Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Do You Focus on Email Enough? Huh?

The title to this blog post is not a joke. It is a question to ask yourself, only with a twist.

I hear over and over from accountants that email, while a necessary communication tool, is also one of their biggest challenges in managing their days and interruptions.

Here is the question for you ...

When you are checking email, replying to emails, and working within your email system, how focused are you? Do you see it as an opportunity to "get your stuff done" or do you see it as a necessary evil you do throughout your day just to keep your head above water?

We're talking about the intensity of your focus. Are you engaged in the one task at hand? .... Processing emails. Email is so ubiquitous now, it is such a big part of everything we do that maybe, just maybe, it takes over our days. Think about it ... when somebody comes and talks to you in your office, will you have a more productive conversation if you can be solely focused on the conversation? Email is another way to communicate with people. If you make it a task that you do "on the side", how genuinely focused can you be on it?

How productive are you if you have to continually reengage between checking email and doing other tasks? Some people may challenge you to only check email X times per day. People have different opinions on that. But first the question is, can you set aside real focused time to plow through your emails? It will get you back minutes in your day, hours in your week, and days in your year. Try it once, tomorrow. Check your email when you want, but take one 30 minute time slot, block it off and become fiercely focused on processing emails, nothing else.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Try Timing Yourself

Sometimes simply timing yourself in completing a task can be a productivity boost.

For example, You have a long memo to write. Maybe you are dreading it. Put your watch by your side and time how long it takes. Ready, set, go. You are on the clock!!

How can this help? It creates a sense of urgency within your brain about the ONE task at hand. You are only doing that one task and you are timing yourself and now you are accounting for every second you spend. FOCUS!

This might not be the best thing to do all the time, but for a change-up in your approach, especially in cases where you just want to plow through one particular task, give it a try.

No joke, I know a few people who like this simple timing idea so much that they will sometimes use those old looking kitchen timers. They will set it right next to them, set it for 10 minutes and then ding ding, see where they are at with their task when the timer goes off. The answer ... probably further along than without it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exercise Goals - some to Measure ...

If accountants like to "measure", maybe you will like hearing some of the measurable workout and physical fitness goals I have heard over the years.... Obviously these are WAY across the board and provided for your reference:

Exercising for 10 non-negotiable minutes a day for the next 30 days.

Running a 1/2 marathon within the next 12 months.

Running 1 mile once a week for the next 6 months, lowering your time by 5 seconds each week.

Running a 6 minute mile the same day you bench 200 pounds.

Running 7 miles a week on the treadmill.

Attending 20 aerobics classes by the end of the year.

Going to the track every Saturday morning and running 1 mile and adding 1/4 of a mile each subsequent time until you can run 5 miles straight.

So, ask yourself, would a specific measurable (numeric) exercise goal be something to get you in motion, and motivated? If so, create one, commit to it, and go for it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Do you have a Problem or an Agenda?

Something has not gone ideally with a colleague. You need to have a talk. Maybe they did not own up to a commitment. Maybe they went behind your back and said something to someone else that REALLY bothers you.

OK, they disrespected you or they let you down, and now you are mad, and you need to get to them to tell them that.

Ask yourself next time you go into a situation where you are about to "come down" on someone... what do you want?

Do you want to present a problem and work to get a solution, or do you have a personal agenda? The difference is big.

A problem can be solved with multiple (maybe creative) solutions. A problem can be solved with input from both parties. A problem is about past actions and future actions. It is de-personalized.

An agenda, on the other hand, is one-sided and provides little room for input or teamwork. It encourages defensiveness.

Which one do you want to present?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Exercise LifeStyle begins with Why

I have heard a lot of people, especially accountants, say "I need to get in the gym more often." That is great but WHY? You are making choices every day and not doing something is a choice. So, you are really saying I "WANT" to go to the gym more often but I am choosing not to. Admit it ... you simply have a current desire, not a planned commitment.

First off, ask yourself: How important is this to you? What makes this a compelling quest? How does exercising help the other aspects of your life, your relationships, your energy levels at work, and your overall attitude? What is the most successful outcomes you can see in the future based on you fulfilling your commitments? How does it make you feel? How does it make others see you? Lastly, What might be the cost of not exercising?! You may have a lot going on in your life, you need to prioritize this along with everything else. The answers to these questions should help with that.

Now, if you want to move forward and make a commitment, ask yourself: What motivates you best? Is it a long-term lofty goal where you measure success? Or is it more of a daily thing - your desire to feel good about your exercise regimen (and measure that success daily)? How will you measure the success of fulfilling the commitment to exercise you are making to yourself. Do you need an accountability partner?

Now ask yourself: What do I enjoy most about exercising? Some people feel you must get on the treadmill or hit the roads to burn off calories (if that is one of our goals) but there are many ways to burn calories. Pick something you enjoy, like playing soccer, or tennis, or bike riding. The benefits will be there health-wise, and you might be able to "multi-task" by spending quality time with family or friends at the same time. Once you can get to a point where exercise can be more of a "habit" then the original "commitment" ... when days feel strange without it, now you are getting somewhere.

