For accounting professionals seeking to be highly productive, interruptions represent a “breaking apart” of their ability to stay focused and strive for completion of the task at hand.
In many work environments today — the traditional office as well as mobile settings — each of us encounters too many interruptions to even approach our potential level of productivity. Why? It’s simple: We are subjected to more of them than any previous workforce since homo erectus emerged from caves.
Unprecedented challenges call for unprecedented solutions. It is not enough to turn your cell phone ringer or vibrator off. It is insufficient to believe merely closing your office door will safeguard you from intruders.
It is folly to believe tomorrow is somehow going to be better than today if we don’t take a certain number of measures that guarantee we can work for 30, 60 or 90 minutes undisturbed when we need to.
Many years ago, I met with the CEO of the Planning Research Corporation (PRC) in his top-floor office in Washington, D.C. From this vantage point, he was able to look out of large picture windows in three directions, including to the west for dozens of miles into Virginia.
His office, the foyer leading into it, the receptionist’s area prior to that, the hallway leading to that and the entire floor were notably quieter than any of the floors below. Like so many other top executives, he knew the importance of being able to marinate in his own thoughts.
Have Space to Reflect
Those reaching the top rungs of organizations and who aspire to high achievement instinctively understand the importance of safeguarding their environment. They understand the value of being able to reflect upon the challenges before them, to utilize the full measure of their cerebral capabilities and craft a plan or devise a solution to meet that challenge.
In our own lives and careers, sometimes, we don’t have the choice of working on a quiet floor with barriers surrounding our space that ensure the quiet we need to concentrate on the challenges before us. We do, however, have options, regardless of our working environment that can increase the probability we will have vital stretches throughout the day and the week, for remaining free of disturbances so we can safely predict that interruptions will not take us off course.
Sometime throughout the week -- in the busy season and quieter ones -- accountants have the opportunity to take command of their immediate environment through a variety of procedures that are quite well known but unfortunately not put into practice as often as they should be.
Interruption-Proof Your Environment
In my book Breathing Space, originally published in 1990 and revised several times since, I offer some suggestions for safeguarding your working environment and minimizing interruptions:
• Surround yourself with everything you need to fully engage in the change process, which also might involve assembling resources, people and space, as well as ensuring you have a quiet environment free of distractions.
• Give yourself the hours or days you need to read, study and absorb what is occurring and to make decisions about how you’ll apply new ways of doing things and new technology to your career and firm.
• Go “cold turkey,” which is not recommended for most things! Suspend whatever else you’re doing and engage in whatever it takes to incorporate a new way of doing things. This is enhanced by ensuring you’ll have no disturbances, bringing in outside experts and assembling any other resources you need to succeed.
As the Allstate commercial used to say, “Life comes at you fast.” In the future, today will seem like an era of peace and tranquility. Life will come at us even more quickly as our technology and mobile devices connect us with more and more people and information sources around the world. We have to establish effective habits and procedures to buttress ourselves against what we know is coming: more information, more communication, more to sift through, more to learn and more to respond to.
Our work weeks and our lives are finite. We can only cram in so much information within a given period of time. The ability to understand and absorb what we need to and keep at bay all the extraneous information that competes for our attention is a skill which must be developed, honed and refined now. It won’t be any easier later.
The sooner we recognize that our interruption-based society is here to stay, at least for now, the sooner we can embrace and securely put into place those measures that will ensure we can be at our best, today and in the long run.
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.