Accountants Need Breathing Spaceby
It's not your imagination — the pace of society constantly quickens.
Whether you have already made partner or joined your firm yesterday, five factors, or "mega-realities," are simultaneously contributing to the perceptual and actual erosion of leisure time: population growth, an expanding volume of knowledge, mass media growth and electronic addiction, the paper trail culture, and an overabundance of choices.
Such is the case that — with information becoming more available via electronic means and broader competition leading to more choices — it can be daunting to maintain focus on a singularity. We could ponder how continuous changes in society are affecting us — tax and accounting professionals included — and take action to confront challenges brought on by these “mega-realities.”
From the beginning of creation to 1850 A.D. the world’s human population grew to one billion. It grew to two billion by 1930, three billion by 1960, four billion by 1979, five billion by 1987, six billion by the late 1990s, and today seven-plus billion. Every seven months, the current population of France at about 70 million, for example, is added to the planet.
Everybody these days fears that he or she is underinformed. This moment, you, and everyone you know, are being bombarded on all sides. Over-information wreaks havoc on the receptive capacities of the unwary. The volume of new knowledge broadcast and published in every field is enormous and exceeds anyone's ability to keep pace. All told, more words are published or broadcast in a day than you could comfortably ingest for the remainder of your life. By far, America leads the world in the sheer volume of information generated and disseminated.
The effect of the mass media on our lives continues unchecked. Worldwide media coverage certainly yields benefits. Democracy springs forth when oppressed people have a chance to see or learn about how other people in free societies live. As we spend more hours tuned in to electronic media, we are exposed to tens of thousands of messages and images.
A quarter century ago, 12 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S., up from five billion in 1980 — equivalent to 50 catalogs for every man, woman, and child in America. Today, despite e-communications, it's worse.
An Overabundance of Choices
In 1969, American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that we would be overwhelmed by too many choices. He said that this would inhibit action, result in greater anxiety, and trigger the perception of less freedom and less time. Having choices is a blessing of a free market economy. Like too much of everything else, however, having too many choices leads the feeling of being overwhelmed and results not only in increased time expenditure but also in a mounting form of exhaustion.
The Breathing Space Institute Platform
Against the backdrop outlined above, here are five planks in what I call the Breathing Space Institute Platform. Think of these as positive steps in alleviating some of humanity’s collective challenges, and in feeling a little better about your own challenges:
Population — Replacement-level human population is the practical and ethical approach to sustaining the quality of life on this planet — for human beings and other remaining species. Responsible parenting is the most important element of society.
Knowledge — As producers of information, we each need to control the amount of data we offer to others, to not inundate or overwhelm them. As information consumers, we need to be discriminating about what we ingest and realize the counter-productivity of taking in more information than we can reasonably assimilate.
Media Growth — The need for responsible reporting has never been more critical. Tabloid and innuendo journalism is tearing at the fabric of our society. Media professionals and their audiences must overcome the prevailing predisposition of focusing attention on 1) disasters, 2) scandals, 3) personal attacks, and 4) news that fails to convey a balanced view of society.
Paper Trails — Paper still remains the medium by which most information in our society is distributed. Each of us faces the challenge of adopting new measures to limit the amount of paper on our desks. Such measures include more selectively targeting message recipients, limiting the length and frequency of messages, and recycling.
An Overabundance of Choices — No one benefits by being confronted with more choices than he/she can sensibly consider. As producers, we need to offer appropriate choices that best serve consumers. As consumers, we need to ignore many of the choices confronting us.
After all is said and done, narrowing the field when we face too many choices, in any endeavor, might well prove to be the single best strategy for proceeding professionally and personally at a more comfortable pace.
Jeff Davidson, a.k.a. “The Work-life Balance Expert”®, speaks to accounting firms and associations on increasing their work-life balance so they can be more productive and competitive, and still have a life away from work. He is the author of Everyday Project Management, Breathing Space, and Simpler Living. Visit breathingspace.com.