There’s something about the holiday season that trips up even the most focused, high-productivity CPAs. Maybe there’s a celebratory feeling in the air, or a sense of anticipation that makes it difficult to concentrate. Maybe it’s knowing there are those extra tasks on your “to do” list – buying gifts, planning parties – that feel burdensome and translate into sluggishness. Or maybe you’re just itching to party.
But the demands of running a CPA firm don’t subside simply because it’s “that time of year”. So what can you do to stay focused and on-task? Here are a few simple but effective tips.
Simplify Your Environment. It’s been proven that a clean desktop and a simple work environment enhance productivity. Take ten minutes to streamline your work area. Clear the clutter from your desk. If your computer is layered with open applications, close and save what’s not immediately needed. You’ll be surprised what an immediately difference this makes.
An alternative is to work in another room – borrow the office of an absent co-worker, or take a laptop into your firm library or conference room. Watch how quickly you’re able to focus, and stay focused.
Set Availability Boundaries – And Stick to Them. Even if it’s just a temporary measure to get through December, set very specific boundaries with your staff and clients as to when you’re available. For example, maybe you’ll decide to accept phone calls, appointments or staff questions only between noon and 3:00 PM. Be clear that you won’t accept interruptions at any other time. Close your e-mail application and turn off your cell phone. Use your uninterrupted time to make steady progress on whatever project is most pressing.
You might find this method so effective (and addictive) that you’ll continue it into the new year, and year-round.
Use “To Do” Lists. There’s no better time of year to get into the “to do” list habit. Each morning, invest ten minutes in thinking through your goals for the day. Jot them down, sort through them and re-order them according to priority. This sounds simple but I know so many CPAs who still aren’t doing this. Some of the resistance has to do with the time it takes to think and draw up the list. “I’m already short on time,” you may argue, “why would I take ten minutes out of my day to make a list?” You’ll have to trust me on this one: it works. Let your to do list be your daily compass, keeping you on-track.
Once you give the trusty old, daily to do list a chance to prove itself during a busy time, you’ll want to adopt weekly to do lists. I sit down every Sunday evening and draw up my goals for the next seven days. I may refine that list from one day to the next, but it’s amazing how much I’m able to achieve. I look back to the previous Sunday and see myself making constant forward progress.
Rest Often. Did you know that the human brain, when focused on a task, needs a break about every 90 minutes? If you attempt to push through for hours straight without a break, you won’t get very far. You might think you’re producing that much more, but in reality, your brain isn’t functioning optimally anymore after a focused hour-and-a-half.
You need to take frequent breaks in order to get the most out of the time you’re working. This applies on both a broad scale, and inside the hour-by-hour workday. Just as you need a weekend to rest and relax (or at least switch gears) every five days, or a vacation at least once or twice a year, you also need to refresh your mind every 90 minutes or so.
This is also a good argument for participating in all those festive holiday events. They’re good for you! Just make sure you plan your time wisely so the work gets done, and you can step away without anxiety. Once the party begins, leave your work entirely behind. Enjoy!
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