Saturday, August 30, 2008

An Inbox Changing your Life?

I have to admit, I was skeptical when I read about some of the time management gurus stressing you needed to have a physical inbox. OK, no problem, most people do have one in their office.

But when David Allen, who is known as a personal productivity guru, stressed you needed to have one in your house, I wondered what the point was.

I tried it out. It is amazing. One place to collect all your hard-copy "inputs." By the way, my wife loves it also ... If some of my mail, a magazine article I tore out, receipts, bills, etc. are lying around the house, she throws them right into my inbox. If one critical (first) part of an organization system is "collection" of inputs, then an inbox is crucial. You need ONE place for such collection, not many places.

By the way, I bought her an inbox earlier this year, and like her with me, I probably throw more things in there than she does. It is a quick way to clean up miscellaneous items lying around the house.

OK, so the next step might be "processing" those inputs and by looking at some people's physical office inboxes that are out of control, that presents its own challenge. However, just to start at the collection phase: seemingly a small thing, an inbox at home -- it still is an empowering organizational and decluttering tool.

"If you do not have an inbox at home, your HOUSE is your inbox." - David Allen

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Commitment Issues?

Take an inventory during your day where you write down all the commitments you make. I am talking about ALL of them. Not just the commitments that are formally made to others, but all the commitments you make...including just to yourself. You will find this simple exercise remarkable.

I feel strongly that most accountants are very conscientious. We want to take on new responsibilities. We want to be able to say YES to people. The problem, if you get stuck in doing that unconsciously, can be predictable: over promising and under delivering.

But before you judge yourself on your ability to keep commitments, you must first understand what all the commitments are you are making. It can get pretty detailed. For example - you set your alarm at night at 6:00 am for the next day -- is that a commitment you are making to yourself?

Ask yourself:

Do I make commitments too easily? Too quickly?

Do I make commitments with a real perspective on what I am committing to and how much time and resources that commitment will take?

Do I hold myself accountable for ALL commitments?

Should I be making commitments less?

How could making less commitments actually help with keeping more commitments?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Do all Accountants talk the same?

For the most part, I would say yes, we do talk the same. We learned early on to think about BOTH sides of any transaction. We have created our own little abbreviation and acronym universe: COSO, CPE, C/D, CR (credit), C/R (cash receipts), FAS, FASB, FIFO, I/S, LIFO, etc.

LILO was a term I remember too ... LAST person IN that day on the team, means you need to be the LAST person (OUT) leaving that night. It is kind of nice now that we tend to value production of our people more than face-time.

Most of us know the difference between a tangible and intangible asset (For example, you cannot count shareholder's equity - which was a common joke to tell the staff1 to do back when I started in auditing!)

So, while we may know the same terminology and talk the same for the most part, there are still lots of areas where we miscommunicate...

What the end results should look like
Team roles

I am not sure I have ever heard an accountant say to me: the issue we had (on our team) was we overcommunicated! So spend a little time and ponder the most important relationships in your career - colleagues, clients, etc. How good is the communication? Can it be improved? Are your roles clear? Do they have any ideas?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Time for the Gym

I know a lot of people who want to work out but when it comes down to having a consistent routine, they struggle. Their number one reason for not working out:

"I cannot go to the gym because ...... I have too much work to do!"

OK. I wonder about challenging the notion that skipping exercise because you have too much work to do is always logical for everyone.

The assumption here is that these two items are mutually exclusive. If you go to the gym or do something else to exercise, you will "lose" that time and therefore fall behind more than if you didn't. Well I am not so sure that is always the case.

This is coming from someone who tracked my time for three weeks, and actually realized a few things:

1.) I was more productive overall on days when I exercised.
2.) I was in a (much) better mood on days when I exercised.
3.) I slept better on days when I exercised.

Now I am not ready to publish my results in the Journal of Health, but the best evidence for this was getting feedback from other people, especially about my mood. It was pretty unanimous that I was easier to be around on days where I exercised. It was an epiphany in my life and now I make it a non-negotiable routine to exercise for at least 20 minutes every day. The extra motivation is not about exercise goals, but rather ALL MY OTHER GOALS in my life. I have realized, at least for myself, that there is a direct benefit to me and those around me when I have the discipline to get that done. So, with that thinking in mind, it's actually the craziest days where exercise is more important.

When we get stressed, when we feel overwhelmed, sometimes our natural tendencies are to dig our heels in and just work longer. But isn't it really about how much you get done, your productivity, and your results?

