At one time or another everyone has experienced the desire to do more things that interest them. It might be traveling the world or trying multiple sports or musical instruments. A few people, prodigies, manage to conquer several musical instruments at once.
In business we see Elon Musk tackling business after business with endless energy. Small business owners are lulled into a false sense of ability when they try to multitask at the same level.
In our personal lives we might attempt to read several books at once or even write multiple books at one time. After all, we dug deep into a handful of textbooks simultaneously in college.
At work we crack open several projects at once. Before long we stall out as our brain freezes. Why does this happen? Elon and a minor percentage of the population considered prodigies manage it. Why not me?
Back from Holiday
One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, wrote about this issue a year ago.
People demand as much as they can get from you. I get a steady stream of emails from readers stating they wish they could find a local accountant like me.
Clients demand I, and only I, touch their tax return.
People demand every step be taken personally by people they admire. But they don’t know what they are asking for.
Does anyone believe I personally prepare a thousand tax returns annually without a bit of help?
We want to think our heroes are really superheroes!
If only your favorite accountant could be an awesome husband, father, business owner and blogger without a push from another living human being.
A New Brand of Musk
Elon Musk isn’t doing the incredible at the level outsiders think either. If you watch closely, Musk is expert at focusing on the task at hand.
With so many businesses, Musk must multitask. But he doesn’t! At least not to the level many people think.
Musk has been candid about his work schedule. He works long hours with few days off. But he separates each day into specific tasks. Some days he’s working at Tesla, the next day at SpaceX.
Each day is dedicated to the project at hand. Musk attacks several projects over the course of a week or month, but each day is dedicated to one project.
Focus is key.
Most people are thinking about the time they should be spending with their spouse and kids when at work. At home they are preoccupied with work matters.
All this is insanity! You can only be where you are. When your mind wanders to a project you are away from you end up nowhere. The wife and kids don’t get your undivided attention. Later, when exhausted from all the mental anguish, you underperform at work. You end up spiraling down.
In college you read several books at once as you worked through each course. The same happens in your personal, work and/or business life.
Why it worked in college (if it worked for you in college) is that you were in Sociology when you were in Sociology and not in Algebra! It sounds like common sense, but we tend to lose this skill set once we enter the workforce or start a business.
Business owners are the worst! I’ll vouch for that.
Demands come from every direction. As a business owner you want to solve everyone’s problem. But you can’t!
Nobody is helped when you are spread thin.
But business (or side gig) demands constant attention. When a client arrives without an appointment you own them answers to their problem, right?
No, you don’t!
You owe the client who scheduled an appointment who happens to have her stuff spread across your desk at the moment.
If you take every call, constantly check your email or allow every interruption you will end up exhausted without getting anything done you wanted to accomplish. The client is screwed and so is your family when you get home.
Back on Holiday
Ryan Holiday is a writer. Writers need plenty of free time to allow the creative process to work.
Last year when I attended Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida, the facilitators informed me they tried to get Holiday to attend. Holiday immediately sent them to his agent who said the fee is $15,000, plus expenses. The fee is high as a way of saying “no”. There were some complaints at Camp when this was revealed, but Holiday’s career would spiral out of control if he attended every offer.
Readers who pay close attention can tell when I’m rushed. It shows in my work and the scattered mental process.
Holiday talks about keeping his calendar as open as possible without harming his career. He says “no” to almost very distraction. He admits to lapses, as any honest individual would. Still, lapses evolve into serious issues if allowed free rein.
Holiday calls it “calendar anorexia”. By keeping his scheduled appointments down to a minimum he keeps ample open time to think and create.
I wish I were as good at it as Ryan. Writing a blog is a business all its own. A tax practice is a business requiring serious time commitments. People reading this blog know they can dig for 30 seconds and have my office phone number. The call is corralled long before it gets to my office, but it does take time from my team members.
Distractions are common in an accounting office. If I’m to get any work done distractions must be avoided.
I spend more time at the office than I should, but I enjoy the work environment. I take time to read and research, manage my business, review my budget (what budget I have) and investments. Tax returns take plenty of time during tax season. Managing a small business is a time sink, if allowed.
People will wear you out if you let it happen! They’re not bad people either. They lack discipline so they just “drop by” for a quick question. Not a good idea if you want the answer from me.
The Cost of Yes
Yes costs more than money.
Every interruption has a cost. Each distraction takes more than the “few minutes” the client/potential client/salesman promised.
It takes time to push paperwork (or any project being worked on) to the side to do something else. Your mind has to shift focus to the new task. This takes mental effort!
