hand—not the most urgent task or the easiest one: the most important one. Don't mistake this for putting out the biggest fire; emergencies are one thing, getting your most important task done is another.

Most of the time—if we even have the time—we plow through our to-do lists without questioning whether it makes a difference if we complete most of tasks or not. The sad truth is this: it doesn't matter. The 80/20 rule tells us that 80 percent of our results will come from 20 percent of our input. By picking the single-most important task to work on, we're making sure that this action falls within the critical 20 percent.

Second, by focusing 100 percent of our energies on the single-most important item, we'll accomplish it much faster than we would've if we'd allowed ourselves to be distracted by interruptions, or worse, tried to multitask and complete two or three items at once.

Interruptions are the real killer. It's amazing how fast you can get something done, if that's the only thing you do.

Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and

Comments (1)
Brett - I agree with your strategy. I have begun practicing the one-task strategy and using an online time tracker (TSheets) to rate my progress and know how much time I've spent on each project/client. It's definitely boosted my overall productivity. Great article!
Posted by KMed | Thursday, December 15 2011 at 3:48PM ET
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