If you look up “productivity” and “accountants” you will find a plethora of suggested tools like Zoom for on-the-go video conferencing and Slack to create channels for your team to discuss projects . There are even memes portraying accountants chained to their desks and working themselves to death, all in the name of productivity.
The message you probably got early on in your career is that productivity is the ultimate key to achieving success in accounting. Since productivity equals profits, you not only need to be technically accurate and productive, but also efficient.
Whether you are in public or private accounting the accountant’s mantra is ”Get more done in a shorter amount of time”, whether it’s busy season or not. When you add your accounting career to your job as a mom, having a 26-hour day would be super helpful in order to get everything on your to-do list done.
Even with suggestions like what temperature to keep your office or how much sleep you should get at night to be at your best, it doesn’t seem to make a big difference. That’s because the secret to productivity is simple but not easy.
When I practice what I’m about to share with you, this is my typical day – wake up early, sit with a cup of coffee, research my next blog, reach out to at least 20 CPA moms on Linkedin and Facebook, read a chapter of a marketing book, make lunch for my husband and myself, feed the dogs, get ready for work, write more for the blog, go to my accounting job for 6 hours, run errands, relax with dogs, check Facebook and Linkedin, make dinner, answer client’s emails, coach clients, spend time with husband and go to bed by 9:00 pm.
I’m not sharing this to brag; I’m sharing it because I know how to maximize my productivity and I want to help you as well. By mastering the secret to productivity you will get more done in less time so you can do those things you love rather than being chained to your desk.
This week I’m going to discuss the secret to productivity and how to get better at doing it.
The secret to productivity
Before I jump into productivity, it’s important to make sure you first have an organized system to work with. If you are a hot mess when it comes to managing what needs to be done, then I suggest you check out “#65 – Making It Easier For CPA Moms To Get It All Done – Part 1” where I discussed a system that can help you get more done with less effort.
Assuming that you already have a system that works for you but you still aren’t getting as much done as you want, then this week is for you. Just know that having an issue with productivity is completely normal for working moms, especially given the modern times and conditions that we live in.
There is a good reason why productivity is difficult and why there are so many resources offering to help you get it all done. You may have already taken an online course, read a few books or downloaded an app promising to make you more productive, yet you keep hitting a wall.
The reason productivity is so difficult to conquer is because the answer is simple, but feels terrible. The secret to productivity is FOCUS, however, we live in a world with more things vying for our attention with rings, dings, bleeps and flashes than ever before in the history of humankind.
We are surrounded by focus-robbers and even worse, our brain loves them! Your female brain is significantly more active in more regions than the male brain, which makes you more prone to distractions.
In addition, what makes you an empathetic, loving woman and mother is also why it can be difficult to focus. The more frequent use of the right hemisphere of your brain, where empathy and emotions lie, over the single-focused left hemisphere, makes it naturally more challenging for women to focus.
Add all that to the age of technology that is literally designed to make it impossible for you to focus, and it’s no wonder you are having a hard time getting it all done. Lack of concentration partnered, with the increase in interruptions, creates a breeding ground for overwhelm and stress.
The term “Continuous Partial Attention” (ironically CPA for short) was coined by ex-Apple and Microsoft consultant, Linda Stone. She explained that by adopting an always-on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace behavior, we exist in a constant state of alertness that scans the world, but never really allows our full attention to anything.
Your phone, computer apps and game’s software are all designed to drip out the feel-good hormone, dopamine, in patterns, getting you “hooked” on distractions. Sean Parker, the 38-year-old co-founder of Facebook, admitted that the social network was founded not to unite us, but to distract us. “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’”
Studies have shown that the average person checks their phone over 150 times a day. So with the natural tendency of your brain to be distracted and billion dollar companies continually creating things to consume your attention, how in the world do you get better at focusing?
How to get better at focusing
As a CPA, you have a desk job that is essentially an all day, everyday electronic symphony of distractions that keeps your brain looking for the next stimulation. The constant barrage of information, commitments and highly technical, mental processing necessary for CPAs, creates the inevitable need for stress relief.
Each time you are in a stressful, or even boring situation, and an email alert pops up on Outlook or your phone vibrates with a message, your brain releases a hit of dopamine into your blood system. Just like Pavlov’s dog, you then become trained to “hear the bell” and respond to whatever stimulus is trying to get your attention.