Once you are finished with the “few minutes” you need to refocus again on the original task. Research says it takes up to fifteen minutes (longer for some people) to get back up to speed on the original project. The “few minutes” squandered as much as a half hour of productive time. And that’s assuming the “few minutes” were really only a few minutes.
Take a couple personal calls and client interruptions and you’re productivity collapses to nothing while you end up exhausted! Worse, the boss is ticked you aren’t getting anything done.
“Yes” costs more than money; it costs peace of mind, satisfaction and tranquility. Interruptions are stressful!
Good for Business?
I get asked to attend a lot of events. Mini conferences have sprung up all over the country and around the world in this demographic. My work with Mr. Money Mustache and other popular FIRE (financial independence, retire early) bloggers coupled with a Plutus Award has made me in somewhat high demand.
My first impulse is to always say “yes”; my inclination is to please people. I want to make the readers happy. And I might get new readers!
Except, if I really thought about it, there is no way I can sit with each reader personally. If my readership consisted of only people I met personally this blog would be very, very small. And unprofitable, too.
Traveling kills me. Of all the things in this world I loathe, traveling tops the list. I don’t begrudge those who enjoy the experience; I just want to be left out.
I felt obligated to attend several events each year as part of the price for being a blogger. There is some truth to that, but it wears me down doing something I really don’t enjoy.
Late last year it was made abundantly clear I need to stop attending events to please people. A natural part of my work/business life will bring me in contact with readers and potential readers. I don’t have to travel across the country or to the other side of the planet to be successful in this genre.
My readership will grow whether I travel to endless conferences or not. Your personal life is the same. Constant distraction subtracts from your overall enjoyment of life.
On the left side of my desk is a media kit I’ve been working on for a while now. It’s not done, but soon.
This upcoming Saturday I have a special “Stalking the Accountant” where I will share why I write so much. You’ll enjoy it.
From this I will complete my media kit so the world can share my stuff without contacting me. I already made it clear you can steal my stuff. Now you can poke and prod without bothering me. It’s the best of all worlds; everybody wins!
Camp Accountant will be my sole public appearance. I’ve committed to FinCon18 in Orlando, but am uncertain of any additional commitments beyond that.
Elon Musk may be the new fragrance of the business world. Without the discipline and focus necessary to succeed it will all end with exhaustion, anxiety and burnout.
We can do better than that. We can consider the consequences of every “yes”.
It might only take a minute, but I don’t have the luxury of spending that minute in an unscheduled interruption.
Margin of Saving
Thursday 11th of January 2018
Don't forget the other key is delegation. Elon hires the best and the brightest so that he's not stuck doing everything and putting out fires non-stop. I get why clients only want you to touch a return, but if you're the only person capable of doing the return properly, then you don't have the right people in your office;)
There's also plan B - ever think of cloning yourself?
Thursday 11th of January 2018
This reminded me of this old accounting joke:
A very successful accountant retires after 30 years of working. All those 30 years he had the same routine - right before starting the work he would unlock a top drawer at his desk, look inside, and then lock it back. The moment he left the building his co-workers rushed to his office and broke into his top drawer. A single piece of paper was taped to its bottom. It read: "Debits on the left, credits on the right"
Do you think, Musk comes into his office, opens a drawer at his desk, inside it says: "Musk must multitask...". Then he opens a second drawer (of course he has two drawers, he is Musk), and it says "... not!" And that's his productivity secret :)
hahaha sorry for a distraction, but the "Musk must multitask" phrase is too funny for my brain not to get stuck on it.
Good luck with this tax season!
Wednesday 10th of January 2018
I particularly like your explanation regarding college and how in college we are able juggle so much because there are blocks of time. Great insight.
It interesting the timing on the article of the power of No. Ryan Holiday just sent an email this week on the topic. Two times in a week. Guess I should be focusing more on the power of No:)
P.s. - most bloggers that I follow have a teaser portion of their article in the email. I know that my clickthrough rate personally would be higher if you did this. Just wanted to mention this so it is on your radar.
Wednesday 10th of January 2018
Have you read High Performance Habits (HPH) by Brendon Burchard? I'd highly recommend it to you as super performer Keith :) The first two HPH's relate well to this article: Seek Clarity and Generate Energy. I personally found the information valuable as I'm reaching a bit of a stagnation in my career and trying to determine what is the next major accomplishments I'd like to make. One example in regards to generating energy is using transition time between activities as a trigger to 1) release tension and 2) set intention on how to best perform and be present at the next activity/task.