Members of the accounting profession are driven by the notion of time. This is true if you’re in a public firm measuring billable hours or in industry with filing and reporting deadlines. The regulatory environment is such that CPAs can’t help but pay a lot of attention to the clock. While each of us wakes up each day with 24 hours to “spend,” most professionals will tell you they often feel like they don’t have enough time. There’s an opportunity cost that comes from looking at your time as if it was fixed. It makes the status quo too easy to accept versus seeing the possibility for a new relationship to time.
CPAs know there are ways to grow money when it comes to actual dollars. So why not apply that same principle and identify ways to expand your energy by managing it as if it was money?
Time As Energy
Like money, time is a currency that can be measured in units. Similarly, you can begin to think about how your energy available to complete tasks is also measurable. Energy management may be a new concept for you. The simplest way to shift your mindset to a new direction is to think about how you can begin to monitor your level of energy—just like your cell phone monitors the life of its battery. Are you at 100 percent, feeling charged and ready to go? Or are you at 10 percent, feeling like you need to plug in or switch to power saving mode?
The ability to assess one’s level of energy is a valuable tool for knowledge workers like CPAs. Consider how the quality of your work would improve if you took on the critical thinking tasks when your battery was charged versus when you brain is tired and operating at a dangerously low level. So, how do you learn how to assess your energy? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had thermometers that read our body temperature and our energy levels? The good news is you don’t need a gadget to read where you are. With practice, you can learn to assess your energy levels and gauge the impact of your daily activities on those levels. It’s all about getting to know yourself and noticing when you’re in the zone and when you aren’t.
To start, pay attention to what tasks excite you versus those that drain you. The tasks that drain us are usually things we don’t like doing because they are routine, monotonous or misaligned with our interests. Draining tasks have a lot of potential because they often are things we should stop doing or delegate. An easy way to grow as a leader is to free yourself of tasks you have mastered so you can take on higher level work, which in turn is often more engaging, rewarding and energy giving.
Moreover, noticing your energy will create better results. If you complete high-level tasks with a low level of energy, it’s likely the quality of your work won’t be as good. It will contain errors, which in turn will require you to expend more energy later in the process. This mismatch creates an inefficient use of your time.
As you build your awareness of what activities drain or charge your battery, you will be better equipped to see the opportunities to manage your time as if it was money. This understanding will allow you to look at how you’ve been spending your time and identify strategies that will yield a higher return on investment for your time (and energy).
What’s Your Actual?
A core tenant of the work I do coaching clients is to help them distinguish between facts and interpretations. If a client says to me, “I didn’t have enough time to …,” their statement is an interpretation. The fact is they had 24 hours in a day and chose to spend their time elsewhere. To get the facts on how your time is being spent, consider accounting for where you spent your time in the last week. Just like with money management, consider setting up an Excel spreadsheet that starts with 24 hours and then deduct all your expenditures of time, such as:
- Hours at work: This includes hours in the office and what you do remotely, like checking email from home.
- Daily living: Think of these like operational expenditures. They represent the hours it takes to simply take care of ourselves: sleeping, eating, and organizing our homes.
- Children: If you have children, think of them as a subsidiary account. How does their time roll into you, the parent company?
- Transportation: This is the time spent going from one place to the next, whether commuting to the office or client.
- Miscellaneous: These are all the things we have to do in life, such as doctor and dentist appointments, maybe taking a vacation or going to get a haircut. Once you have the facts about how your time is being spent, you can then ask yourself: Am I balanced? Am I investing my time wisely? If not, what needs to change? In other words, what do I want my budget to look like instead?
What Do You Want Your Budget To Be?
If you discover an organization is operating at a loss, you have two choices to get out of the red: reduce expenses or increase income. Opportunities to reduce expenditures of time are usually easier to identify: What needs to come off your plate? Again, notice what tasks drain your energy so you can spend those hours on tasks that are more meaningful and energizing. This might require you to get outside support, such as requesting help for things you normally do yourself or delegating tasks to others.
Increasing income within your time budget is a little trickier. With your life, you can’t create more hours in the day by increasing sales. But you can create more energy by making sounder investments. One of the most common shifts people desire is making time to take better care of themselves, especially when the new year and busy season are upon us. While self-care is paramount to peak performance, it usually falls to the bottom of the list
when we are short on time. As you create your ideal schedule, consider adding in investing activities. Investing activities are actions that produce dividends and interest by leaving you feeling more energized. They increase your happiness, help you to feel balanced and ultimately enhance your productivity.
Here are four different types of investing activities to consider:
- Physical: exercise, nutrition
- Mental: reading, learning
- Spiritual: religion, meditation, time in nature
- Emotional: time with family, friends
Putting It in to Practice
Effective change is the result of insights plus action. While clarity on how to better spend your time is helpful, it won’t create value in your life unless you actually change your behavior. To earn a higher yield on the time you’re spending, with your budget-to-actual in hand, keep the following in mind:
Focus On Futures
Don’t spend your energy worrying about poor investments of the past. Unlike financial statements, you can’t restate time that’s been spent. Worry, frustration, and negative thoughts about what is not possible will all drain your energy. Focusing on the future is energizing in and of itself.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
No one loses 100 pounds overnight. That type of change requires slow and steady results. When working with your budget, consider taking on one area at a time. For example, spend a month eliminating low yields and the following months layer in one new investment activity at a time.
Monitor Your Energy As You Go
It may take you time to build this muscle of awareness, but it will be worth your time. The better you become at matching your energy levels to the appropriate tasks, the better your performance will be.
We are often unrealistic about how we spend our time. We plan for the best-case scenario and don’t account for the unexpected. We dive into work without taking a step back and asking ourselves if the work energizes and excites us or noticing where we’ve made inefficient uses of our time. By budgeting your time and getting real about how your time has been spent, you will have the awareness to create a powerful budget for how you better invest in your future.