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Februari 27, 2010

Time Management not working? Try Time Leverage

Filed under: The Accountants Coach — internalauditindonesia @ 12:00 am

The following article first appeared in the ICAEW’s Finance & Management journal March 2009.

Have you reviewed your own ROI?

If not, 2009 is the year to get your personal assets working more smartly.  Forget the results by volume approach.  Time Management is just about trying to do more. Progress comes, not from saving time, but leveraging it.  Saving is limited to the hours you save; leverage allows you to multiply the effort applied.

Here’s how.

What do you actually want to achieve?

It’s imperative that you understand why you are doing what you are doing.  What’s it all for?  What are your goals?  If you aren’t clear, you need to draw up some well formed outcomes. If you don’t, you are in grave danger of being efficient rather than effective. Efficiency is getting things done. Effectiveness is getting things done, to worthwhile effect, that take you towards your goals. What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it.  Efficiency is irrelevant unless applied to the right things.

Pareto and Parkinson

Remember the 80/20 principle?  If

80% of sales/profits come from 20% of products/customers or

80% of the effects flow from 20% of the causes

then

Which 20% of your activities contribute to 80% of your results?

And then there’s Parkinson’s Law: a task expands to fill the time allocated.  How much do you get done in the week before your holiday?

Use these laws together as the bedrock of your leverage strategy.  Identify the critical tasks that contribute most to your goals and then set deadlines.

What else?

Modelling

Instead of trial and error get some role models.  It’s not easy to find one person who embodies all your values, beliefs and aspirations, so put together an inspirational composite.  How do they get results?  What patterns and behaviours do they use?  Look, learn and model.

States of the Mind

Discover what psychologists call flow.  Also known as being ‘in the zone’, flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what they are doing, driven by energized focus. An extremely productive state, you’re at your most creative, sharpest, problem solving best and producing your highest performance.  Flow’s greatest foe is interruption; so bag some blocks of protected time.

Mindfulness is the act of consciously paying attention, in the present, on purpose and non-judgmentally. The opposite of being on “automatic pilot’’, mindfulness is efficient, reduces repetition and aids retention and understanding.  Plus the ability to notice what is going on, as it arises, also fosters flexibility in stressful situations.

Learning/thinking styles

Once you understand your preferred styles you can leverage them.  Are you a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner? Do you like to get stuck-in or read and plan first?  What are your dominant types of intelligence?  Are you using mind friendly techniques like mind maps to optimise your learning, understanding and retention of knowledge?

It’s time to work on the job, not just in the job

Time leverage involves some up-front investment.  It’s natural to want to conserve resources but if you don’t make that investment you’ll lock yourself into the old way of doing things:

‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’.

Leverage is the art of getting more done with the same, or less, effort.  How far will take you in 2009?

Carol McLachlan, FCA is a chartered accountant, executive coach and NLP practitioner.  She’s the founder of www.theaccountantscoach.com supporting finance professionals, both individuals and organisations, in a multitude of development areas:  career planning, work-life balance, time management, performance enhancement, communication.  For more professional and personal development tips, sign up for your free monthly newsletter at info@theaccountantscoach.com

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RUNNING ON EMPTY?

Filed under: The Accountants Coach — internalauditindonesia @ 12:00 am

Dear <$salutation$>

Whoopee! It’s gone. January, farewell, the accountant’s hell, season
of deadlines, screaming fits and stimulant-fuelled all-nighters: our pressure cooker month. At last the pressure’s off and we can
sit back and…what?

Go on working like crazy, that’s what – because February’s just January without deadlines.

So how do you maintain momentum when there’s no pressure?

Well, firstly, you do sit back. Have a weekend off: you’ve earned it! Then get straight back into the saddle, and if you feel no pressure urging you onwards, create some!

No, I didn’t say create some stress, I said create some pressure. Create yourself tight schedules to work to, because if you don’t Parkinson will kick in and your tasks will ‘expand to fill the time available’. And be sure you’re being effective, not just efficient, or you’ll end up doing things which are pointless, even though you do them brilliantly. Speaking of which, remember what we’ve already learned about brilliance and perfectionism: keep them in perspective. Performers will spend hours practising a single bar of music but, hey, making the coffee’s just making the coffee!

