How CPAs Juggle Distractions to Focus on Work

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By Rick Telberg

An endless flow of e-mails, chatty coworkers, unexpected clients knocking on your door, and phones that never stop ringing – sound all too familiar? If so, you're not alone.

The real question is – how do you stay focused amid the chaos?

According to a CPA Trendlines study by the Bay Street Group, 34 percent of CPAs report "often" feeling distracted, while another 34 percent are "sometimes" distracted. This is followed by 22 percent who are "frequently" distracted.

CPAs rely on a few key habits for maximizing productivity and minimizing distraction, including the following:

  • Strictly scheduling e-mail and Internet activity
  • Preparing daily to-do lists
  • Shifting work hours to early mornings or evenings to minimize interruptions
  • Setting aside discrete blocks of time for phone calls and meetings

Of course, that's easier said than done.

"Focused? It's very difficult. The best for me is make a list and stick to it, which I'm not doing right now", says Jim Kinsler of Cincinnati.

Whether it's making a to-do list, shutting the office door, or turning off the telephone, CPAs have different methods for staying focused. Some methods appear to work better than others and it's far from a one-size-fits-all approach.

Ken Lehto of San Francisco, for instance, gets his best work done from about noon until 9:00 p.m. That guarantees him a large block of uninterrupted time from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Routine work is no problem at any time for Ken. The big challenge is staying off the Internet until a project is completed.

Deborah Lavinsky of Phoenix calls herself "The Queen of Multitasking." "Generally", she says",I pick two to three projects a day and work back and forth. I don't consider myself unfocused working this way. I'm able to feel refreshed and energized this way. If I have an extremely time-sensitive project, then I do it exclusively. The reality in my line of business is that there are lots of things to juggle and it's mostly done by e-mail these days. I worked with a coach last year to refine my e-mail time management, but it just isn't practical to check it just twice a day."

Also battling the distraction of e-mail, Brenda Zamzow of Los Angeles decided to move her inbox off of her desktop. "A few weeks ago, I moved my inbox off my desk, so now I'm not tempted to check it frequently. It works. Also, when I close my laptop on my desk, I'm able to focus much better; however, I rarely have the courage to do this."

Other people, like Deborah Bieber of Chicago, opt to work nights when the office is quiet or even on the weekends. "I close my door. But then there's the e-mail and phone. I work late when everyone's gone or come in on weekends."

Aside from tuning out external distractions like the phone and e-mail, many people find success in making to-do lists and setting goals.

Michael Chaffee of Troy, Michigan, goes as far as maintaining hourly to-do lists.

Harry C. Ballman, MBA, CPA, of Annapolis, Maryland, advises",Set a to-do plan of action each day, with time between tasks to take on the 'add-ons' that occur during the day. Of course, getting to the office by 6:30 a.m. also helps." 

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Reprinted with permission from CPA Trendlines.

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