Ask yourself three questions:

1.) Do you feel more energized on days you exercise?
2.) Does exercising correlate to higher production at work and around the house? (This is best answered with facts based on time tracking. )
3.) If the answer to questions 1 & 2 are yes, what time are you exercising today?

Friday, August 15, 2008

To Do Lists

"To Do" lists. Why couldn't we call it the "To Complete" list or better yet, "The intend to do" list? Maybe that is going too far. Crazy thoughts.

If you are using your To Do list to compile everything under the sun that you could "do" ... ok now ask yourself: How that is acting as a productivity tool for you? One way it might be working is to get everything you intend to get done on a list and out of your head. Fair enough. At least it allows you to clear your head when you are not working or when you are fiercely focused on one task.

Is it helping your daily productivity though? When you look at your list does it provide you with major clarity on what today is going to look like in terms of utilizing your valuable time?

The list many times creates stress because there is no way under the sun that you will get all those things done. How about another name: The "To Make Myself Feel bad because this list will never be totally done" List. OK, a lame name, but you get the point.

There are many technology tools out there and many ways to prioritize your To Do items. You may have a fully functioning productivity system that helps you achieve your daily goals, but I have seen even the most organized and productive people revert back to "To Do" lists on occasion.

Maybe the first thing is about being honest with yourself. Which of the items on your list are critical to you fulfilling your job and engagement responsibilities and which items are not? The introduction of a "wish list" can be pretty powerful. Some people may call it a "someday" list, but the point is it is a place to put things you would like to get done, but you do not necessarily have to.

How about taking your To Do list, review it in the morning, and then creating a "To Complete Today list so I can say today was successful" list. OK, that name is weak also. I know, and the acronym TCTSICSTWS probably does not help much either. But now you have a manageable list. Put your To Do list away (electronically or in your drawer if you keep a manual one.)

Now there is more pressure on you to indentify the most important matters on your list instead of ALL the things you feel like you must get done. Now you will better know if you are doing important things or looking for distractions. Now you can hold yourself accountable at the end of the day because you drew up the finish line and you know the how the run is going to look like, and what detours you will NOT be "doing".

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Can an Accountant have a Game Face?

That title is not the lead in to a joke.

The Olympics are here! We will be seeing a lot of highly motivated and fiercely focused athletes competing for medals over the next two weeks.

I wonder, in today's "knowledge worker" world where information flows across our screens at high speeds, where demands are biting at us from all angles, do we still have the ability to put everything aside and tackle one important item for a longer than brief period of time?

Olympic athletes talk a lot about intensity and focus in their workouts and preparation. They need to be singularly focused on the task at hand and be able to block everything out of their mind. You have seen it in some of the greater athletes of our time during their most crucial performances: Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Tiger Woods, etc. Check out Michael Phelps in the coming weeks. You see the intensity in their eyes and face!

Accountants have a lot going on; some of it is part of our job and our success, some if it is self-induced. There is no arguing with the many tasks we must complete in any one day and that technology tools are indispensible in meeting those demands. That said, there may be an advantage to developing and fostering your "game face", which we'll refer to as your ability to tune out everything else and fiercely focus on one (maybe your most important) task at hand. It builds productivity, confidence, and your "focus" muscles.

Sure we cannot focus on one task for too long, especially without a break. Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in their studies and book called The Power of Full Engagement, bring to our attention that we all have energy peaks and valleys and 90 to 120 minutes is normally the breaking point at which your energy levels slow down if you do not take time to "renew" yourself.

That is all good. I wonder if we even get close to that in a typical day, having the courage to focus, for a portion of our day, on the most important open item, and clearing one’s mind and activities from everything else. Ask yourself about your game face. Are you flexing and building it enough?

Utilizing Feedback - The Case for Neutrality

Feedback. Without it, how do we truly get anywhere in life? From a career perspective, your ability to obtain and utilize feedback can be one of your keys to success.

What holds a lot of people back in utilizing feedback, whether it is solicited or unsolicited? Natural emotions. What?

Next time you ask for feedback, ask yourself first about what your expectations are going into the solicitation. If you have preconceived notions, if you have assumptions in your mind about what the feedback is going to be like, then you will be at a disadvantage. I have worked with so many people who talk like feedback is really important to them, and it probably is, but many times we'll uncover their true intention in getting feedback: AFFIRMATION. They do not want to hear anything that goes against what they want to hear. They have a preconceived emotional interest in what the other person is going to say.

How could having a neutral frame of mind (easier said the done) serve you best?

It's because, with this frame of mind, you are able to listen best to the other person, ask follow-up questions, and uncover the true meaning and intentions behind their feedback.

