My Secrets To A 30-Hour Workweek
In the fast-paced world of accounting, where time is one of our most precious assets, the idea of working fewer hours while achieving more might seem impossible. However, I’m here to share my secret to a 30-hour workweek.
For decades, I’ve been managing my successful accounting career working 30 hours a week, not by burning the midnight oil, but by understanding a better way to manage my time and how to manage my brain.
The conventional belief that longer hours automatically translate into greater productivity is a myth I’ve debunked through my own experiences. In today’s episode, I want to share insights, strategies, and the transformative power of brain management that has allowed me to accomplish more than others working 50 hours or more.
Looking back, I can see that my journey into better time management started about 30 years ago after I had my first child. I was working at Deloitte and there were no part-time positions, however, the Tax Partner didn’t want to lose me so he created the first part-time position in the office for me.
Because I felt so grateful for his recognition of my value, I made it my mission to get as much done in the 3 days a week that I worked at the time, as my coworkers did working 40+ hours a week. Of course I got the sarcastic, “Working half a day?” comments when I left at 5:30 pm to pick up my daughter from daycare, but the Tax Partner reassured me that he knew I got more done than anyone else, so I should just keep doing what I was doing.
The funny thing is, I’ve learned so much more since then about better time management. For the past 20+ years I’ve had 30-hour workweeks at my accounting job, and have also been able to write and publish a book, run a coaching business, coach clients, create 2 separate podcasts a week, and enjoy plenty of time with my husband.
How is this possible? I’ve discovered that the key to success doesn’t necessarily lie in the sheer quantity of hours spent working, but rather in how efficiently we manage our most valuable resource—our brain.
Here’s the thing: More time does not equal more productivity. In fact, more time often equals diminished quality of work and decision-making abilities.
I want to help you make a paradigm shift—a shift that places emphasis not just on the number of hours worked but on the quality and efficiency of the hours dedicated to your work.
I’m going to be sharing the fascinating realm of neuroscience, exploring how the brain functions at its best and how we can harness its potential to maximize our professional output. This is not going to be about working harder; it’s about working smarter, and that begins with understanding the connection between our brain and our productivity.
The Myth Of Longer Hours
I know there are books out there about working less hours, but I can honestly tell you that I haven’t read any of them. Why? Because what I’ve been doing for the past 3 decades has been working.
For many of us, especially in public accounting, our time spent is directly tied to the amount we can charge a client. In fact, for many accountants, there’s a common idea that the more hours you put in, the more successful and productive you’ll be.
But what if I told you that this belief isn’t true? Let’s challenge the notion that longer work hours automatically mean higher productivity.
Think of it this way: imagine you’re on a road trip. At the beginning of your journey, you’re full of energy and excitement. You drive for hours, making good progress. However, as time goes on, you start to feel tired. Your ability to focus decreases, and the joy of the journey diminishes.
It’s similar in the world of work. At first, putting in extra hours might feel productive, but just like a long road trip, there’s a point where more hours does not equal more progress.
In fact, as I said before, since I’ve worked a 30-hour workweek, I’m able to get more done than anyone else, working less hours than anyone else.
Here’s the thing: When we work long hours without taking into account various factors that contribute to better time management, the quality of our work decreases, we’re more likely to make mistakes, we struggle to concentrate, and end up feeling stressed. In other words, we are creating diminished returns with our time.
The truth is that working longer doesn’t always mean getting more done—it can actually mean getting less done with lower quality.
Thankfully, by understanding how our brains function and taking steps to optimize their performance, we can achieve more in less time. And when we can achieve more in less time, a 30-hour workweek isn’t just a dream; it can become a reality.
The Neuroscience Behind Productivity
As I often say in the introduction to this podcast, this is the place where brain science meets accounting. And I can tell you that nowhere is it more important to understand brain science than when it comes to time management, productivity and achieving a 30-hour workweek.
So the easiest way to explain our brains is that they are like busy command centers. They control everything we do, from solving math problems to making decisions.
The truth is that understanding the science behind how our brains operate can help us to literally work smarter, not harder.
