It’s that time of year again for those of us in the accounting business, with increased business activity from an improving economy, the demands of client service, the implementation of new accounting guidance for auditors, and our tax brethren digesting all the aspects of the new Tax Act. And while I’ve been making my way through the dreaded busy season for over a quarter of a century now, it hasn’t always been easy on me, my family or those I work with. I’ve seen and experienced many talented colleagues dealing with significant stress this time of year. I see it on their faces with the “thousand-mile stare” of a soldier in combat, the crisp e-mail messages, and the generally grumpy (but understandable) dispositions. All are tell-tale signs of what we all experience at the intersection of having too much on our professional and personal plates and having significant anxiety about how to accomplish it all.
While the temptation may be to put our heads down and muscle through it until we get to take a break and de-stress, science and research actually indicates this is not the best approach. According to research from professional services firm Towers Watson, employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure. Think about that for just a moment: the more we have to do, the more stressed we get, and then the more stressed we are, the less effective we are at accomplishing everything we have to do. Talk about a vicious death spiral! It seems to me that if we can break the cycle of stress and stressors, we can return balance to our lives. And, it turns out this kind of balance is really, really important for our health and our well-being.
There are too many ways to reduce stress and return balance to our professional and personal lives to fit into this article. One technique to consider, though, is riding a horse. I grew up in the hills above Los Angeles riding my pony and dreaming that I was a Mexican vaquero who was conquering the wide open spaces of early California. As I got older and the demands of work and life started to crowd my days, weeks and months, my time on horseback took a back seat. So, when I relocated to the Lone Star State in the late 90s, I found anew an opportunity to enjoy my childhood pursuit. For me, when I’m in the saddle on the back of a 1,200-pound animal with his own ideas about how the time together should go, I find I’d better have my full attention and focus between the two ears of that horse and what we’re doing or my mount will go in his direction and I’ll have a front row seat from the ground! There’s no time for thinking about a particularly pressing demand, or the stress of impressing a client, or the terse, umm, discussion with my spouse about dishes. It’s just me and my horse trying to work together to accomplish something authentic. While it’s my time to celebrate a partnership built on mutual benefit and mutual vulnerability, it’s also a great time to give my brain a break to sort through and resequence the triggers of my stress so that I can deal with them in the most efficient order.
For others, yoga or meditation or running are great ways to disconnect from the problems of the day for an hour or so, and reset their emotional mindset so that they can fully and completely focus on the challenges ahead. And, in the process, they find further clarity, which makes them more efficient, which in turn reduces their stress levels because they are getting more done.
What’s important here is to find that one thing that makes you forget to check your phone. That one thing that keeps worry at bay. That one thing that allows you to take a deep breath and then slowly release it. We all need to get out of our heads and into our minds occasionally by finding time for ourselves. Tony Robbins calls it the “hour of power.” Or “thirty minutes to thrive,” or even “fifteen minutes for fulfillment.” Regardless of the amount of time we can allocate for ourselves and regardless of what we call that time, it’s critically important to make time for ourselves. Think about it: the most successful people in the world – and by that I don’t just mean financially successful, but successful in any aspect of life as they define it – find time for themselves. If they can do it, we can too. So, when you are finished reading this, put away your phone for a few minutes, and take time for yourself. You can do it. I know you can! Your customers and colleagues will thank you, your family and friends will thank you, and your mind and body will thank you because you’ll be balanced, refreshed, and fully engaged in every aspect of your life.
For each of you, my sincere hope is that you will make the time for yourself to pursue a passion that allows you to reduce stress levels and sort things out in your head, which in turn will make you more effective in accomplishing the tasks that are stressing you out. I look forward to hearing about your success in finding balance.
Until then, happy trails! ★