With a slew of challenging yet fulfilling work always coming in, there's never a dull moment in payroll. But if you're not organized, the load can soon become overwhelming.
Work efficiency is the key to success in a function like payroll. You can start with small but obvious steps, like keeping your desk tidy, socializing less and minimizing online distractions. But sometimes you need to make larger changes to the way you work and collaborate. Here are a few tips to help you reach maximum productivity:
1. Plan your day. Every morning, take a few minutes to make a list of things you need to accomplish by the end of day. If you have a lot to do and don't know where to start, prioritize tasks by dividing them into three categories of urgency and importance:
- Important and urgent - do first
- Important but not urgent - do second
- Neither urgent nor important - do as time permits
Organizing your to-do list this way helps ensure you don't simply put your energy into the things you like to do while putting off urgent or important tasks.
2. Create a system for dealing with queries. Emails and phone calls from company employees are a standard part of a payroll job, but those demands can be a real productivity killer. It's hard to focus when interruptions constantly pull your attention in multiple directions. That's why it's important to have a system to deal with queries that boosts your overall efficiency.
When it comes to answering the phone, perhaps you and your payroll colleagues could agree on a schedule that allows everyone to have uninterrupted blocks of time to concentrate on work.
Emails are easier, as you don't have to respond to those immediately. One suggestion is to set your email client to check for new messages once every 15 minutes or even manually. That way, you won't get distracted by unending pop-up notifications.
3. Stop putting out fires. In your payroll job, are you mostly proactive or reactive? If much of your day is spent fixing mistakes and dealing with irate employees, that means something in the department isn't quite right. When you're super busy, it's tempting to just put out a fire and move on. But in the long run, it's much more efficient to carve out time, investigate the problem and find a proper solution.
Try keeping an incident log to see if you can spot patterns that lead you to the source of nagging issues - and prevent them moving forward. Gather information on which categories of employees experience payroll problems, when they experience them, and so on. After you've identified the root cause, implement changes and improvements. Yes, this process takes time, but it's a worthwhile investment that'll ultimately save time.
4. Request additional training. Lack of knowledge is a major barrier to productivity. Think of when you've had to spend extra time in research because you're not well versed in, say, tax compliance, or how a task took your team so long to complete because they're not proficient in certain software.
What do you need to learn so you can be more efficient in your job? To find out, do a skills audit. Then research courses and other educational options that would close up that skills gap. Third, find out about getting the professional training you need. A good place to start is to become certified. The Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) is designed for people just beginning their career in this field. Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) is for those with extensive experience who would like to move into a leadership role.
5. Get help when necessary. Payroll teams periodically get hit with extra work. Some of this is predictable, such as during tax season or the annual enrollment period, while other times are one-off events like a merger and acquisition. Payroll professionals are accustomed to additional tasks and tight deadlines, but watch out that you don't have so much to handle that you risk making errors and having to correct them - the epitome of wasting time.
If you're a payroll manager, one of the best ways to improve your department's work efficiency is to hire temporary help for busy periods. As for payroll clerks, let your boss know when the team is struggling to keep up so they can bring in reinforcements.
We all have days when we're less than 100 percent efficient, and that's OK. But don't get into the habit of always having to catch up and deal with emergencies - not when there are definite steps you can take to waste less time and get more done.
This article was first published on the Robert Half International blog. Accountemps, a Robert Half company, is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps has more than 300 locations worldwide. More resources, including job search services can be found on the Accountemps website.