When it comes to accounting work, one of the most important things we need to learn is how to improve our focus. Imagine you’re trying to build a tower with blocks. When you concentrate on each block, the tower stands tall and strong.
But what happens if you try to build the tower while juggling, listening to loud music, and answering texts? It becomes tricky, right?
Our brains work the same way. They love focus, and when we overload them with too many tasks, it’s like trying to build that tower while juggling—it gets shaky.
In order to improve your ability to focus you have to get clear about one important thing – what your brain is thinking, especially about the work that has to be done.
As I shared in my book, “The Smarter Accountant,” our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings drive our actions, and our actions create our results. If you want to get more done in less time, it all starts with what your brain is thinking.
For example, let’s say you have a looming deadline for a complex financial report. If the thought your brain is offering is something like, “I’m never going to finish this on time. It’s too much work,” you’re going to feel overwhelmed.
And when you feel overwhelmed, guess what happens? You most likely procrastinate doing the report, avoid certain tasks, and constantly worry about not being able to meet the deadline.
And the result? Incomplete or poorly executed report, heightened stress levels, and a negative impact on your productivity and overall work satisfaction.
But if you were to learn to be more intentional with what you’re choosing to think on purpose, you would be much more productive and be able to get more done in less time.
For example, let’s go with the same example of the looming deadline for a complex financial report. If instead of letting the default part of your brain think, “I’m never going to finish this on time. It’s too much work,” you could instead choose to intentionally think, “I can break it down into manageable steps” or “I’ve successfully handled similar reports in the past.”
An intentional thought like either one of these is going to create a feeling of confidence instead of overwhelm.
And when you feel confident, guess what happens? You create a detailed plan, break the report into smaller tasks, prioritize efficiently, and focus on one segment at a time.
And the result? A well-organized and completed financial report, reduced stress, and an increased sense of accomplishment.
In both scenarios, the circumstances remain the same—the looming deadline for a complex financial report. However, the thoughts, feelings, and subsequent actions are vastly different.
By consciously managing your brain by choosing your thoughts intentionally, you can create more useful feelings and actions. This, in turn, leads to improved productivity and the ability to get more done in less time.
Remember, your power lies in how you choose to think about and respond to circumstances.
Intentional Time Management
In the quest for a 30-hour workweek, you also have to learn to be more intentional with your time management. This is not just for big projects, but for everything that has to get done.
Instead of haphazardly tackling various tasks or going down a to-do list, intentional time management involves making decisions with your higher brain; decisions about what needs to be prioritized, how long you’re giving yourself to get it done, what day, and what time of day.
But here’s what’s missing from everything you’ve ever learned about time management: As I said before, since your feelings drive your actions, if you want to be super productive so that you can have a 30-hour workweek, you have to be intentional about how you need to feel in order to get things done.
One of the biggest mistakes that accountants make is not understanding the power of their feelings. If you are trying to get work done from the feeling of overwhelm, stress, pressure, confusion, or frustration, you are wasting a lot of time.
In fact, stress and overwhelm are the biggest time wasters for accountants. Why? Because those feelings lead to ineffective actions.
Let me share what happens when you feel stressed and overwhelmed, and try to get accounting work done:
Procrastinating: Feelings of overwhelm and stress can create a sense of paralysis, making it difficult to initiate tasks. Procrastination sets in as a coping mechanism, delaying essential work and impacting deadlines.
Spinning in Circles: Overwhelm often causes us to feel stuck or trapped, leading to a cycle of spinning in circles without making significant progress. This perpetual motion without clear direction contributes to time being wasted.
Catastrophizing: When feeling stressed, there’s a common habit called catastrophizing. This means your brain tends to make problems seem much bigger and scarier than they really are. It’s like turning small challenges into giant, impossible mountains. This way of thinking can make our work seem much harder than it actually is, making it more difficult to get things done efficiently.
Excessive Email Checking: The feeling of stress often drives us to seek distraction through constant email checking. This not only interrupts focused work but also creates a false sense of busyness without actual productivity.