This dance between stress and distraction is what makes focusing and concentrating so difficult. When you add a lack of self-confidence about your ability to do great work to working-mom guilt, you end up with the willingness to be distracted from the uncomfortable feelings of overwhelm, fear and sadness.
But don’t kid yourself; you CANNOT be productive when you are responding to all the stimuli your computer and phone want to offer you. In order to increase your ability to focus, I suggest the following:
Turn It Off
Just take a second and notice how you feel when I tell you that you need to turn it off; whether it’s switching off smartphone alerts, taking social media apps off your phone or only having one program open on your computer. If the thought of leaving your phone in the car while you go into a restaurant to have dinner with your spouse makes you uncomfortable, then that’s exactly why you need to turn it off.
I can hear you saying things like “But what if my kids need me?” or “I need to be available to answer client’s emails”. I get it, but if you want to get more things done you are going to need to be honest about what you use technology for, and how habitual it has become.
That little dopamine hit you get, every time you feel bored or stressed and you distract yourself with technology, is making it even harder to focus when you really need to. Start by turning off what’s not absolutely necessary or temporarily removing it from your space.
Like a mother whose toddler found a red lipstick and is about to color the walls, I just want you to slowly and gently put down the technology without making any sudden movements. In all seriousness, you need to release the stronghold that technology has on you if you want to get it all done.
First you have to stop making excuses for why it’s impossible because that’s just your dopamine-seeking brain telling you a lie. Silicon Valley has dubbed dopamine as the “secret sauce” that makes an app, game or social platform “sticky” (ie, potentially profitable); therefore what has your attention is actually a billion dollar industry that doesn’t care if you miss a tax deadline or forget to make dinner because you’ve been playing hours of Candy Crush.
It’s possible to get it all done when you take control of your relationship with technology so I suggest you start with 10 minutes working on one task and shutting off all notifications. This means exiting all software except what you are working on, muting your phone or putting it somewhere else, and silencing all notifications for just 10 minutes.
Remember that your brain will want to go play with the red lipstick but you are the supervising mother now, directing its attention to what will help you be more productive. Like recovering from an addiction, not answering the urge to distract yourself with technology will be uncomfortable, but the reward is worth it when you increase your productivity and get a lot more done.
Handling the Urge
To handle the urge to check Instagram or just see what everyone is up to on Facebook, you will need to allow those urges to be there without acting on them. Resisting them doesn’t work because they’ll just pop up at another time when you are vulnerable.
Instead of resisting, get curious about what the urge actually feels like. Pause before you pick up your phone or login to another program and check-in with how you are feeling and what you are thinking.
For example, maybe the project you are working on is complicated so the urge to check your email is a welcomed distraction. You notice you feel stressed, having thoughts like “I already have too much to do. I don’t have the time to do this complicated project”; that’s when you should pause and just be aware of those thoughts.
By not acting on an urge, you give yourself a moment to understand where the urge is coming from and if it’s going to get you the results you want. If you want to be more productive, then choosing thoughts like “I can handle this” or “This can be broken down into smaller, manageable pieces” will create the feeling of commitment to get things done.
I will be the first to admit that I am a work in progress when it comes to focusing and not being so distracted by technology, but it’s worth the effort in getting this under control. There may be only 24 hours in a day, but by being more focused and productive, you can spend more of those hours with the people, places and things that you love.
- The secret to getting it all done is simple but not easy.
- The secret to productivity is FOCUS, however, you live in a world with more things vying for your attention with rings, dings, bleeps and flashes than ever before in the history of humankind.
- We are surrounded by focus-robbers and even worse, our brain loves them!
- Lack of concentration partnered with the increase in interruptions creates a breeding ground for overwhelm and stress.
- That little dopamine hit you get every time you feel bored or stressed and you distract yourself with technology, is making it even harder to focus when you really need to.
- What has your attention is actually a billion dollar industry that doesn’t care if you miss a tax deadline or forget to make dinner because you’ve been playing hours of Candy Crush.
- To handle the urge to check Instagram or just see what everyone is up to on Facebook, you will need to allow those urges to be there without acting on them.
If you’d like some help focusing more, please feel free to schedule a strategy session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.