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​Making It Through the Busy Times

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​Mid-September through the end of December is my team's busiest time of the year. Between audit projects that must be completed before the end of the calendar year, annual performance evaluations, preparing budgets for the upcoming year, and ensuring everyone on the team attains his or her required continuing professional education hours, it feels like a marathon.

With that in mind, I've spent a good bit of time lately thinking about what our team can do to make these busy times as successful as possible, recognizing that it also can be a stressful time for many of our team members. This is particularly true for new team members who are encountering our busy period for the first time.

Regardless of when your department's busy period occurs, here are a few pointers to minimize the stress that comes with being busy and maximize productivity:

  • Communication – I realize this is a common theme in many of my posts. However, strong communication is a critical contributor to the success of every internal audit and project. In my experience, many of the frustrations that both internal audit teams and audit clients encounter stem from poor communication. That said. thriving during the busy period requires proactive communication with team members, management, and audit customers.
     
  • Project Management Skills – Although this is another critical area throughout the year, it becomes even more important during busy times. Developing project plans and timelines, setting expectations when team members may be balancing multiple projects, and identifying and communicating challenges and concerns early are fundamental components of project management. I also recommend building in slack time to account for the unknowns and things that may be beyond internal audit's control. Too often, I've seen projects derail because adequate slack time wasn't built into the project plan.
     
  • Time Management – A quick internet search can reveal numerous methods and approaches that allow people to better manage time. Recognizing that everyone has a different personality and a different work style, there is no single solution to time management. Rather, the best approach to time management is the one that works for you.
     
  • Organization and Priority Setting – Being aware of all the tasks that need to be completed, understanding the priorities of each task, and identifying an approach to managing and organizing the tasks to be completed is also important. Similar to time management, there are a variety of approaches to organizing. Again, the right approach is the one that works for you. In terms of setting priorities, having a shared understanding of priorities across the team and with your audit customers is also important. Many times, I've encountered situations in which poor communication led to misalignment of priorities and ultimately stress that could have been minimized or avoided altogether.
     
  • Take Breaks Along the Way – When I am the busiest, it is easy to keep pushing through, recognizing that my list of things to do isn't getting shorter — and may actually be growing.  However, sometimes when I am pushing myself the hardest is when I need a break the most. Often, such breaks will allow me to return to my work more focused, helping me complete my remaining tasks more quickly. In addition to taking small breaks throughout the workday, it is important to identify opportunities to unwind with the team. Getting out of the office for lunch or taking time out for a happy hour also can lead to increased productivity both individually and across the team.
     
  • Analyze Lessons Learned – When the busy period is over, while it is still fresh on everyone's minds, spend some time as a team discussing what went well, what could be improved, and other opportunities to enhance the experience. Completing this analysis while it is still top-of-mind can enable the team to keep doing what worked and identify alternate solutions for those things that didn't go well.

 

Irrespective of when the busy time may fall for your internal audit department, as you approach your next busy period, step back and plan to minimize the associated stresses. If you have other pointers for surviving and thriving during the busy times, I would love to hear from you.

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