Working Hard, Hardly Working, Or Both?

Most of us live in a “feast or famine” cycle that continually alternates between two equally troubling positions. Either we’re overwhelmed with how we’re going to get all the work we have done, or we’re anxious about whether and when our next work will come.  Actually, many of us live in both places at the same time!  In the CPA profession, we call it “busy season” – a time in which we face a seemingly insurmountable amount of work, while living with the uncertainty of what we’re going to do after April 17th.

So now that the “problem” has been so clearly pointed out, I suppose it’s only fair to offer some solutions.  But be forewarned:  None of these ideas can actually get the existing pile of work done, or find more work for you to do.  I am confident, however, that employing these ideas will better position you mentally, physically and spiritually to face these challenges and to get the job done yourself.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey presents a time management matrix to help prioritize activities based on their importance and urgency. Quadrant II, “Important / Not Urgent” activities represent time invested in dreaming, planning, reflecting, resting and getting better. Both the problem of too much work and the problem of not enough work can benefit from more Quadrant II time.  So why don’t we do more of it?

There are likely many reasons:  Perhaps we don’t understand the importance of Quadrant II planning. Or, we understand its importance, but are too busy, too exhausted, or too fearful to stop and do it.  Maybe we know we should stop and plan, but it’s just too hard to do.  But none of these reasons do anything to make a difference.  So stop being so “reasonable” and instead start working on the problem.

Let’s start with the problem of too much work. The good news about busy season is that so much of our client service and financial results are packed into a few months of the year. That is also the bad news about busy season.  Failure is not an option and stress levels are at an all time high. What can be done to both manage the stress and get all the work done in a timely, profitable and quality manner?  Resist your first impulse to “jump in” and start working, and instead invest regular Quadrant II time in the following activities:

  • Be Thankful –Get yourself in the right frame of mind and spirit by reflecting on everything for which you are thankful.  Start by being thankful that you have lots of work to do. Count your many blessings, write them down and share them with the others on your team
  • Be Positive – Model positive behavior.  Stop listening to any negative voices speaking words of doubt and fear. Instead, see the glass as half full and reframe problems as opportunities.  Those around you will respond to your lead and your “can-do” attitude
  • Prioritize - Stop trying to do too much. Instead, identify your top three priorities each day and get them done.  Then be satisfied and go home to rest and recharge your batteries with family and outside pursuits.  Tomorrow will be the better for it
  • Get organized – Figure out what you can effectively delegate and then do it.  Learn to say “no” and “not now.”  Reset expectations when you need more time – most of your clients and colleagues will be fine with it
  • Be Well – Get up from your desk and take a walk.  Exercise daily.  Eat even more healthfully than normal. Minimize or avoid alcohol and smoking, limit caffeine and sugar, and maintain a consistent sleep routine.  Take time to reenergize, refocus, and to pray
  • Laugh – Have a sense of humor, even when you don’t feel like it!  Focus on the long-term and how irrelevant today’s problems will seem in a month or year.  Laugh with Mark Twain who said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” 

Now let’s turn to the problem of your fear of not having enough work after busy season.  During the slower “post busy season,” continue to develop the practice of being thankful and positive. Acknowledge and accept the fact that the ongoing business cycle and the need to develop people and look for new clients is “normal” and how it’s supposed to be.  During slower times, take advantage of the increased opportunity to invest your Quadrant II time in the following areas:

  • People – Be strategic about developing and nurturing your people as future leaders by identifying your future leaders and communicating your plans for them; providing feedback, mentoring and career counseling to your people;  building world-class training programs for both technical and soft-skills;  and developing a clear “path to partner”
  • Clients – Next to people, existing clients are the most valuable asset of your firm.  Take care of your clients by  developing a “Client Service Commitment Statement”; asking for feedback with a Client Satisfaction Survey; asking your top clients for reference statements (a “must” when going after new clients); and performing client service planning and a cross-selling analysis
  • Business Development – Be more strategic about attracting new clients and closing the “right” business by  performing target account planning and defining your ideal target client;  preparing a list of 3 to 5 target companies you want to have as clients; and defining the first 3 to 5 steps to be taken in starting a relationship with your targets. Then schedule the first step and do it!
  • Personal – Lead by example and don’t overlook your own personal growth and development. Set some new “stretch” goals.  Focus on personal wellness and staying energized. Consider performing a personal “KEEP STOP START” exercise – check out my colleague Tamera Loerzel’s ”What Will You Keep, Stop and Start in 2012?” blog for more on this topic

 We will continue to help our clients succeed by learning how to both survive and thrive in the busy and slow seasons of life.  If you have ideas or experiences to share on the subject of “Working Hard, Hardly Working, Or Both?” please post them so others can benefit.

Best regards,


P.S. For more ideas on staying positive in times of too much or not enough work, attend our Harness the Power of Positive Thinking and Manage Stress Positively web seminar on March 20th.  More information is available at