Time Shrinkage

“Don’t Squander Time…”

A lot is written on call center time shrinkage and ways to address it to increase productivity. This blog is not about call centers. This article is not based on scientific or statistical research. It’s not about whether time is real or illusionary (we’ll leave that for the theoretical physicists.) This article, instead, is about time as it relates to the accounting profession.

Those in public accounting believe that time is real. Over the years, time shrinkage has crushed us, causing many to miss untold evening newscasts, home-cooked meals, favorite TV programs, monster hide-and-seek with the kids, school events, concerts, sporting events, and sufficient sleep, to name just a few. And clients of public accountants think time is real too. That is, those who receive engagement quotes and invoices based on standard hourly rates and those who have habitual monthly deadlines.

Those in private accounting are keenly aware of the nature of time. First of all, it’s circular, not linear. Specific tasks are performed daily, some weekly, and others monthly or annually. And then it comes at you again, the same functions, ever so quickly – it’s circular. And this has nothing to do with Eastern philosophy. It just seems that way when you are in the thick of it.

Time is precious. Any bad habit, unnecessary interruption, meaningless process, or anything that snatches our time, never to be seen again, is not our friend. But, on the other hand, what saves time should be identified and cherished.

Time Snatchers. Based on my observations, below are some typical thieves of our time.

  • Mistakes. Mistakes are not all equal. Some are big, and some are not so big. But they generally have one thing in common – they are time snatchers. They cost you some measure of time. That loss of time is often multiplied because of the human error chain reaction. For example, the mistake, whatever it may be, delays the processing of the report for a few hours, which in turn delays report delivery until the next day, a day later than promised.

    Humans, of course, will always make mistakes. It’s the human condition. However, the way we deal with our mistakes is what counts. Do we admit them and apologize or find ways to hide them? Do we have a mindset to learn from them or have a cavalier attitude? On the positive side, our mistakes can be a great teacher. What is the saying – good judgment comes from bad judgment.

  • Bad Habits. Here is a list of everyday bad habits that may rob time from the accountant.

    • Procrastination. Yeah – almost everyone procrastinates from time to time. But when it becomes habitual, then it’s a time problem.
    • Copying the prior accountant (a.k.a. CPA). Blindly following the preceding year’s workpapers may be exceedingly inefficient. This is true even if the previous accountant is yourself.
    • Not embracing change. Some repeatedly cling to the old way of doing things, even if inefficient compared to the modernized way. Let’s face it, the car is faster than the horse and buggy. Innovative technology has proven to be a tremendous time saver. There was a time I would scribble something out on paper and give it to the secretary to type. Now, I type it myself. It saves time.

  • Due Date Bunching. Many due dates for federal and state informational returns and tax returns bunch up from January through April 15. This includes gift tax returns, form 1099 series, form W-2 and W-3 series, individual tax returns, pass-through entities tax returns (partnership, most S-Corporations, and LLCs), federal and state unemployment tax returns, and many others.

    This bunching was exacerbated several years back when the rules changed for flow-through entities, requiring most to report on the calendar year. Provisions were made under the tax code whereby the company could retain its fiscal year. But this required enhanced estimated tax payments and added complexity to the process.

    Make intelligent use of extensions to spread out the workload. I understand that this is easier said than done. Many clients may resist because of personal reasons or concerns it may trigger an audit by the IRS.

  • Social Media. Yeah. I’m not a big fan of social media. A Google search pulled up the top 20 social media platforms. My gosh, I had no idea there were so many. I’m talking about Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok. At the very bottom of the list of 20 was Linkedin. That’s the one I’m signed up for. Figures. I do use YouTube from time to time. It can be helpful and entertaining. I understand that WhatsApp has a business platform that can be useful.

    But on the whole, it’s apparently too easy to misuse social media platforms, be sucked in and brainwashed with bizarre misinformation, repeated over and over, and become addicted. What I’m describing is a sad waste of precious time. So perhaps we should carefully choose the ones we use and not be hooked and fooled by the endless hype.

  • Technology. Technology is also on my list of friends of time. So I’m not anti-technology. But as an accountant, I’m not anxious to be on the cutting edge. Artificial intelligence technology sounds like a game-changer, and by all accounts, it will be, but please, let others work out the bugs.

    I recall that MS-DOS performed in a stable and mature environment, but the introduction of Windows was somewhat buggy until it matured. So our firm began using Windows with version 3.1. But even version 3.1 was problematic. Remember the blue screen of death? That meant a total system failure – and lost data. Becoming so enamored with technology before it has matured can be counter-productive, expensive, and a time waster.

Friends of Time. Here is my short list of time savers for accountants.

  • Organization/Planning. In my view, the number one required trait for an accountant is organization. If anything, we should be organized. We should think in an organized fashion. And organization involves the habit of planning. Plan your day, your week, your month, plan the audit, plan whatever. Just plan. It’s a huge time saver and pays dividends.
  • Information Technology. IT has removed much of the drudgery of accounting work and replaced it with speed and accuracy. We’re talking about tax preparation programs, electronic spreadsheets, word processing applications, mobile phones, internet search engines, email, texting, scanners, cloud applications, cloud storage, audit workflow management tools, etc. These tools were developed or introduced to main street accountants since I entered the profession. These mature applications are time savers.
  • Sleep. Sleep is a friend of the time you are awake. It enables you to perform at your best and is essential for good health. Functioning on inadequate sleep is not a badge of honor, as some who wear it must think. On the contrary, a chronic lack of sleep directly steals quality from your waking hours.
  • Be Diligent in Your Work. Diligence makes the task at hand more enjoyable. Strive for excellence, but not perfection. The former produces a suitable and spot-on work product, but the latter is a heavy burden for yourself and those that work with you. So diligence is a friend of time because it results in balance.
  • Listen and Delegate. Listen to your co-workers. Truly listen. When you pick up on their interest and strengths, delegate where you can. They will appreciate having an assignment that plays to their interest and strengths. You will benefit by freeing up your time and perhaps having a better work product than you may have produced. Not a bad thing.

My high school basketball coach would tell us don’t squander time; it’s the stuff that life is made from. I’m sure the words of wisdom were a quote, but he never told us who. Perhaps he thought unnecessary elaboration was a waste of time.

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