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Some Tips on Time Commitment and Management for Busy Financial Professionals

By Tracey Dunlap, Director of Finance & Administration, City of Kirkland

I was recently asked to provide some tips on time commitment and management based on my experience as a consultant, and I thought some of the information would be useful for busy finance professionals in these busy economic times. So this is the first tip - use information in multiple forums!

The first step in time management: Understand the tasks at hand, how long they will take, and the time available to get them done. These are ideas that I have found useful, but they might not work for everybody! The idea is to think about how you do your job and do it efficiently.

Good time management skills are essential in any profession. It is especially important in these days of "doing more with less." A sign of success is being viewed as "on top of things" and good time management can help.

Maintaining Focus

Let's start with some tips on maintaining focus and priorities:

  • Make lists - and use them!
  • Write things down (which is different from and complimentary to making lists) - do not try to keep everything in your head.
  • Always be thinking ahead - the next day, the next week, the next month.
  • Build in time for the unexpected - if you don't need it, you will find something else productive to do.
  • Be organized.
  • Set realistic expectations - then meet (or exceed them) - but you don't always have to exceed them. In many cases, meeting expectations is perfectly ok.
  • Try not to procrastinate, but if you do, use the time productively! Get something else done and then do the task you are avoiding or play the reward game - if I get this done, I can do something I like much better.
  • Take care of yourself (and your team). If you burnout, your productivity decreases and you spend more time on tasks that could be done in half the time.

Travel Time

Here are some ideas for those of you that travel for work to help make the most of your travel time:

  • Plan ahead!
  • Save tasks that lend themselves to the mode by which you are traveling.
    • By Car:
      • Hands-free calls (if they can be done safely!).
      • Identify key discussion items if you are traveling with a colleague.
    • Air Travel:
      • Does the airport have wi-fi (preferably free).
      • If not, there are plenty of things that can be done offline - make sure to save useful files to your computer before you leave.
      • Bring something to do when electronics need to be turned off (below 10,000 feet) - it's a great time to read or edit (the old fashioned way).

In terms of providing some ideas of tools that might help stay organized:

Find What Works for You

  • The "5 minute" folder - the idea is to set aside a place for necessary tasks that can be accomplished in 5 minutes up to maybe half an hour. When you find yourself with a few minutes (before your next meeting starts, waiting on someone who was late for lunch, waiting to board a plane), you pull out a task and get it done.
  • To do lists - update them regularly and cross things off when they are done.
  • Keep a physical calendar on your desktop to keep your commitments in front of you.
  • Look for technology to facilitate getting things done - phone apps, Outlook reminders, etc.
  • Setting aside time for focused work - turning off e-mail, letting voicemail pick up (but returning calls in a timely manner - designate time to do this too)!

Get Organized

  • Document and organize tasks as you go - don't leave it to the end.
    • Work on proper naming and filing of your documents, so you and others can easily find the right version to use.
    • Assume that you or someone else will need to access your project folders someday and structure them to make that easier.
    • Build in reference materials and sources or calculation methodology into your spreadsheets - it really helps when you pick it up again in the future.
    • Write reports as you proceed, by summarizing major tasks as they are completed. While this may not always be feasible, it works well for large projects that take place over an extended time period.
  • Keep track of your time daily - it is a great check in on how you are doing and whether you need to make adjustments.
  • Use "Sticky Notes" (physical or electronic).

Involve Others

  • Delegate! The first time you do it, it takes as much time (or more) as doing it yourself, but it will save lots of time in the future.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Learn from others.
  • Suggest new and better ways to do your job.
  • Use information in multiple forums.
  • Don't "reinvent the wheel". If someone else has addressed a similar issue in the past, take a look at what they have done and see if it can be adapted to your needs. Cite and acknowledge sources as appropriate.

I'm sure you have many ideas that work well for you and I'd love to hear them ( I want to acknowledge that this list was developed in collaboration with my former consulting colleagues at FCS Group and reflects the influence of many great professionals I've worked with during my career, for which I am most grateful.

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About Tracey Dunlap

Tracey Dunlap writes for MRSC as a gurst author.

Tracey Dunlap, P.E. is Deputy City Manager at the City of Kirkland and served as Kirkland’s Director of Finance & Administration from 2006 through 2014. Prior to joining Kirkland, she was a principal and shareholder in FCS Group, a regional financial and management consulting firm (14 years). An industrial engineer registered in the state of Washington, she has worked with jurisdictions throughout the Northwest to develop and implement cost recovery and fee strategies, set utility rates, and improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Tracey's experience also includes working for a large defense contractor (5 years) and a major financial institution (3 years). She has presented on a wide array of topics for organizations including WFOA, APWA, APA, WABO, and AWC.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.