Ask finance and accounting professionals if they would like to do more value adding work and you’ll hear a re-sounding “YES!” Ask them why they are not just doing it already and most often you will hear “I don’t have time”. This is like a chronic disease of the finance function but unlike most chronical diseases this one has a cure!

To change the mindset of CFOs and their finance function from “a cost center to becoming a profit driver” as we discussed in a previous article, “Exploring the mindset of CFO 4.0″ we need time. Working in new ways is more challenging than existing ways. That is because we must change ingrown habits and likely do work that is outside of our comfort zone. Moreover, we are likely not energized at first working in the new ways.

Hence, it is not only about finding the time but also the energy to be a profit driver. We will deep-dive on both in this article and share some concrete tools and practical ways to make the change.

Time & Energy

From speaking with thousands of finance and accounting professionals around the world we have identified that today they spend around 70% of their time on working with data, reporting, and analysis. Only 30% of the time is spent on presenting and discussing insights, making recommendations, and implementing decisions. These are the value-adding tasks that we would like finance professionals to spend more time on though. Let’s see how we can make that possible.

Time management

First, we should make clear that we cannot get more time. 24/7/365 is what we all get. Hence, it is about becoming more efficient (doing things right) and effective (doing the right things) with the time we have available.

The former should be done through process optimization utilizing frameworks like Lean. There are many finance processes like month-end and planning & forecasting that can be done much more efficiently. That would be a good place to start.

The latter we can work with through the Eisenhower/Cover matrix by understanding our tasks through an urgency and importance lens. Try conducting a Week-In-the-Life-Of study on how you spend your time. Pick a standard week and note down how you spend your time in 15-minute increments. Once you’ve completed the survey divide all tasks into the four quadrants of urgent/important, urgent/not important, not urgent/important, and not urgent/not important. On average we spend 35% of our time (even higher for leaders) on not important work. Now create a plan to free up 20% of your time spent on not important work and re-allocate it to important work. This is possible for most people!

Energy management

Now you are doing things reclaiming 20% of your time to do the right things. All set, right? Not so fast! You might only have a set number of hours available in a day but how much you can accomplish in those hours varies greatly from person to person. This is not just something that is given by nature but something we can actively impact. We do that through energy management and considering the four energy sources.

  • Physical energy: Are you well-rested, well-fed, and fit? Most people are not or at least they can optimize on one or more of these parameters. Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep, eat a healthy diet, and get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  • Emotional energy: How are you feeling today? No one is happy all the time and in fact most of the thoughts we have are negative, so this is a tough one. However, if you take care of your relationships like family, work, and friends and spend time with people that make you happy then you are already in a good place. And simply smile as it will make you happier!
  • Mental energy: How focused are you? When you read this article how many times did you turn your attention to something else than the article like checking your phone or browsing another website? This might be a simple example but is probably a good indicator of how focused you are. The world is full of distractions, and we must be very conscious in dealing with them. Try techniques like the pomodoro technique to create undisturbed focus time. It will help you get more done!
  • Spiritual energy: Why do you do the things you do? This sounds like a philosophical question but if you think about it the question has many practical implications. Why do you work in your current job? Why are you in Finance? Why are you together with your spouse? If we cannot give good answers to these essential questions, we are likely not energized about doing what we do. We need to find purpose in life and work so if you don’t know why you are doing what you are doing you probably need to make a change. Ask yourself 5 X WHY and see where that leads you.

If you manage your time and energy well, you will almost feel like a superhuman and get so much done that you’ll be wondering about what to do next. That’s when you are truly ready to change your mindset.

Insight, influence, and impact

Instead of working too much on data, reporting and analysis you should spend time on insight, influence, and impact. Hopefully, you can use the simple time management tips shared here to start making the change. If you are ever in doubt about what are the right things to work on you can relate what you do back to the mindset change.

You should keep a running list of value adding tasks that you can start on when you’ve created a space in the calendar to do something new. Otherwise, you risk just falling back into the non-important trap.

How does your list of new value adding tasks look like?