The amount of economic value lost to admin in South Africa in the last 12 months totalled R7.2 billion, according to the Sage Productivity Tracker research. That works out to R229 every second of the day.
The amount of time that South African businesses spend on admin compares favourably to international benchmarks, but businesses can do more to reduce the time they spend on routine tasks like generating invoices, paying taxes, chasing payments, and issuing payslips.
Here are 15 ideas to help you save time on admin tasks, so that you can focus on projects that really matter.
Get rid of invoicing
Got your attention here, didn’t we? Invoicing is a necessary business process, but because sending invoices and collecting outstanding payments can be time consuming, why not get someone else to do it for you, like your sales or field staff?
Most accounting software packages offer an app that lets your sales team issue electronic invoices, from their phones or tablets, while visiting the customer. This reduces delays in billing and there’s no confusion about whether the invoice was sent.
Anything that doesn’t require financial expertise can be “outsourced” to other team members. For example, the same salesperson that issued an invoice can also be tasked with following up on payment – the incentive being that they only get their commission once the invoice is paid, so making this part of their regular process is in their best interest.
Your accounting software should alert the team when an invoice is due, so that they can start following up on payment.
Valuable time goes into creating cost estimates. The more accurate and detailed these are, the quicker and easier it is to convert them to invoices using your accounting software. At the most, you can copy these details from the estimate into the invoice.
ideally, this process should also be managed by the field and sales teams.
Schedule time for similar tasks
You may have heard that the most efficient way to approach your day is to follow a to-do list and tick off tasks as you complete them.
While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, it can be easy to get side-tracked by smaller tasks that sneak onto the list. Rather group your tasks into similar categories, like chasing payments, and schedule blocks of time to tackle them at once. This helps you to focus on one thing at a time, which will increase your productivity.
You might be tempted to stop what you’re doing to attend to client queries that seem urgent, but try to stay focused. Only respond to queries immediately if they really are urgent, otherwise let your client know that you’ll get back to them by close of business. Unless, of course, it will take two minutes to complete…
Apply the two-minute rule
If a task takes two minutes or less, do it immediately. It’s a quick and easy way to get through the tasks on your list and it’s incredibly effective.
If, for example, a client emails you asking if an invoice has been sent, it’ll take longer to respond to the query and add the task to your to-do list, which has already been divided into time blocks. It’d be easier and faster to log onto your accounting software, check if the invoice has been sent, and respond to the client immediately. That’s one less task to worry about – and it took less than two minutes to complete.
As you work out your schedule, you’ll find that you can manage your time better and will get an understanding of how long it takes to complete certain tasks, like sending five invoices in one hour.
Use these time frames to be more productive. For example, challenge yourself to send six invoices in an hour. This will be easier to do if you’re grouping similar tasks together because you’ll find ways to be more efficient and will notice that certain processes can be shortened or excluded altogether.
Create a timetable
When we were in school, our days were divided into chunks, focusing on different subjects for an hour or two at a time. We had a lot to learn back then, and these chunks forced us to focus on one thing at a time, for a short burst of time, with breaks in-between.
Now that you’re in control of your own schedule, you can divide your day into ‘time chunks’ and assign tasks to those chunks. You can decide if one task needs a single chunk, or a double.
A timetable will make you more productive and efficient, because it schedules your day and tells you where to place your focus, and for how long. Once you get used to the routine, you’ll be less likely to deviate from it.
Remember: scheduling time for breaks is as important as scheduling work.
Most accounting software will have automation features that can handle basic tasks. Thanks to machine learning and AI, you can program the software to send payment reminders or record invoice payments. You can also automate bank reconciliation to link payments to their entry on a bank statement.
Cloud-based software are packed with features that allow you to automate most of your processes and give you access to all of your important data in one place.
It’ll take some time to set up in the beginning, but you’ll be amazed at how effective it is and how much time it can save you.
Sage Business Cloud Accounting
With Sage Business Cloud Accounting, you spend less time on admin and more time growing your business.
The ability to delegate is what makes leaders great, and it’s one of the best ways to free up time.
While you might be uncomfortable handing over some tasks to colleagues, it’s one of the best ways to tick off everything on your to-do list. You may still have to check that the work has been done correctly and to an effective standard, but it’s easier to spend an hour cleaning up a report than it is to spend three hours writing it. What’s more, you’ll empower your team by giving them more responsibility.
Update your software
You’ve no doubt come across the “you have updates ready to be installed” message on your PC or in your accounting software. You might click the “remind me later” button and forget about it, but you could be losing out on a chance to save more time.
How? Because software updates usually come with new automation features that can help you to save time and money.
Install the updates when you shut down for the day and look at the new features and fixes in the morning. You might find one or two updates that could change a business process for the better.
Change your routine
If you start your day at the same time as everyone else, you might find that you are bombarded with requests from the minute you walk through the door – and you haven’t even opened your email yet.
The simplest way to avoid this is to change your routine. Start your day an hour or two earlier, which will give you some quiet time to focus on being productive. Another benefit? You get to finish earlier or work a half day on Fridays.
Another option is to work remotely, or to take your lunch break later so you can work when everyone else is out of the office. Both of these options give you the chance to focus on your work without being side-tracked by those around you. Of course, this is only possible if your employer offers flexi-time.
Close your email
Set aside an hour each day to respond to your emails and only respond during that time block. Reading and responding to emails as they come in will shift your focus from your important tasks at hand and severely impact your productivity.
Close your email program to avoid getting distracted by pop-up notifications and use your scheduled time block to see which emails are the most important and which don’t need your immediate attention, and respond accordingly.
Some programs also offer ‘Focus’ features that automatically sort your emails from most to least important, so everything you need to respond to is right at the top.
Have you heard of HIT? No, not high-intensity training. HIT, as in Human Intelligence Tasks. Amazon defines these as repetitive tasks that can be outsourced or crowd sourced. In finance, these could be typing up documents, data capturing, transcribing, or translating reports into another language.
Not all businesses are suited to outsourcing, but it’s worth spending some money to save time. Freelancers will get the job done quickly and to a suitable, or even excellent, standard. The more basic tasks you can outsource, the more time you free up to focus on important projects.
Contact the right people
People come and go at companies, so your contact for invoicing might not be the same person it was a year ago. Review your contact list every few months to make sure that you’re connecting with the right people in a business.
There is nothing more frustrating than sending an invoice to someone, only for them to forward it on to someone else because they’re not the right contact. Not only does this add another email to your inbox, but you might have to spend time informing the new contact what the invoice is for and why it needs to be signed off, which introduces payment delays.
Hold walking meetings
How many times have you been called into a meeting that took up an hour of your time, but could have been dealt with via email or a quick water cooler chat?
Walking or standing meetings are a great way to cover topics quickly, decide on action plans, and get back to work. For example, if one of your team members wants to discuss a client, ask them to walk with you to the kitchen and chat while you make coffee. On your way back, pass by their desk and end the meeting there.
Also, when scheduling online meetings, make them for 15 minutes instead of 30, or 45 minutes instead of one hour.
Your meetings will be more productive and you’ll spend less time on small talk.
The last word
There are several ways to save time on admin; it comes down to your willingness to take the time to implement them. Of course, not all of these points will be relevant to your business, but implementing one or two will free up time to focus on more important tasks.