Harnessing The Brain-Productivity Connection
Let’s talk about productivity as accountants. Are you someone who often finds themselves struggling with productivity, despite putting in long hours and working hard? You know how they’re always saying work smarter, not harder? What does that even mean?
Well, you’re in luck because in this episode, we’re going to delve into the fascinating connection between your brain and productivity. We’ll explore how gaining insights into this relationship can significantly improve your work efficiency.
As the Get Shit Done Coach for Accountants, I have a wealth of knowledge on how to get more done in less time without burning out. In fact, I’m currently writing an e-book on productivity and time management specifically tailored for accountants.
And if you don’t yet know your productivity score, you’re going to want to check out the “Get Sh*t Done Quiz for Accountants.” You can take it by going to https://thesmarteraccountant.com/productivity-quiz/. You can find out your productivity score and get tips and information on how to get more done in less time, save yourself 5 hours a week, and learn what does and doesn’t work.
So the reason I wanted to do this episode is to help you understand the brain-productivity connection. If you feel like there’s never enough time or you’re constantly feeling stressed and overwhelmed, there are things you can do.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, productivity is crucial for accountants like us. The issue is that many of us struggle to maximize our productivity, even when we put in our best efforts.
It can be frustrating and disheartening to invest significant time and effort into our work, only to fall short. It’s challenging to feel like we’re always dealing with a never-ending to-do list.
To effectively address this issue, it’s important to understand how our brain influences our productivity. The truth is that our brain controls our thoughts, actions, and behaviors, playing a vital role in our ability to focus, make decisions, prioritize tasks, and manage our time effectively.
Thankfully, by understanding the simple neuroscience behind productivity, we can gain valuable insights into optimizing our overall productivity and, most importantly, avoiding burnout. Learning what I’m going to share with you has literally had the biggest impact for me both professionally and personally.
By the end of this episode, my goal is for you to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to work smarter, achieve better results, and experience a greater sense of accomplishment.
So, if you’ve ever felt frustrated by your lack of productivity or wondered how to make the most of your time and effort, let me share some strategies on how to become a smarter, more productive accountant
Jeff’s Story – Unraveling the Challenges of Productivity
To illustrate the common struggles many accountants face when it comes to productivity, I shared the story of Jeff in my book, “The Smarter Accountant.” Jeff was a partner in a small accounting firm and had dedicated 25 years of his career to the same organization.
Throughout his long career, he had seen first-hand the evolution of accounting practices, from manually managing financials using 10-column paper to embracing the latest technological advancements aimed at improving accountants’ productivity and efficiency. Jeff was known for his eagerness to learn and adopt new technologies.
He actively looked for different apps and programs to optimize his workflow and improve the overall productivity of his firm. While he acknowledged the benefits of the workflow system implemented in his practice, he couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with his personal productivity levels.
Despite working an average of 60 hours per week, Jeff found himself falling short of his goals. He noticed that, even with the use of tools like planners or programs like Outlook, he struggled to produce the amount of work necessary to fulfill his contractual obligations.
Like most of us, the issue extended beyond his professional life. Even during his time at home with his wife and children, Jeff felt a sense of unease.
Despite being constantly on the move, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t as productive as he wanted to be. When asked about his weekend, he often struggled to recall specific accomplishments.
While those around him wouldn’t describe Jeff as “lazy,” he carried a deep dissatisfaction with being busy simply for the sake of being busy. He really wanted a better understanding of how to improve his productivity and feel more fulfilled in both his work and personal life.
One of the biggest mistakes Jeff made, and that I see many accountants make, was his focus on scheduling and calendaring actions. He believed that by meticulously planning out his tasks and allocating specific time slots to them, he would be able to manage his productivity effectively.
However, this approach failed and left Jeff feeling frustrated.
Scheduling results, not actions
Jeff’s situation is actually pretty common. Many of us who have high-pressure jobs, especially in public accounting, tend to get caught up in scheduling activities instead of focusing on the results we want to achieve.
You know how it goes: we meticulously check off items on our to-do list or calendars, but we still struggle to be productive. It might seem like a reasonable approach at first, but it overlooks an important aspect of productivity—actually getting things done.
If we want to truly improve our productivity, we need to shift our focus from just taking action to achieving specific results within a set timeframe. When we allocate dedicated time slots for producing something, we have to hold ourselves accountable for reaching those outcomes on time.
I get it; this approach can be challenging for accountants who have a perfectionistic streak. It means prioritizing completion over pursuing perfection, but here’s the thing: perfectionism can actually kill productivity.
When we get caught up in the cycle of perfectionism, our brain’s reward center gets activated when we achieve flawless results, reinforcing the belief that perfection is necessary for success. However, this mindset can be counterproductive because it leads to excessive self-criticism and fear of failure.
