By Jared Korver, CPA
Raise your virtual hands if you consider yourself task-oriented, or if you tend to use checklists a lot at your work. Unfortunately, I can’t count your virtual hands, but my guess is many of you raised them.
This is, for the most part, a good thing. In our profession, being task-oriented and organized are tools that will go a long way toward making you good at your job. But there is a potential pitfall here, a pitfall that doesn’t just relate to your penchant toward lists, but is also symptomatic of workload compression and other “meta” sorts of accounting issues.
And that pitfall is this: that we often don’t take time to think.
I’m reading a book by Bill Bryson called A Short History of Nearly Everything. It is a fascinating book if you like science but aren’t smart enough to read most science books (this is me). Basically, Bryson looks at most of the major scientific developments of human history and breaks down the major players and their methods for arriving at those developments. And what’s striking to me as I read it is how many of these women and men arrived at staggering breakthroughs by just thinking their way there. For example, the beginnings of geology as we know it were based on a bunch of rich guys in London who committed their summers to doing fieldwork. They had no real training or even an academic interest in geology—they simply had time to wander and think about what they saw while they were doing so. And they just so happened to stumble into some amazing geological discoveries along the way.
If science isn’t your gig, maybe this will intrigue you: George Shultz, the former Secretary of State in the 80’s, committed himself to taking one uninterrupted hour each week to do nothing except think. He said that hour ended up being much more than “nothing,” because it was the only time during his week that he could address the larger-scale, strategic portions of his job. And those are important portions of any job!
Important, but often neglected. Either because of our own personal tendencies to shy away from “doing nothing” (i.e. not accomplishing tangible tasks and ticking boxes), or because of employers’ reticence to allow (much less encourage) “doing nothing,” we often sacrifice thinking and all of its breakthroughs at the altar of busyness. I wonder when that will catch up to us?
It’s easy for me to call out the problem, I know. And I don’t have a groundbreaking solution to offer at the end of this post. But I do think it’s time we as individual CPAs and we as a profession at large at least consider that as so-called knowledge workers, we can only get so far with our checklists. And if we aren’t intentional about building in uninterrupted thinking time into our lives and organizations, we might shortchange a great deal of potential in the form of productivity, profitability, and happiness.
As Morgan Housel wrote in a great piece last week:
“It’s not about working less. It’s the opposite: A lot of knowledge jobs basically never stop, and without structuring time to think and be curious you wind up less efficient during the hours that are devoted to sitting at your desk cranking out work… It’s up to you to figure it out. The first step is realizing that taking time in the middle of your day to do stuff that doesn’t look like work is the most important part of your work day.”
Jared Korver, CPA, works at Beacon Wealthcare, where he helps CPAs and attorneys spend more time doing the things they care about by providing ongoing advice and insight into their financial decisions. A product of Carthage, North Carolina, Jared and his wife Amy live in Raleigh with their son. Jared holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting from Appalachian State University and NC State University, respectively. He can be reached at email@example.com.