Did you know that an average employee is interrupted 56 times in a day and the total time consumed in recovering from these distractions is almost 2 hours each day? And that’s not all, an employee is switching tasks every 3 minutes. “What’s the big deal?” you might ask, especially if you are on a finance team and constantly facing multiple demands has become routine for you.
Balancing multiple responsibilities – sorting through month-end close activities, performing weekly analysis, reporting monthly and quarterly financials, monitoring email, completing ad hoc requests, etc. - is inevitable for anybody who is part of a finance team. Multitasking - the ability to juggle multiple tasks, projects, clients, or accounts all at once - convinces us that we are completing several tasks simultaneously because of how busy we seem. However, multitasking isn't real. It’s a myth. What you are doing is ‘task-switching’, which splits your attention, causing you to take up to twice as long to complete a task and might lead to more errors in your work
If you want to increase your team’s efficiency and productivity by getting every team member to focus on their work without getting distracted by multiple tasks, below are 5 simple suggestions.
Scheduling your workdays, the night before or the morning of work can go a long way when it comes to increasing productivity. Having your team members schedule their days and weeks will allow them to set aside time for deep focused work where needed. This will also allow you to schedule team meetings and working sessions thoughtfully and consider whether a discussion can simply be an email rather than a last-minute call or meeting that can potentially interrupt your team members' focused work time.
Block scheduling can help you find blocks of time to focus on completing specific tasks. For example, a certain block of time can be set aside for emails, texts, and calls. By blocking off a specific time for communication, your team members will feel less tempted to be distracted by emails or their phones while completing other specific tasks. One can also block time for individual deep work instead of team meetings and working sessions. However, it is important to make sure team members are respectful of each other’s blocked off individual time when trying to schedule meetings. Without that respect, block scheduling proves useless.
Implementing these tips can result in faster month-end close timelines, more efficient repeatable processes, more time to think critically and creatively about improving and streamlining tasks, and more accurate and timely financial analysis.
Your team should individually and collectively prioritize their tasks and goals for the day and week. Priority is not plural. You cannot have multiple most important tasks at any moment.
Have your team complete their hardest / most impactful individual tasks first or schedule your most important team working sessions and meetings earlier in the day or week to address your group's most valuable work first. Once the important tasks are accomplished, the rest of the day or week will feel easy. Setting priorities will help the team complete those tasks that provide the most value, internally and externally.
Disorganization can make your team feel busier. This could result in their desire to switch from one task to another. Using project management tools/to-do list apps like Monday.com (our personal favorite), Asana, Microsoft To Do (previously Wunderlist), Todoist, and others can be helpful. These tools allow your team members to view each other’s tasks, identify the task that is most important at the time, and find out where they fit individually in reaching the team's weekly and monthly goals. Optimizing your team’s organization will result in fewer unnecessary communications, better ability to set priorities, and more time spent productively focused.
It is important not only to protect your time but also the time you spend in team meetings and working sessions. Creating an agenda to set the topic of discussion and the time spent on each topic will allow for more efficient and effective meetings.
The agenda will create a landscape for what will be discussed during the meeting. Sending the agenda before the meeting can help your team members know what the focus of the discussion will be, which should help them prepare adequately. If a team member has something else that they want to discuss they can request it be added to the agenda and if it doesn't fit the meeting topic or the timeframe, then a new meeting can be set. It is important to make sure your team members know that protecting their time also means they need to be prepared for the meetings and working sessions.
The agenda can also layout the timing of the meeting which should help your team understand the importance of timing and reduce their attempts at last minute task-switching immediately before meetings - such as making a quick phone call or sending an email - to ensure they are on time or even early. Respecting meeting time also means full focus on the meeting and not switching tasks on open laptops, reading emails, or completing other tasks. Task-switching causes presence in the meeting to decrease and connection to your team and its work to go down. Protecting team time results in higher team morale and more effective teamwork to ensure any desired goal is reached as efficiently as possible.
At times task-switching can feel inevitable. It is a habit that most of us have picked up in our personal and professional lives. Kicking the habit will take practice and patience, but the result will help lead to a more efficient and satisfied finance team who will deliver valuable work to other internal departments and external stakeholders.
Jason Pillard is a Senior Analyst at Accelerated Growth. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise from Wake Forest University. As a native of Colorado, Jason enjoys spending his time outdoors on the Chicago lakefront or back in Colorado hiking and skiing the Rockies.