The Fall is typically the time of the year when most people allow their exercise regimen to fall off a little bit. Why? Summer and warm weather is departing? Holidays coming? For accountants: lots of work around 10/15 and then we start to plan year-end work and get busier? If your reasons for exercising are not clear and are not compelling and it's simply not fun ... your choice is probably a lot easier.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What are your Leadership Routines?

What are your intentional leadership routines? What do you do on a consistent basis that helps you fulfill your leadership role at your company, or even at home? It is kind of fun to think about it that way and brainstorm on ideas that might be proactive "leadership" actions....

Hold a meeting with a different report on a weekly or monthly basis to catch up on their goals and career ambitions.

Solicit feedback from those that work with you (or live with you) on ways you can make their lives easier and contribute to their success.

Of course it is another matter all together to COMMIT to doing leadership routines you construct on a consistent basis. This also presents another opportunity to be creative with your time management. For example, you have to eat and some of these things could be combined with breakfast and lunch.

So .... What are your leadership routines, those things you do that influence others in positive ways, and that are above and beyond the day to day responsibilities you maintain? What creative and enjoyable ideas do you have? What are you doing already that falls in this category?

How can you commit to doing these things on a consistent basis? What might the value be in executing them consistently?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To Dos Without "When Dos" and "What Dos"

Do you continually compile some sort of To Do list? Are you very good at adding things to that list, sometimes without being fair to yourself?

Remember anyone can make commitments ... it's the keeping of commitments that is the tough part. Ask yourself: How can you make a commitment without making a firm commitment to yourself about WHEN you will accomplish the task and how long it will take?

Oh ... you might say you do not know how long it will take because many of your tasks are complicated and complex and depend on other things, and other people for that matter. You are right! So at this point all you can do is commit to the very next action step. That is all you can do and that is all you have ever been able to do. I have worked with so many people that try and tackle a series of projects all in their mind AT ONCE! For some reason, we tend to program ourselves to do that. You know what that leads to ... STRESS !!

Of course if you do not put a deadline next to your commitments or block time to actually accomplish the next action item, all you have is an ambiguous list with no clarity or urgency.

If you don't have a deadline, you do not have a finish line and all that may do is add stress. So, do yourself a favor next time you are taking on a new commitment. First define the specific next action step and then get it in your calendar. If you cannot find the time you might actually have to say "no" or delegate it to someone else. Now you do not have a "To Do", you have a specific "to act" and a "specific when."

One technology tip: If you use Outlook and keep your open items, projects or To Dos in the form of Outlook tasks, you can click on that task and drag it into your calendar at the specific time. It keeps the task in the task list and also adds it to your calendar.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Business Clichés

If you spend enough time in corporate America and the world of accounting, you have heard them and probably use them from time to time. In a meeting you can always connect with someone using that dead on business cliché that says it all without really … saying it at all. I know it’s hackneyed and at times corny but they seem more popular than ever as a new one is born everyday. I’ve compiled my list of favorites:

1) Sharpen our pencils – Very common after you have gone to a sales proposal meeting and your prospect tells you that your rates are outrageously too high. Your response is to go back to the office and “sharpen your pencil” to figure out a better price. Almost always means you are prepared to lower your price significantly.

2) It is what it is – Very versatile and can probably be used in any situation. Typically inserted after you have exhausted all efforts at a solution and have decided the situation is totally screwed up and you are going to accept the fact that you are officially screwed.

3) Play it by ear – Conveys the fact you have no plan whatsoever and have no intention of putting forth any effort to create a plan. Be on the lookout when someone tells you they are going to “play it by ear” with the 5 year budget plan.

4) Fall on the sword – You have screwed up with a client and you plan to admit your mistake instead of trying to blame it on someone else and make yourself look good.

5) Blocking and tackling – In public accounting audit parlance this is referred to as staff level work or less complicated work that takes a lot of time but is essential for any project to be completed. The accolades always go to the quarterback, running back and receivers, never to the offensive or defensive lineman that do all the blocking and tackling.

6) Run it up the flagpole – Better to ask someone more important if what we are doing is acceptable or even legal in most states. Not to be confused with its “easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.”

7) Kind of pregnant – True story. I was on a conference call with several audit partners and managers from at the time, a Big 6 accounting firm (that no longer exists.) We were discussing an important issue with a multi-national company in Texas and the client was pressing us to make a decision. The lead audit partner was evading a direct response to his demands when finally the client’s CEO spoke up and said in his best Texas drawl, “You can’t be kind of pregnant, you either are or you aren’t!” Silence ensued but his point was well taken. It’s either yes or no.

Tell me your favorite business cliché.

This post was made by our first guest blogger, Billy Tilotta, Senior Manager of Hein & Associates LLP (Houston, TX)