Sure, striving for excellence is great, but when we fixate on perfection, it often leads to delays, overthinking, and a never-ending cycle of revisions. While it might be tough at first, the key is to embrace the mindset that “done is better than perfect.”
When I work with time management clients, I teach them to embrace B- work but to also schedule what’s referred to as “Overflow Time” in order to complete what didn’t get done or to just allow the buffer of time at the end of the day to realize that what’s already done is fine and to move on.
The problem with to-do lists
When it comes to being productive, many of us rely on the good old to-do list to keep things organized and on track. But let’s face it, there are some limitations we need to be aware of.
First, our brains can only process so much information at once. When we’re faced with a long list of tasks all at the same time, it can cause what’s called cognitive overload.
Cognitive overload happens when our brain is overwhelmed with too much information or tasks to handle at once. It can make us feel mentally exhausted and lead to difficulties in focusing, processing information, and making decisions effectively.
This cognitive overload makes it hard to focus, prioritize, and actually get things done. Instead of feeling organized and in control, we end up feeling overwhelmed and unsure, which leads to procrastination and decreased productivity.
Second, one of the problems with traditional to-do lists is that they often lack prioritization. The truth is that your lower, primitive brain sees a list of things to get done as a threat.
Here’s the thing with to-do lists: they lack structure and time boundaries, even if we number the tasks. They can actually lead to a misuse of time and make things take longer than expected.
The third issue is setting unrealistic expectations. We tend to fill our to-do lists with a ton of complex and time-consuming tasks, thinking we’ll be able to accomplish everything. But that’s not always realistic.
It just sets us up for disappointment and that overwhelming feeling we get when things aren’t done. When we have an unattainable list, it’s hard to stay focused and motivated, and that ultimately decreases our productivity.
Fourth, multitasking is another trap we fall into when working off a to-do list. It might seem like a smart way to get more done, but research shows that multitasking actually hurts our productivity.
When we switch between tasks, our attention gets fragmented, and it takes time for our brains to refocus on each new task. All that shifting of attention ends up making us less efficient and feeling spread too thin.
The truth is that to-do lists also have limitations in terms of how our brains process the information they contain. Our lower, more primitive brain struggles to put the items on a to-do list into context.
It sees everything as equally urgent and overwhelming, without the ability to prioritize or understand complexity. As a result, we end up being constantly busy but without a sense of accomplishment or progress.
To overcome these limitations and avoid cognitive overload, it’s important to explore alternative strategies for managing our tasks and maximizing productivity. In my 6-week Smarter Accountant Time Mastery Program, I actually encourage clients to throw away their to-do lists.
I know it might sound uncomfortable, but the results speak for themselves. They end up getting more done in less time, feeling more energized, and gaining better control of their time.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant
If you want to up your productivity game, it’s time to become a Smarter Accountant and understand how your brain works when you have tasks to tackle. Just staying busy and taking action won’t guarantee the results you’re after.
Remember Jeff, the partner at that small accounting firm? He thought he had it all figured out with his meticulous planning and scheduling. He even tried using the latest technology to stay on top of things. But guess what? Jeff faced the same productivity challenges that most accountants face.
Luckily, things took a turn for the better when Jeff went through The Smarter Accountant Time Mastery Program and learned about the connection between the brain and productivity. He started implementing practical strategies and saw a remarkable transformation in his work life.
First, he started setting clear goals for each day and prioritizing tasks based on their impact and ease. Then, he was introduced to my Container Calendaring approach, which combines brain science with time management.
This approach helped him schedule results instead of just actions. Thankfully, it made him more accountable and motivated to achieve tangible outcomes within specific time frames.
He also learned to let go of his perfectionist tendencies. Instead of obsessing over perfection in every single task, he focused on making progress and moving forward.
He realized that “good enough” was often sufficient to meet his goals and deliver quality work. He also admitted that taking regular breaks became a crucial part of his routine, allowing his brain to recharge and improve his focus and overall well-being.
By embracing single-tasking, he was able to stop multitasking and saw a significant boost in his productivity. He learned to focus on one task at a time, giving it his full attention before moving on to the next. This approach resulted in higher-quality work and a greater sense of control over his workload.
Managing interruptions also became a skill Jeff mastered. He set boundaries and used tools to minimize distractions during focused work sessions. Once he got the hang of a tool I teach called The Model, his stress and overwhelm reduced dramatically, and that had a massive impact on his productivity.
Jeff’s transformation really is a testament to the power of understanding how the brain plays a role in productivity. By adopting effective strategies that fit his specific needs, he saw significant improvements in both his productivity and well-being.
Signs of cognitive overload
So hopefully you now have a better understanding of how, by leveraging the brain-productivity connection, you can harness the power to improve your productivity.