Remember nothing succeeds like success: if you feel you’re on top of things, you will be. So ensure you have specific goals and targets. Keeping Pareto in mind, know which 80% of your goals are best served by the crucial 20% of your activities. De-chunk your tasks: break them down into smaller tasks which you can see disappear as you complete them. And anything you do, learn to love it: find the fun! What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, writes Nietzsche.

Here’s a list of extra tips to boost self-motivation.

  • Mix with motivated people.
  • Never cease learning: always read, watch, listen.
  • Be positive: find solutions not problems.
  • Don’t think: do! If you’re stuck, do something else!
  • Know your own enthusiasm patterns.
  • Chart progress: you’ll nurture something you see grow.
  • Help others.
  • Accept that sometimes life is tough.
  • Don’t work nonstop: take breaks.
  • Cherish your motivators: pictures of baby seals, jelly babies, Mozart, whatever. If it fuels you, have some.
  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • To beat writer’s block writers simply write. Rather than nothing, do something!
  • Reflect on Zig Ziglar: People often tell me that motivation doesn’t last and I tell them that bathing doesn’t either. That’s why I recommend it daily.

Need a little more help?
Just email me at info@theaccountantscoach.com
and book a complimentary telephone consultation.
theaccountantscoach.com,
I’m here to help!

PROCRASTINATE? ME? CAN’T IT WAIT?

Filed under: The Accountants Coach — internalauditindonesia @ 12:00 am

Dear <$salutation$>

Ah yes, our old friend, procrastination. Thief of time, wrecker of careers, mother of painful regret:

‘If only I’d…’

We’re here again because, once you’ve fixed your goals and deadlines,
you’ve got to make them stick: as emphasised in recent newsletters! So let’s identify the enemy.

Today, tomorrow, sometime, never is how procrastination works. Something needs doing today (ha-ha!) but you delay until tomorrow (maybe) or sometime (likelier) hoping that, magically, you’ll never need to do it (fat chance).

We all do this to some degree, although we’re mostly adult enough to know we’re fooling ourselves. So please don’t tell me, ‘Procrastination is a sign of genius; look at Leonardo da Vinci’.
Why not? Two reasons: (1) Leonardo was troubled by his procrastinating, and (2) you’re (probably) no Leonardo.

Remedies can be indicated by pinpointing causes, and in the case of procrastination causes can be as serious as depression or attention deficit disorder. With particular relevance to recent newsletters, however, causes include a lack of clear goals, poor prioritising and a collapse of willpower arising from misplaced perfectionism. The following are also common.

  • Weak motivation.
  • Lack of skills.
  • Poor time management.
  • Low energy or poor health.
  • Fear of the task, its consequences, even of success.
  • Addiction to last-minute adrenalin rushes.
  • A delusion that procrastination endears you to others.
  • A further delusion that you work better that way.
  • You’re buried by jobs only you can do.

In the last-mentioned instance, you could simply train someone else. But consider too the following solutions.

  • ‘Just get the file out’ is an approach I recommend and use.
  • Just make an easy start. Need to do the washing-up? Just run the tap – and suddenly you’ve finished the job!
  • Compile a ‘for and against’ list, itemising the risks and consequences involved in not doing a job.
  • Impose a deadline on yourself and offer yourself a reward for meeting it.
  • De-chunk the tasks you have on. Break them down into segments and get some of the simpler boxes ticked right away!
  • Go public. Tell people you’re going to do it and so commit yourself.
  • Avoid procrastinators like the plague!

And remember: whatever the activity, if you do it today and you enjoy it, you can do it again today and double your fun!
Carpe diem!

Need a little more help?
Just email me at info@theaccountantscoach.com and book a complimentary telephone consultation.
theaccountantscoach.com, I’m here to help!

