So you are in the middle of your busy season and you are wondering how you will get it all done. Right?
One thing is for sure: Without energy, nothing happens. As Jim Loehr and Tony Swartz say in The Power of Full Engagement: Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.
I started my career in 1984. It was a time when CPA firm partners would demand that you put your head down and never look up (and if you did, you might get whacked). The thought was that young staff were inexhaustible. After all, we had our youth.
But after being in public accounting for over thirty years, I have found that such an outlook is not only unwise, it is counterproductive. Sometimes squeezing out “just one more job” causes us to implode.
So should we work hard? Absolutely. But we should also recover if we are to perform at our highest levels.
When Do You Need Recovery?
Here are a few signs that you worked too long, and you need recovery:
You stare at a financial statement page for several minutes before you realize you are in a daze (not reading, just staring)
You can’t stay focused (your mind keeps wondering)
You are working with a sense of dread rather than joy
You are too stressed to sleep at night
You find yourself increasingly rude to your spouse, friends, coworkers
You reach for too much caffeine, or worse, alcohol, to get you through the day
You feel like a robot
You are often short of breath
You have a sense of drowning
The body needs balance, and when it doesn’t get it, strange things start to happen. And when this work style–working without recovery–becomes habitual, we lose our vitality and health. Our production begins to decline rather than increase.
How Do You Recover?
Here are disciplines that will enable you to excel during your busy season.
Take breaks – Working ten to twelve hours a day (and eating at your desk)–without breaks–is a sure way to deplete yourself. You need to work and recover, work and recover, work and recover — not work, work, work. The recovery can be as simple as taking five minutes to stand and stretch, but you need to move periodically away from your desk. If possible, go outside and walk for five to ten minutes (a couple of times a day). Recovery can be a simple phone call to a family member to tell her (or him) that you love them. Some professionals use the Pomodoro technique to move in and out of their work. There’s even an app for that. It may seem counterproductive to take breaks, but it’s not — as long as we don’t abuse the break time. Remember the purpose of the short break is to recover. For those of you that are runners, you know that Jeff Galloway teaches the same art in running: run and mix in walks (recovery). And many who use Jeff’s technique have found they can run farther and faster.
Exercising – Run, walk, or do some exercise on a consistent basis. I was a smoker in college and–as a way to help me kick the habit–I started running. That was thirty-seven years ago. Today I am fifty-seven, and I still either run or walk at least three times a week. I find that running helps me the most. When I consistently run, I think more clearly and don’t drag late in the day. When I don’t run, I notice my thinking becomes cloudy, and I become moody. When I’m on my routine (run three times a week, at least, two miles a run), I even notice that I have bursts of energy in the middle of the afternoon, something that never happens when I am not exercising.
Drink water – Staying hydrated throughout the day will keep you humming late in the day. I have put a water dispenser in my office, so I don’t have to worry about going to the store to buy bottled water. The cost of the water container (and water that they bring to my office) is about $25 per month — worth every penny.
Sleep – I have read a great deal about how much sleep I need each night. And it seems the consensus is a minimum of 7.5 to 8.0 hours per night. I know this: when I get consistent sleep, I perform better. I have a routine each evening of winding things down about 9:30 and being in bed about 10:00 p.m. so I can rise at 6:00 a.m. (so I can write blog posts like this one). Going back to exercising for a moment, if you work your body hard, you will sleep better. I have noticed the farther I run, the harder I sleep. Also, if I am in bed for more than fifteen to twenty minutes without going to sleep, I get up and take melatonin — this helps me fall asleep.
Eating well – Another method of recovery is eating. Not too much, but enough to provide energy. I eat a healthy breakfast each morning, a light lunch, and dinner. Then about mid-morning and mid-afternoon, I snack (usually nuts or fruit). If you’ve ever watched Tiger Woods play golf, you’ve seen him munching on a banana or energy bar during the middle of a round — he’s feeding his body to maintain energy. Eating too much at one time will throw your body’s metabolism out of balance, so a steady intake (balance) is what we need.
Coffee – Coffee in moderation can stimulate your thinking and mood, at least, it does for me. I drink a cup first thing in the morning. Then I have another cup just after lunch. Too much coffee will drain you of energy. Rather than reaching for another cup, take a short walk, drink more water.
Music – If possible listen to good music while you work. I find that I am more productive with music playing quietly in the background.
Call to Action
Try one or all of these and stay at it. Habit is the key. You may find in the initial days of change that you’ll desire to revert to your old habits, but as you continue, your new ways will become normal. Then you’ll find new energy for the tasks at hand.
Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses.
He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events.
Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.