Avoiding: Under stress, we will naturally avoid challenging tasks or responsibilities. This avoidance can create a backlog of work and contribute to increased stress in the long run.
Micromanaging: Overwhelm can lead to a desire for control, resulting in micromanaging every detail. Instead of focusing on the big, important tasks, you end up spending too much energy on the little things. It’s like trying to organize every single puzzle piece instead of looking at the whole picture. This can make your work less efficient and keep you from doing more impactful tasks.
Perfectionism: Stress often drives a need for perfection as a way to gain a sense of control.
Striving for perfection can lead to spending excessive time on tasks that may not need such attention.
Indecision: Overwhelm can create a sense of indecision, making it challenging to make decisions or prioritize tasks. Indecisiveness can result in time being wasted on overthinking without concrete action.
Overcommitting: Stress often leads us to overcommit in an attempt to meet high expectations.
Overcommitting can spread resources thin, causing burnout and diminishing the quality of work.
Negative Self-Talk: Feelings of stress and overwhelm often accompany negative self-talk, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome. Engaging in negative internal dialogue can chip away at our confidence and contribute to a negative mindset.
Lack of Boundaries: Overwhelm often leads to a failure to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Blurred boundaries can result in inefficiency, as work may spill over into personal time without significant productivity.
Overworking: In an attempt to catch up or alleviate stress, we may engage in excessive working hours. Overworking can lead to burnout, fatigue, and a decline in overall effectiveness.
If you could only see how much more productive and efficient you’d be if you learned how to manage your mind and be more intentional with your feelings and your time management, you’d be blown away.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant: Creating The 30-Hour Workweek
As I shared before, becoming a Smarter Accountant involves a paradigm shift—one that challenges the traditional belief that success hinges solely on working longer hours.
If creating a 30-hour workweek is important to you, let me share some of the most important factors you need to consider:
Embrace the Power of Time Management Math: Here’s what I tell my time management coaching clients all the time: Effective time management is math, not drama. Time is like money; it’s limited, and you need to learn how to use it wisely to fit everything into a 30-hour workweek.
Example: I think of completing a tax return in two hours like solving a puzzle. I just need to stay focused, avoid distractions, and plan my time based on the steps involved in completing the tax return.
Know Your Time Management Personality: Understanding your unique time management personality is crucial. Time management is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, so knowing what works best for your personality is incredibly helpful. If you don’t know your time management personality, you can take The Smarter Accountant Time Management Personality Quiz at https://thesmarteraccountant.com/personality-quiz/
Example: I am a classic Early Bird time management personality so getting my most complicated work done early is the best use of my time. In fact, when I work from home I sit at the computer at 7 am and get more done by noon then most accountants get done in an entire day.
Set Clear Time Constraints: You need to understand that Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to the time allowed. Setting strict time limits helps you avoid wasting time and encourages you to work efficiently.
Example: I decide that checking and responding to emails will take a maximum of 30 minutes, preventing unnecessary delays and ensuring timely communication.
Make Decisions Ahead of Time: Making decisions before you start working is crucial. It’s like planning your route before a road trip. This way, you use the higher, executive functioning part of your brain to plan, reducing stress during the actual work.
Example: I plan as much as I can in advance, always setting up my future self for success. The more decisions I can make in advance, the easier it is for my primitive brain to follow the plan.
Drop the Perfectionism Mindset: Understand that perfectionism is a huge time-consuming roadblock. You can strive for excellence but recognize when a task is “good enough” to maintain efficiency and avoid unnecessary time investment.
Example: I know that accounting is a breeding ground for perfectionism, but I also know that B+ work is better than time wasted trying to make something perfect. If I want to get everything done in a 30-hour workweek, then done is better than perfect.
Shift from To-Do Lists to Calendaring: Replace overwhelming to-do lists with a structured calendaring approach. The truth is that your brain gets easily overwhelmed by to-do lists and you do not want an overwhelmed brain trying to do accounting work. Allocate specific time slots for each task on your calendar, providing a clear and focused roadmap for the day.