Februari 11, 2010

Mind Maps for Accountants

Filed under: The Accountants Coach — internalauditindonesia @ 12:00 am

Mind Maps for Accountants

  • A system to remember your presentation so you don’t have to read your notes
  • A technique that helps you take a project, see the big picture, focus on the key areas and understand all the inter-connections
  • A means of making note taking from journals, books, e-articles, quicker, more logical, better organised
  • A method for brainstorming that presents ideas logically structured
  • An approach to time management, enabling you to focus on your priorities, make efficiencies

How would you like to spend just 10 minutes learning a new skill that will help you in all of the above areas?  In the last year, Mind Mapping has given me all of these rewards and truly revolutionised my approach to knowledge, learning and business.  Read on for the accountant’s introduction to Mind Mapping.

So what an earth is a Mind Map?  Well this is a superb of example of how valuable the art of Mind mapping actually is; words cannot adequately express the essence of a Mind Map.  The best way to explain is to look at one.  Click on this example.  And for those who like the words as well as the graphics, I would describe a Mind Map as a ‘thinking tool’; ‘a diagram which places a key idea in the centre of a page and uses words, pictures and linking lines radiating outwards from the centre to present connecting ideas, knowledge and information’.

So how would an accountant use a Mind Map?  How long is a piece of string?  I used a Mind Map to draft this article.  Click here to have a peek.  It’s a very economical way of making notes.  The focus is on key words and their connections, so I saved loads of time in just drafting the core concepts rather than using all these superfluous linking words which glue our sentences together (and turn them into a readable article!).  You will also see from the example not only how it facilitates the organisation of words and ideas into a logical format but also how it can enhance the structure by allowing you to view the big picture along with all the detail.  And as the key words act as triggers it also facilitates brainstorming as your triggers spawn multi-dimensional concepts.

That’s just a little taster of how valuable Mind Maps can be to accountants and I will come on to more uses shortly.  But first a slight diversion to answer the question ‘why do we need a thinking tool at all?’

We all know that we have a left and a right brain.  Left brain deals with logic, analysis, numbers, words, reason, order, sequence.  Right brain is in the business of creativity, thinking in pictures, patterns, colours, and uses intuition.  Fast forward to caricatures. Think left brain-dominant scientist, ‘brainy’, numerate, weak on the inter-personal side.  Think right brained arty farty creative genius, the musician, poet, artist, never could get their Maths O’level.

Now I would never for one minute suggest that we accountants are more likely to fall into the former stereotype!  But the chances are that we have over-developed the left hand side because we needed to, to pass exams and do business in our traditional western ways.  But while we may well have a preference for over-using a particular side of the brain its more than likely due to conditioning and education than nature.  The good news is that we have infinite scope to continue to develop the lazier side of the brain.  And by doing this the sum of the whole can truly be greater than the individual parts.  By using the right and left brain together we can unlock talents we never knew we had, solve problems creatively and generally go about our business in a more efficient and effective way than we ever thought possible.

Mind Maps give us a very simple technique to make the most of our brain’s full capabilities.  By engaging the right brain we enhance the logical thinking of the left by bringing in a creative perspective.  Mind Maps help us do this by using very graphical means to express our ideas – pictures, shapes, colours, patterns, all very visual stimuli.

And as a thinking tool, a Mind Map also mirrors the way the mind works, storing and retrieving information.  So of course it’s going to be an efficient way of organising our thoughts using the contours that are already hard-wired in there.

And there’s more.  You may have heard of VAK preferences.  VAK refers to visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.  We all have a preference in our thinking and learning towards one of these styles.  Visual people like to learn from seeing things and find it useful to use pictures and graphs.  Auditory learners are at their best when listening – talks and lectures, ‘teach yourself’ CDs.  And the kinaesthetic like to actually do the practical stuff, have a go, ‘get their hands dirty’.  Many western educated individuals are either visual or auditory, with a slight majority preference for visual, but there are still a significant number of kinaesthetic thinkers and learners too.

