An Accounting Calendar is just a fantastic tool to keep you from feeling overwhelmed. We call it an accounting calendar because we put accounting/back office duties on it for clients so they have due dates, cutoff dates and know when key reports are due.
Shane and I use a calendar whenever we have a lot of tasks or reporting dates coming at us and we need to plan to get it all done! We pull out a physical calendar or print one from Excel to write on. We don’t use the calendar in Outlook because you just do not get enough visibility and we like to scribble. Next we do a little brainstorming about what we are feeling out of control or overwhelmed over and when we need to accomplish it. When we are done we have a list of things we need done, by whom and by what date. What a stress relief!
Here are some examples of what we use the calendar to track:
Due dates If you are using a calendar for accounting duties, you can put the sales tax due dates, the payroll due dates, or insurance renewal dates on the months and days they are due. Let’s take corporate taxes as an example. You make a note on the due date, March 15th, then you work backward from that date with the necessary tasks to plan how and when you will have each item done. We like to list all due dates for key items so we see what the critical path is, what items need to be handled first and what other reports or due dates might get in the way.
Delegations Items that need to be delegated to someone or someone else needs a due date. For example, in order for your federal taxes to be done, you need to gather information from the payroll person. In order to get that done, you want to put a date of when you are going to get the information from the payroll person. You also need a date of when you will communicate to the payroll person that you need the information.
I think you can start to see the trend here… You start with the due date and you work your way backwards. When you have the calendar in front of you, you can see exactly how much time you are going to need to use the information, how much time you are going to give the person that is collecting the information, and when you need to communicate it to them. So many times, whenever you are out of control or overwhelmed, it’s all about regaining that control. How do you gain control? You break it down into little steps of what you need to do. When you see it, you say, “Oh! I’m in control again! I don’t need to freak out. I know exactly when I’m going to do it and I know exactly when I’m going to communicate it and exactly when I’m going to work on it.” It’s amazing how much you can do with just a calendar. As far as how many months you should do… I don’t think you can do more than three months realistically, but you probably want to go with one month to 6 weeks for your initial run. The other thing that you want to consider is anything that is repeatable. Say every month on the 5th, you always run the accounts receivable listing and review it for collectability. That goes on your calendar!
Some more examples:
Teams Other items that go on the calendar are items that may require a team. There are a group of people every month that need to do billing. It’s not just one person, it’s usually a group of people. So what are the deadlines for those billings or invoices? You can look at each customer. Some customers have due dates of the 10th. The next customer has a due date of the 20th and the next has a due date of the 25th. Actually put those dates on your calendar! Now everyone can see that those are the dates that they have to work to. In fact, you may want to put the due date as the day before.
Billing Cut Off If you write down your billing dates you can talk to everyone about the information you need before the billing date so you can then have a much better cut off for cash flow. This helps make sure you don’t find yourself in a situation where you are really under-billed on a job because you don’t know what your costs are.
Meetings Sometimes you get completely overwhelmed with meetings. If you take your Outlook calendar and your physical calendar and start jotting down when these meetings are, you will see that you need to do some prep work for the meetings and you will start to get those on your to-do list and give yourself time to prepare.
Vacations Other items that are critical are vacations. People forget to tell you when they are going to take vacations. Then you realize that you can’t get anything done because someone is going to be on vacation or maternity leave. If you get that planned out in advance, you can back into and reverse engineer a lot of the tasks so that you get them all done.
Color coding Color coding can really help. For example you can color code by task, due date, etc. Your due dates can be colored green. All of your delegated items are colored yellow. Any repeatable item is colored orange. You can also color code by person. All of the accounts payable tasks are done in a certain color versus all of the payroll tasks.
The leftovers When you get to the end of your calendar you may have a list of things to do and you have no time to do them. You can physically write them at the bottom or you can type them if you are using Excel so you don’t lose them. Things will change on that calendar. Sometimes the calendar is only good for the actual minute you did it and then as soon as you are done, it changes. The good news is that you still have a plan and you still have a document that you can use. It will also help you to communicate with others. You will need to figure out how to get those leftover items done. At least now you have them all in one location so you won’t lose them. The other thing to consider when you are going over this calendar, especially when you get to the leftover items, is to look back and ask yourself “what am I going to stop doing”, “what am I going to delegate”, “what am I going to take off my list” so that I get these other items that need to be done, done. It’s a good time to reflect because you have your entire month or sometimes even 3 months of your life right in front of you. You can reflect and assess and decide what you want to stop doing and what you want to start doing.
Accounting calendars are used successfully by accounting departments both internally, for the accounting team, and externally so that everyone in the company knows the expectation. I mentioned billing multiple times because it usually involves project managers, sometimes estimators, sometimes owners, and sometimes construction assistants. Whenever those billing dates are put in front of them, they will work toward them.
So publish your calendar of due dates and goals and you will be amazed at how many people will jump on board to help because they have information and a deadline!
We also have a video that discusses that accounting calendar. Watch it here!