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Accountants: Is multi-tasking damaging your practice’s productivity?

Accountants: Is multi-tasking damaging your practice’s productivity?

What else are you doing while reading this? Preparing financial records? Chatting to a co-worker? Answering client emails and letters? Poking at your smartphone?

As an accountant you are certainly expected to be a multi-tasking master. Maybe it was a pre-requisite when they hired you. But if research from accountancy recruitment agency Randstad Financial & Professional is to be believed, accountants across the country are losing an overall 4 million working days each year as they struggle to cope with increased demands for multi-tasking. Yes, that’s right – 4 million working days a year!

According to the study, over 90% of accountancy and financial services jobs require multi-tasking; however, only 40% of accountants have a strategy to deal with the increase in workload.

The accountants/firms surveyed as part of Randstad’s research reported an average of 5 interruptions a day, resulting in a loss of 9 hours per employee each week due to multi-tasking.  Another study by the University of California-Irvine suggests that employees are not as productive as they would like to believe – as per their research it takes a worker close to 20 minutes to regain their flow following an interruption to a given task.

Managing Director of Randstad, Tara Ricks, said, “Multi-tasking is becoming an increasingly important part of people’s working lives, with 72% of financial services and accountancy employees telling us they regard it as important. The consequences are surprisingly serious when you take into account the amount of time it takes us to regain our flow following another interruption.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Although widely regarded as a basic requirement of employability, multi-tasking has shown to reduce productivity as well as IQ.  Research from the University of London found that people who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced a decline in IQ scores. In fact, the drops were similar to what you see in individuals who had skipped a night of sleep. Now that’s not a very comforting thought!

Accountants and financial services professionals are underestimating the damage multitasking can do to their productivity. The problem is that employees don’t necessarily appreciate how hard multitasking can degrade their clarity of thought – its makes heavy demands on us,” Ricks said.

What is even more concerning is the link between multi-tasking and a loss of short-term memory and potential long-term illness.  Research conducted at the University of Michigan by Professor David Meyer concludes that switching tasks slows us down and scrambles our thinking. In simpler words, we are not hard-wired to multi-task.

But since we got to multi-task anyway, what are the possibilities?

  1. Be mindful and multi-task when it is appropriate, and single-task when focusing is important

  2. Make two lists – one for activities that require internet access and one for activities that can be done offline

  3. Post your to-do list in a prominent spot and rank it by priority. Hammer the nail that stands out

  4. Disable needless notifications on your smartphone – you know things like incoming tweets, emails and messages (unless you manage social media)

  5. Set a window to respond to emails instead of constantly getting distracted from existing tasks to reply

  6. If you work involves internet browsing use programs such as Freedom to disable your browser for a set period of time.

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