So why does this matter?   Well if we can identify our preferred style we can exploit it and look for ways to use it that can improve our learning, problem solving and memory skills. If you are visually preferred, like me, then Mind Maps are an absolute gift.  I find my thinking is massively improved when I can get stuff down on paper, see it (rather than hear it); the patterns, colours, shapes in Mind Maps all enhance this.  But what if you are not a visually preferred person?  Well, as I said before Mind Maps will help everybody make the most of using their right and left brain together.  But actually an auditory or kinaesthetic style is only a preference and like harnessing the multi skills of left and right brain together, we can improve all our techniques by developing other styles rather than just relying on our preferred ones.

Here’s an example.  When I first took a learning preferences test two years ago my results were strongly visual.  This didn’t surprise me as I have always had a problem paying attention on courses and lectures, when you just have to knuckle down and listen.  The only way I can concentrate and remember anything said is to write it down, draw pictures, doodle, put things in boxes.  Up until this point I had always relied heavily on my visual skills and as a result my auditory skills were puny, under-developed things.  (This will ring a bell with any of my Ernst & Young colleagues who will remember me multi tasking away on conference calls – at the expense of full-on listening I’m afraid!).  Armed with my personal development education I actively set about building those auditory muscles.  It was going to be very important to me to be able to offer telephone coaching as well as face to face, so I really had to mature my auditory skills.  And I did it!  I used a number of techniques (which are beyond the scope of this article) but I really enhanced my auditory muscles.  My recent tests show I am evenly split between visual and auditory.  This is a fantastic result for me; it has given me a much wider toolbox of skills to call on in my work and life generally.  So, the lesson here is, even if you are a kinaesthetic or auditory person then Mind Mapping will help you in building your visual muscle and give you a much more rounded skill set.

So there’s the theory.  Mind Mapping is a ‘thinking tool’ which will help you do better all sort of things from strategic planning to problem solving to note taking.

Now on to the practice.  What can accountants use Mind Maps for?  Here are just a few examples.

Use Mind Maps for:                                          How Mind Maps can help (just a few egs)

Technical note taking                                         Focus on core concepts

Business Planning.                                            Structure, organisation

Recall and memorising                                       Hooks and cues

Exam revision                                                    Key facts and memorising

Presentations                                                    Logical structure, memorising

Brainstorming, idea generation                            See associations, logical ordering

Agendas                                                           Brainstorming, structure

Reporting writing                                                Planning, organising

Time management, ‘to do’ lists                            Prioritising, efficiencies

Concentration                                                    Mirrors mechanics of mind, fun

Systems/processing documenting.                      Structure, organisation

Goal setting                                                       Big picture focus

Group projects                                                   Integration, flexible to add to

Decision making and problem solving                   Analysis, interconnections, interpretations

I am so blown away with the benefits of Mind Mapping that I tutor it as a core skill in all my one to one coaching programmes, encouraging my clients to use it as a part of their own professional and personal development.  This is unique to my coaching programmes.  All my clients can have an introduction to Mind Mapping and the chance to add this technique to their own personal toolbox of skills.  A truly value-added extra which is exclusive to theaccountantscoach.com.  Mind Mapping on your own is great but think also how your team – both technical and support – could add value by solo or group Mind Mapping.  Consider a team Mind Mapping workshop.  To find out more email info@theaccountantscoach.com.

Or would you like to take the test to determine your own preferred thinking or learning style?  Email info@theaccountantscoach.com for more info.

And one last thing…..If for no other reason give it a try because………..its fun!

Links

Mind friendly learning is already in schools.  Our kids know about it!  Don’t you just wish we’d had it back then.  This site will tell you more about it and how it is used in schools and has some great Mind Map examples too http://www.salt.cheshire.gov.uk/mfl/index.htm

The Mind Tools site is one of my favourites for resources and ideas.  Check out their section on Mind Mapping at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_01.htm

Mind Genius software is my recommended choice if you want to go for the professional look. http://www.mindgenius.com/website/presenter.aspx?type=doc&uri=/home.htm#topofpage

For a brilliant quick introduction to Mind Mapping, ‘Mind Maps in a Week’ is published by Chartered Management Institute, available via Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0340849525/wwwtheaccount-21

For more depth you have to read Tony Buzan, the guru of mind mapping.  Buy his books also on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0007212917/wwwtheaccount-21

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