Example: Using a calendar has been the most impactful thing I’ve ever done. I prefer a combination of a paper calendar for managing my time and a digital calendar for appointment reminders. I would not be able to get more done in less time without my calendar.
Prioritize Tasks Strategically: The fact is, your brain thinks everything is urgent. To avoid this, prioritize tasks based on impact and ease. Easy/High Impact get done first to create momentum and then Hard/High Impact items go next.
Example: Effectively prioritizing takes practice, but it’s so worth it. The few minutes it takes to label and group things by impact and ease, the easier it is to clearly see what needs to be done first.
Utilize Time Blocking Techniques: Effective time blocking has been a game-changer for me. You want to implement time blocking to create dedicated periods for specific types of tasks.
Group similar activities together to maximize efficiency and minimize the cognitive load associated with frequent task switching.
Example: The Container Calendaring process I came up with is my saving grace. When I’m calendaring the things I need to get done, I’m making decisions about what needs to be done, how long I’m giving myself to get it done, what day, what time, but more importantly, how I need to feel to get it done. It’s how I’m able to eliminate procrastination.
Embrace Optimal Focus Time: Research has shown that our brain’s optimal focus time is around 90 minutes. Structure your work around this to be more effective.
Example: I will set a timer on my phone for 90 minutes so that I don’t get caught down a rabbit hole and then burn myself out. I take short breaks, and then tackle the next task with renewed focus.
Delegate Effectively: Whether it’s at work or at home, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Delegate tasks to others so you can focus on what you do best.
Example: The things I delegate the most are things where my time could be spent more wisely and effectively. For example, sourcing out grocery shopping, clothes shopping, and meal prep have been incredible time savers.
Establish Work-Life Boundaries: You’re not doing yourself or your ability to work a 30-hour workweek any favors by not having clear boundaries. Learn to set and respect time boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Example: This is something I’ve gotten very good at over the years. When I say I work 30 hours a week, I truly mean only 30 hours a week (unless it’s tax season; I’ll work an additional 6 hours a week during tax season). My boundaries around my time are clear and I have no problem setting them with clients, colleagues, or anyone else.
Monitor and Analyze Time Usage: Regularly check how you’re spending your time. It’s like looking at your expenses to see where you can save money. Regular time audits help you make informed decisions about what needs to be adjusted or improved.
Example: You’ll be amazed if you do a weekly time audit. It was so helpful to become aware of time spent on client meetings, project planning, and administrative tasks, allowing me to identify areas for optimization.
Foster a Culture of Efficiency: Encourage your team to find ways to save time. It’s like everyone working together to make the workplace more efficient.
Example: Because I’m a Certified Professional Coach for accountants and I specialize in time management, I have the pleasure of coaching other accountants, weekly. It is my passion to teach accountants how to be smarter and work smarter.
Learn to Manage Your Mind: The Secret to Effective Time Management: Hands down, the single most important thing you absolutely need to learn in order to have a 30-hour work week is mind management.
Managing your mind is the ultimate key to effective time management. It’s about understanding and directing your thoughts and feelings, which directly influence how you use your time. When you can control your mind, you make more intentional decisions, reduce stress, and enhance your overall productivity.
Mind management involves recognizing unhelpful thoughts, reframing them, and consciously choosing thoughts that support your time management goals. I promise you that a 30-hour workweek isn’t possible without learning how to manage your mind.
Making a 30-hour work week happen involves using smart strategies for managing your mind and your time, planning things out carefully, and focusing on efficiency rather than trying to be perfect. When you follow these steps, you’re on your way to getting the most out of your work time and finding success in a shorter amount of time.
Just remember, the key is to work smarter, not longer.
Well, that’s what I have for you. Thank you for joining me as I shared my secret to a 30-hour workweek. I hope you’ve gained valuable insights and practical tips.
If you are struggling with any aspect of being an accountant, you can simply go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
I’ll explain The Smarter Accountant 6-week Program and how you can apply it to whatever you’re struggling with.
So make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would 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.