Marie Kondo’s decluttering series has proved a global sensation – even before arriving on Netflix on New Year’s Day, her books had sold 11 million copies in 40 countries. But when you’re handling important and sensitive paperwork, can it really work for accountants?
“Yes, it can,” says Andy Furniss, Director of Indigo Green Chartered Accountants in Leominster. “From a spark of joy perspective, I think you have to have a system in place for the office or it can become overwhelming. There are so many tasks and jobs that need doing all the time, it’s never-ending. A ‘Kondoed workspace’, if we can use that term, can help you work more efficiently.”
If you have as clean a desk as possible, “and you don’t get the feeling of having to wade through mounds of work, it helps clear the mind and focus on the tasks you have to do that day.” Those mounds of work “inevitably create distractions, make it harder to find what you need, and slow you down because your motivation and energy is zapped by the all the stuff.”
Technology will help you declutter
So how to do this? The first step is to ensure as much as possible goes to the cloud. “To state the obvious, if you are still printing out paper to put in a manual file, you can’t go paperless, so the first thing you need to do is move your clients’ files onto the cloud,” says Heather Townsend, Founder of The Accountants’ Millionaires Club. “But it’s not just about stopping printing, it’s also potentially about increasing the number of screens each individual has to work with. It’s really helpful to look at a document on one screen, then type into the software on another screen.”
Whilst going paperless means ditching the filing cabinets and most (if not all) of your printers and photocopiers, Townsend says, “before you can do this you will want to spend some time with your staff going step by step through your workflows to identify when they would print out a document, and how this would be dealt with in the new ‘paperless’ world.”
Recycle your box files?
Looking at Marie Kondo’s methods of compartmentalising into threes can help. Try seeing paperwork with this mindset too – there are papers you can destroy, papers you need to keep forever and papers that could go back to the client as quickly as possible.
“We’re as paperless as much as can be,” says Furniss, “but in reality it never ends up like that. However, there are things you can do to make it manageable. Firstly, we don’t generate any paper ourselves any more – all the paper in the office is client paperwork. Our accounts, files and records are all electronic nowadays, which enables you to file everything in a regimented and systemised way; things can be easily recalled whenever you need them.”
The key is to focus on the empty space, not the paperwork itself – a very Kondo way of looking at things. “The client paperwork arrives, we do the work on it and then get it out of the door as quickly as we can.”
A ‘Kondoed workspace’, can help you work more efficiently
Where is your ‘spark of joy’?
Marie Kondo recommends hugging all your personal possessions, and if they don’t produce a “spark of joy” in you, thank them and say goodbye. Whilst this might seem a little esoteric for the workplace, are there methods accountants can use to distinguish between stuff you really need, and things you can do without?
“It’s really easy to think that you can’t do without something if you don’t really analyse the how and why you use something,” says Heather Townsend. “Only when you have really considered the implications of not having something can you decide that you can’t do without something.”
“Have a practice management system,” says Furniss. “We have all our clients in there, and it sorts all the jobs we do for clients and knows how frequently we do them. When the frequency comes round, it automatically starts off a job for us. There’s a specified workflow to take us through those jobs, and each colleague can look at the calendar and see the jobs that are attached to you and other staff.”
Consider using invoice software
Next, “harness invoice recognition software. “When an invoice comes in on email, you forward it on to the software – ReceiptBank, AutoEntry and Hubdoc are all good examples.” The software takes the digital image (i.e. a pdf) from the email, reads the data from it, and helps you process the bookkeeping whilst also storing the digital image. “That digital image is accepted by HMRC as evidence of that cost.”
Key to the accountant’s decluttering strategy is the knowledge that whilst the law says you need to retain records from the past six years plus the current year, “you can hold that data electronically – it does not have to be a paper trail. The clients we are fondest of are those who maintain all of their invoices electronically.
Lever arch leverage
Having a more organised office also helps significantly with good mental health and productivity. “We are being bombarded with information 24/7,” says Heather Townsend, “and this can easily lead to being overwhelmed. Whereas a tidy desk and office can help to remove distractions and help staff just focus on the job at hand.” Less clutter also means you know what to look for, and you know where to look for it.
Finally, “Kondoism” can be somewhat addictive once you’ve embarked on it. Is it possible to overdo things? “One problem clients can have is to assume their software provider is holding everything for them even if they’ve not put it in there,” Furniss says. Either do everything digitally, he recommends, or nothing at all – you have to commit. “If some things are electronic and some aren’t, you start to think things will be there when they’re not. If you add things ad hoc, you’ll find not everything has got associated with a cost and that’s when you fall foul of the seven years rule.”
Some clients “go their own merry way,” Furniss concludes ruefully, “and you can’t do anything about that!” But by adopting a Kondo-minded lifestyle for yourself – and promoting it to clients – you can make life a lot calmer.
Top tips to Kondo for accountants
- Treat the office with respect. A practice management system helps you see the bottlenecks, attach tasks efficiently and effectively, and visualise the work you need to do.
- Aim for paperless nirvana. Get on the cloud, and get your clients on the cloud; but commit to this 100%, or you can fail to keep records when you dispose of paperwork.
- Break jobs down into achievable chunks. The mountains of work can be oppressive – use the ‘rule of threes’ and attack jobs in manageable sections.
- Thank you, and goodbye! Keep a flow of paperwork through the office and dispose of things when they are no longer needed. With everything safely on the cloud, you do not need to keep everything on paper.
Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.