TFYW#057: Underestimated Leverage For Productivity

Oct 13, 2023

I want to talk about increasing productivity in your firm this week.

Spoiler: It’s not a new app.

 

The Switch

The biggest switch that impacted my firm was when I accepted I was unhappy.

I realized this during the pandemic when most people looked at life a little differently.

I had built a firm that allowed me to work from home, make breakfast for my daughters every morning and make decent money.

I felt terrible for not being ‘happy.’ I had all the things I thought I wanted in a firm.

I remember talking to a friend who I was trying to explain my feelings to.

After struggling to express my feelings, I blurted out, “I don’t want something more. I want something different.”

I realized that more of what I was doing – i.e. compliance work, working in the weeds of clients, making money, building a firm I don’t love wouldn’t make me happier.

After that conversation, I started down the road to selling my firm.

Now, I am not encouraging anyone to sell or keep your firm.

However, I encourage everyone to get more intentional with what we do.

Your firm is your vehicle to find professional and personal fulfillment.

At times, we get stuck chasing old firm models, other’s expectations, and foreign lifestyles that lead us to optimize the wrong things.

 

If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:

 

When you optimize for happiness, you also maximize for output and productivity in the long term.

 

The negative impact is hitting hard in an industry notorious for grinding people. Fewer people are joining the profession than ever and leaving in droves.

The Wall Street Journal reported that there are more people leaving the profession with 6+ years of experience than ever before – meaning more people who have committed a fair chunk of their career to accounting are now looking for something different.

A LinkedIn commenter got pretty vulnerable about whether the CPA was a worthwhile investment.

If you’re feeling the grind, you’re not alone. Mental health and personal fulfilment must be part of the plans and processes you build into your firm.

 

Order Of Operation

The energy and happiness in your firm and team start with you.

There is a movie I love called Remember The Titans.

It is about building a football team and overcoming a racially divided high school.

There is a conversation between Gerry, the captain, and Julius, one of the top players that has stuck with me:

Julius:

“I’m supposed to wear myself out for the team?  

What team?

No no… What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna look out for myself And I’m gonna get mine.”

Gerry:

“See, man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard attitude.”

Julius:

“Attitude reflects leadership, Captain.”

The low performance of a qualified, trained employee, more often than not, stems from a bad manager.

I’ve seen the adage, “People don’t quit bad companies; people quit bad managers,” play out many times as an employee and a manager.

Your happiness and energy impact your teams more than you know.

They often depend not on you as a manager but as a mentor.

Managers care about debits + credits, and deadlines. Mentors care about the Why.

If you’re going through the motions without a goal separate from completing the work, there’s a good chance every team member is as well.

 

Introspection

Sometimes, we don’t see trends in how we feel.

It is hard to see the incremental drops in happiness and energy when we spend a few months each year telling ourselves to just push through to deadlines.

We get conditioned to disassociate from our feelings to get the work done.

I am not saying that pushing through is a bad thing. My greatest achievements as an athlete and professional came from persisting in a challenging task.

Pushing through becomes detrimental when it’s the rule instead of the exception.

However, when we’re conditioned by deadlines and external stresses, it’s hard to break the habit without some honest introspection.

Track How You Feel

The first step towards increasing happiness is to track your feelings.

I journal regularly in an old-school notebook about what’s happening in my head. I picked this habit up during covid for my mental health.

It’s my way of checking how I feel.

If you’re not into writing on paper, there is an app that can take a quick temp check each day, which helps you see trends.

I have a friend who did this for a while. His mind was blown after seeing 90 straight days of unhappy feelings.

It was the needed wake-up call to make a massive change in his life.

Honest Conversations

In the last three weeks, I have had two sales calls where CPAs have shared some pretty deep stuff with me.

One wants to scale her Fractional CFO firm while balancing caring for two sets of aging parents. One set of parents is on a different continent.

The other was told by his doctor that he needed to make big changes to his health. His 16-year established go-go-go approach has to change.

Each person mentioned that my questions were like therapy because they sparked deeper thinking.

Both CPAs have been and are successful. But, they’re realizing that long-term success in their firms means optimizing for their lives outside their firms.

 

Making Changes

Inside Your Firm

I found that, in many cases, it is not the work itself that zaps happiness + energy. It is the clients attached to the work.

If the client is demanding, argues over fees, is unresponsive and challenges your expertise, no amount of revenue will make that client profitable.

The extra mental bandwidth that goes into that relationship kills your and your team’s energy and productivity.

In other firms, an employee is the drain on you and the rest of the team.

I have fired toxic top performers in businesses and non-profit organizations. In every case, the rest of the team instantly started performing better.

From an old-school firm view, firing clients and team members is a certain death.

Fewer clients mean fewer billable hours.

Fewer bodies mean fewer billable hours.

Instead of optimizing for more hours, we need to optimize to get more from our hours.

I get more from 6 hours of focused, energized work than 10 hours of distracted, mundane work. Your team does, too.

Outside Your Firm

The things we do outside of work make us more productive than anything we can do inside of work.

Exercise, hobbies and other pursuits make us maximize the time we spend in our firm.

Sidebar:

My daughters attend a Waldorf school. The curriculum is delivered based on the physiological development of a child instead of their age. It also leverages the natural rhythms in life to deliver educational content.

It may sound a bit like hocus pocus, but we have found that it’s had a profound impact on our children. The approach treats the children as natural, unique entities.

It’s no secret that many professional schedules, hours of commuting and output expectations are not natural or healthy. The whole 40-hour work week has roots in the industrial age.

As a firm owner, we have more control over those variables.

When I lean into my natural productivity rhythm and emphasize downtime just as much as uptime, I get more from the hours I work.

Creating and sticking to downtime is the required reset I need.

Achieving consistent mental uptime and output is a myth.

________

I hope this has sparked a change for you.

Take care of yourself.

Build The Firm You Want.

Mark

P.S. Email Mark@FirmNexus.com with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

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