Oh and I am not talking solely about negative feedback here. When it is positive, try the same thing. If you just jump on it right away and feel good about yourself, you may have lost a chance. If someone is giving you positive feedback...ASK THEM MORE ABOUT IT. Why did this have a positive impact on their life? What specifically was the crucial part of your performance or the result? How can they help you to see ways you can repeat that behavior in the future? That might sound kind of easy, but it's easier if you hold your assessment until the end. Sometimes you will uncover even better feedback if you stay neutral until you have really heard them out, all the way out.

The biggest challenge in this area comes when you receive in your face, unsolicited, negative (in your mind) feedback. It is VERY difficult to keep control of your emotions. In fact the person providing it will probably expect you to fight and claw and bring out your own missile defense system.

When a doctor hits your knee with a rubber hammer, your natural instincts take over and your knee jerks. When someone yells at you for not getting something done, your natural emotions tell you to immediately fight back, whether it is yelling back or emotionally withdrawing.

Try something crazy next time this happens. Take a deep breath and ask them a follow-up question or two. First off, you will probably shock them, secondly you will better unocover the real issue. THEN YOU CAN MAKE YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THEIR FEEDBACK, whether to ignore it, provide your input, or utilize it.

I know, easier said than done. You make the call on the argument for neutrality.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tiger Misses "Preparing" the Most

Tiger Woods is not going to play golf in 2008. He is in the midst of a lengthy rehab program after the surgery he had to repair his knee. Yesterday he talked to Scott Van Pelt of ESPN about that rehab.

The part of the interview that struck me when Tiger was asked about missing golf: The first thing he said was, "I miss the preparation a lot. I miss getting out there and practicing, and preparing, and being ready, and ultimately testing myself out there."

If you are a detailed avid follower of Tiger Woods you will know that he really enjoys the preparation side of golf. He really enjoys that process so much and as he said, he sees golf tournaments as the test of his preparation process.

Do you realize how much planning and preparing is actually part of your journey and why not see it that way and enjoy that part on its own? Score yourself; reflect on your processes and preparation.

Let's say you are an auditor ... the risk assessments, the project planning, scheduling, etc. That is part of your preparation. (Maybe we are not supposed to use the word planning as much anymore with the new risk standards and the continuous auditing concept, but you cannot deny there are still a lot of project planning aspects.) How are you doing there? Can you reflect on your approach and how it led to the results you want to measure: realization, client satisfaction, etc.

Take your daily or weekly personal planning: What is your process? How does your daily planning help lead to daily success? Have you reflected on how you "prepare to win" each day and each week?

It is that reflective side that will lead to changes and improvements and growth.

"When opportunity comes, it's too late to prepare." - John Woooden

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Admitting Mistakes

My wife scraped up her relatively new car yesterday. Quick background: our two cars spend 90% of their lives in parking garages. Our condo has a parking garage, her office has a parking garage, and our gym has a parking garage. We live near Washington, DC and from here in, it's mostly garages. It is bound to happen.

Ask yourself: are you quick to admit mistakes in the business world? It's not always easy. It takes confidence and another word to mention: it takes a lot of trust.

Trust? Remember when you admit mistakes to other people they can have a major range in their reactions. Some may pummel you. "How dumb was that?" "Why did you let that happen?" "How could you let that happen?"

Others may support you. "It's not that big of a deal." "OK, you messed up, so how do we make the best of this?" "I am sure it will not happen again." "Do not beat yourself up over it." "Look on the bright side can we learn from this?"

Now this is not about competence. If you are continually making mistakes that are costly to your team and company that is a whole separate issue. Let's just focus on the reaction to mistakes, assuming they are not consistently happening. We are also not talking about intent. If mistakes are intentional, that is obviously a character issue, and that is for another post. We'll assume relative competence and strong character when talking about this issue.

What kind of mistake environment do you have with your team? Are people readily able to admit them? Remember when people try to minimize or cover up mistakes, there is usually an extra negative that comes from that. It may take more time to deal with it which inevitably increases costs. (Obviously the result could also be worse, much worse.) It also fosters an environment of distrust which will permeate throughout the team.

This might sound kind of weird but when my wife came into the house last night and finished talking about her car incident, I was kind of on a high. Not because I am a sick devious person who likes to see others make mistakess … it was because while knowing she felt bad about it, I could see it in her eyes that she KNEW how I would respond, and how she trusted me, and that encourages me to act in similar ways.

The first place to start: yourself. How can your team be comfortable with being forthright in their errors if you can't? What kind of mistake environment are you creating? Think of a future where mistake admitting comes fast and bluntly because of the environment of trust your team has created.