Truth: I’m a chronic multi-tasker. At my first job, everyone praised me to for my multi-tasking prowess and I was rewarded with 10 cent raises every 6 months (high roller over there in my Plymouth). Being rewarded so abundantly for my multi-tasking skills taught me one important thing- multi-tasking IS the way to keep up with all those little things.
When I went full-time self-employed I thought multi-tasking was going to propel me to success in a rocket made of viral blog posts, Buzzfeed-worthy retweets, and epic re-pins. Because I can DO IT ALL!!!!!!!!!
I quickly learned that I cannot do it all and that multi-tasking was actually dragging me down. Because multi-tasking was like putting water on a Gremlin. As soon as I started to do it the tasks would multiply at an alarming speed until I was surrounded by a bunch of slimy green monsters ruining my day.
So, how do you keep up with all those little things without multitasking or spending your entire day in throes of financial disarray?
Make a financial task list.
Seriously, close the 500 tabs you have open, close the 3 planners on your desk, turn off Gilmore Girls playing in the background and spend 1 hour making yourself a financial task list. Don’t do anything else BUT make your task list.
This task list is the key to keeping up with the little things because, instead of trying to remember every single thing to do at all hours of the day, you’ll have a map of what you need to do and when.
Here’s my 5-step process for making a financial task list that will keep you on top of the little things in your business:
Step 1: Brain Dump
Brain dump everything you have to do for your finances. Don’t try to order them or make logical sense of what’s coming out- just write it all out. If you get stuck, think of all the tasks you haven’t done yet that are stressing you out.
If you’re still stuck think of someone who you admire and imagine what they do with their finances. What types of tasks are they doing that you’re not?
Also, write down tasks that you wish you had time to do but don’t. These are the someday tasks. Like, someday I’m going to organize all those receipts piled up on my desk or someday I’m going to actually make a folder in my email for digital receipts.
Step 2: Write Down One-Time Tasks
Now that you have everything out of your brain and onto paper, get a new piece of paper and fold it in half. On one side, identify all the tasks that you only have to do once. These are single, concrete actions that once done, don’t need to be repeated.
Make a folder in your email for digital receipts
Sign up for QuickBooks Online
Open a business checking account
Download a receipt scanning app
Update bookkeeping for the year
Step 3: Write Down Recurring Tasks
On the other side of your paper, write down all the tasks that need to be done on a recurring basis. These are the little things that you’re probably blowing off because you can’t find time every week to deal with them.
Send out invoice reminders
Close out invoices
Do your weekly bookkeeping
Enter in cash receipts
Run a Profit & Loss report
Step 4: Prioritize Your Tasks
So now you’re looking at this piece of paper wondering why you ever bothered to listen to me because there are a hundred million things to do and I just made the problem worst.
Fear not financial warrior! You are not going to do all of these tasks because let’s face it- you don’t have the time and you don’t really want to.
Instead, you’re going to prioritize the tasks that will have the biggest impact on your business. Your criteria for prioritizing your tasks are:
Which of these tasks will make everything else easier?
This is the domino effect- if you do this one thing how many other things will get done, or at least easier, as a result? For example, signing up for QuickBooks Online will make your bookkeeping easier in the future because it automates it and saves time. Spending 2 hours dealing with it now is going to save you many hours every month in the future.
Which of these tasks are essential to your business?
Some tasks are just essential to run your business. Like opening a business bank account is one of those things that you should do for both legal and practical purposes (not mention it’s going to save you time and money).
Which of these tasks needs to get done to do other tasks?
The final thing to consider is which of these tasks is keeping you from completing other tasks. This is a sign that this task really needs to get done and should be a priority.
Highlight or star 3-5 of the most important one-time tasks on your list and 3-5 of the most important recurring tasks on your list.
Step 5: Decide When You Will Do Your Tasks
For one-time tasks, this step is just adding a done date to the task. Be realistic about when you can finish the task and how long it is going to take. However long you estimate, add 30 minutes to that estimate so you have extra time if things go wrong or you get stuck.
For recurring tasks, you will decide how often you need to do the task. For example, updating your weekly bookkeeping should happen every week while running a Profit & Loss report can happen on a monthly basis.
Start by setting time frames for each recurring task, like daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Then, get specific about when you will do these tasks. On Friday at 12 pm? Everyday at 5 pm to close out your day? The first Monday of the month?
Now that you have your trusty financial task list and a plan for when you’re going to actually do these tasks, here’s what’s next:
Complete Your Tasks
It sounds SO obvious, but most people abandon their task list after just a few days and those most important got to get them done things are forgotten.
If doing financial work is hard for you, make these tasks the first thing you do in your work day. I’m reading Gary Keller’s book The One Thing (non-affiliate link) and there’s a chapter on willpower that shares fascinating research on the effects of cognitive functioning and willpower.
To sum it up- there’s a direct correlation between how much you use your brain and your will power. The more you use your brain- the less willpower you have. Which means if you’re trying to do crappy financial tasks at the end of the day, you’re more likely to blow them off.
Also, you don’t have an endless supply of willpower. Keller uses the analogy of a phone battery- as you exert willpower the charge goes down until it’s drained and then…you have to recharge it!
Willpower also needs to be recharged too- which means it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to spend 8 hours straight of dealing with the little things in your finances and that’s okay.
The takeaway here is to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to do your tasks but to be realistic about how much you can take. If it’s only 2 hours and then you’re zapped, then schedule 2 hours first thing in the morning for the next week instead of one ten hour day.
Form a Habit
Habits legit take less brain power to maintain- which means once you form them your brain doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain them. What seems really really hard to do and focus on now becomes easier with a habit.
This is why it’s so important to actually do your recurring tasks on a regular basis. You’re not just getting things done- you’re forming a habit that’s going to make the entire process easier for yourself in the future.
How long it takes to form a habit varies for everyone but research shows that on average people take 66 days to form a habit- which is about 8 weeks. So, if you can push through 8 weeks of doing your financial stuff using your willpower, the tasks will become less taxing on your brain and faster to complete.
I find this true in my own finances. I update my bookkeeping every day and I’m to the point where I feel compelled to do it daily. Even though it only takes 5 minutes a day, if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m missing something. And when I do it it’s so mindless that half the time I’m on autopilot.
Add to Your Task List
Once you’ve formed your habit with the recurring tasks on your list, it’s time to go back to that brain dump and add one to two more tasks.
Is there anything else you would like to be doing that you now have the mental energy to focus on? If so, add them to your task list and work on building those tasks into your habit.
The point of this isn’t to give you more stuff to do. If you don’t feel like you want or need to do more, then don’t! But, if there are things on that original list that you really wish you could do or you know will help you in your business, now is the time to add them in.
Keep in mind that these are NEW habits to form, so don’t be surprised if these new tasks take more time and mental energy than the original ones.
I’d love to hear in the comments- what’s one financial task on your list?