As a rule, CFOs are brilliant at budgeting. Their eye for detail, organizational abilities and ease with numbers make financial planning a breeze. Yet when called upon to budget time, many of us falter. Part of that time crunch comes from the increased responsibilities many CFOs face. In addition to guarding the company’s coffers, they’re also essential strategists, IT consultants and educators. With more to fit into a day, finding ways to save time is a vital skill. For busy CFOs who never seem to have enough hours in the day, this guide can help.
The best time managers are expert prioritizers who know where to devote their energy so it matters most. Everything you do is important, but not everything is equally important. Learn how to spot the things you can delegate, the tasks you can defer and the issues that probably belong to another department entirely and treat these time-sinks accordingly.
One effective way to prioritize is through a triage method. Deal with large, immediate concerns you know you can solve first; an example might be getting past-due accounts current. Then, move to the urgent problems you know you can’t tackle alone, bringing in other executives to lend support as needed. For example, if your current software system is outmoded, you need to work with IT and your CEO to find the best solution. After that, work on the low-priority issues on your desk.
Delegate and Train
For many tasks, you may not even be needed directly. Hiring the right people and training them well lets you concentrate on big-picture tasks such as feasibility studies on that acquisition your company owner’s considering while your team handles payroll or financial reports. Even if you work for a small firm, hiring help is a must even if your assistant’s only part-time. It’s just not possible to take care of large-scale, time-consuming tasks when you constantly have to refocus on daily or weekly routines.
Your staff is only as capable as their training, so seeing to it that your personnel are able to handle everything you give them is a top priority. Too often, training gets treated as a non-critical task because it doesn’t have a deadline attached to it, but it’s the foundation of a sound time management strategy. Slot training time in before all but the most essential events on your calendar.
Schedule Free Time
Another reason busy CFOs feel pressed for time is that they leave themselves no buffer between blocked in activities. It may seem like a paradox, but building some free spaces into your schedule lets you be more productive when you are actively engaged with other tasks. If you’re going straight from meeting to planning session to meeting without giving yourself some open time in which to think and plan, you are inevitably going to feel frazzled. As busy as your schedule is, it’s critical to pry apart your scheduled events and create some room for yourself.
If relieving stress and becoming more productive aren’t sufficient reasons to schedule some open time, consider this: That buffer you write into your schedule also helps you cope with emergencies and put out fires quickly when they happen. The small amount of time you seem to save over months by over-booking can erode with just one mess you have to clean immediately.
Multitasking Doesn’t Work (Probably)
Most people believe they can multitask efficiently, but most of them are wrong. While a few people may be able to keep their trains of thought on dual tracks, the vast majority of us need focus. Multiple studies on concentration and focus have shown that people who multitask perform only a little better than half as well as single-task workers. When a company’s financial future is at stake, 60 percent efficiency isn’t enough.
Maintaining focus is a challenge, especially if the task you’re working on is number-dense or repetitive. Help yourself stay on track with timed breaks and eliminate distractions such as email and phones whenever possible. Email and Internet access often lead to checking behavior, the disruptive and unproductive habit of looking for new mail or page updates every few minutes.
Unlike money, time’s something we can’t borrow from somewhere else or reclaim by cutting back; it only flows one way. Make the most of your time and become as masterful with it as you are with economic resources.