First, I would start with recognizing when cognitive overload is slowing you down. While it’s incredibly common for accountants to be dealing with cognitive overload due to the nature of the work that we do, here are some signs to look out for:
Difficulty focusing and staying on task – If you find yourself struggling to concentrate on your work and frequently getting distracted or having your mind wander, it could be a sign of cognitive overload. You may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks or information you need to process, making it challenging to maintain focus.
Increased forgetfulness and errors – Cognitive overload can affect your memory and attention to detail. If you notice an increase in forgetfulness, such as missing deadlines or important information, or if you’re making more errors than usual in your work, it may indicate that your cognitive resources are stretched thin.
Feeling constant mental fatigue and exhaustion – Cognitive overload can leave you feeling mentally drained and exhausted, even if you haven’t engaged in physically demanding activities. If you consistently experience mental fatigue, find it hard to recharge, and lack the energy to tackle your tasks with enthusiasm, it could be a sign that your brain is overloaded.
To combat this, it’s important to optimize cognitive function. This can be achieved through things like effective prioritization and understanding a better way to create a structured schedule like using my Container Calendaring process to give you much better control over your time and your productivity..
Harnessing the power of the brain-productivity connection
Here is my #1 secret to being incredibly productive without burning out – plan, plan, plan. The key is that when you are planning your time you are using your higher brain; the part I refer to as The Supervising Parent.
When you are not taking the time to plan, you are allowing your Toddler brain to manage your time. I don’t know about you, but I do NOT want a Toddler managing my productivity because I will never get anything done.
In The Smarter Accountant Time Mastery Program I teach you how to use The Supervising Parent part of your brain to manage your time, but just know that if you aren’t effectively planning, you’re not as productive and efficient as you could be.
Another thing to consider is optimizing your work environment. You won’t believe how much of an impact it can have on your productivity; your physical and digital work environment play a major role in how efficiently you can get things done.
To create an environment that sets you up for optimal brain function, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, let’s talk about distractions. We all know how tempting it is to keep those notifications on and constantly check our phones or emails. But guess what? Those distractions are productivity killers.
So, one simple step you can take is to turn off notifications. Trust me, it’s a game-changer. And if you want to take it a step further, establish boundaries to limit interruptions. Let your colleagues or family members know your work hours and create a space where you can have uninterrupted focus.
The next thing to tackle is digital clutter. Are your documents and emails all over the place? Believe me, I’ve been there too. It’s time to streamline that chaos.
Take some time to organize your files, set up folders that make sense to you, and develop a system for managing your emails. Trust me, when everything is neat and accessible, it frees up mental space and helps you find what you need without wasting time and energy.
Another thing to consider is the physical aspects of your work environment. Are you comfortable? Do you have good lighting? These seemingly small things can actually have a big impact on your productivity and well-being. So, take a moment to adjust your workspace to make it comfortable and conducive to getting things done.
Remember, optimizing your work environment is all about setting yourself up for success. Minimize distractions, streamline your digital organization, and create a comfortable physical space. These simple steps can make a world of difference in boosting your productivity.
The last thing is that I encourage continuous learning and growth. The brain thrives on novelty and ongoing learning so embrace the opportunity to learn new and improved ways to improve your productivity.
Of course I’m biased, but I recommend engaging in neuro-science based programs and workshops like I offer with The Smarter Accountant because a small investment in learning what I teach not only increases competence but also fosters a sense of confidence and mastery.
As a bonus suggestion, here’s what has also made a big impact on my productivity – I look for ways to make things fun. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be fun, I look for ways to make it fun. Yes, especially my accounting work.
I cannot tell you how much that has improved my ability to get more done in less time. I do not allow stress, overwhelm, or frustration to fuel me because they are huge time wasters and productivity killers.
Do you know what’s the most fun? Getting more done in less time so that I have more time for the things and the people I love. That is fun!
So hopefully you can now see that by harnessing the power of the brain-productivity connection, you can transform your work life and achieve higher levels of efficiency and satisfaction. Embracing cognitive optimization, optimizing the work environment, and nurturing continuous learning and growth are key pillars in unlocking the full potential of productivity.
As you continue listening to this podcast and equip yourself with neuroscience-backed strategies, I promise you will pave the way for professional success and personal fulfillment.
If you’d like to explore how you can learn a simple process for managing your brain so that you can improve your productivity but not burn out, schedule a quick session with me at www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar
We’ll discuss where you’re at, where you’d like to be, and what you need to do in order to get there.
And don’t forget about the “Get Sh*t Done Quiz for Accountants” you can take by going to https://thesmarteraccountant.com/productivity-quiz/. Find out your productivity score and get tips and information on how to get more done in less time, save yourself 5 hours a week, and learn what does and doesn’t work.
Also, I would sincerely appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.