Co-founder Mazuma
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Ditch the office: Why accountants need to carve out time for themselves

These days getting away from the office in a physical and a mental sense has never been harder. Lucy Cohen explains why it’s crucial that you have a break from the day to day stresses of running your practice​.

15th Nov 2019
Co-founder Mazuma
Columnist
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Smartphone addiction
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You’ve done it. You’ve finally done it. After a period of hard work, blood, sweat and tears you’ve only gone and booked yourself a bloomin’ holiday. Just imagine: a week or two away from the hustle and bustle of the office. Your diary is blissfully free of reminders and meeting invites. Your out of office is firmly and smugly set.

But you run your own practice. So if all that sounds a little alien to you, read on.

In the era of smartphones and tablets, getting away from the office in a physical sense may be easier than ever. But getting away from the office in a mental sense has never been a harder task, especially if that office is your own business.

Had I become that monster?

This stark reality was highlighted to me in a very personal way recently. In October I went off to Italy to get married and then spend a further week roaming around the country eating any carbohydrate that crossed my path.

Amidst the chaos of transporting ourselves, our families and various important outfits abroad for the big day, my almost-husband leaned over to me on the plane and said: “You are going to take a few days off your emails, aren’t you?”

Wow. Had I become that monster? The stereotypical business person stuck to their phone? Peter Banning from Hook? 

Getting away from the office in a physical sense may be easier than ever. But getting away from the office in a mental sense has never been harder.

Of course, I’d been warning people for weeks prior that I’d be off-limits as far as contact went, at least for the first week I was away. So I felt like I’d done the groundwork to buy myself a bit of peace and quiet in the digital sphere. I was sadly mistaken.

It turns out that plenty of people completely ignore this, and then further ignore your out-of-office. Of course, I didn’t respond to anything but the most pressing of matters (and that was usually to delegate to someone else). 

But I had more than one email “following up” on an email from a couple of days before with a “just checking you’d got this”. I fear my past behaviour has very much built a rod for my own back. It’s a good job I like what I do so much.

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It's the deal you make 

I’m one of the lucky ones though. Not only do I have a business partner who can pick up my slack when I’m away, but I also have a management team and staff who do all the client contact. My role sits very much in business development, so at least I don’t have clients chasing me for deadline-sensitive work anymore.

It hasn’t always been that way. I vividly remember one skiing trip where I spent a day on the chalet Wi-Fi trying to navigate an IT disaster back home while my friends all took to the slopes.

There is a part of me that accepts that, if an emergency strikes, I’d probably have to do similar again. That’s the sort of deal you make when you run your own business. Is it selling your soul? Only if you don’t learn how to manage the situation.

So what if you do have to deal with clients directly, or struggle to get some peace? How do you manage to carve out time for yourself when you run your own practice? Especially if it’s just you, or a small team?

Back in the early days of running my practice I remember never really feeling like I could take any time away from the mental part of the business.

I felt compelled to answer emails when I was on leave. I took phone calls while I should have been having a break. And I burned out. I learned the hard way that you need to set some serious boundaries if you’re planning on actually relaxing when you take a week off from your own business.

It’s crucial that you have a break from the day to day stresses of running your practice. It’s vitally important that you refresh and recharge when you’ve put yourself in such a high-pressure situation.

A break from the routine can revitalise you and provide you with important perspective in your business. You can find yourself incubating new ideas and finding renewed vigour with the right amount of time for yourself.

How to carve out time for yourself

Here are my top tips for carving out time for you:

Allocate yourself a fixed amount of annual leave and use it. It’s way too easy to take the odd day here and there and never get an extended period of time for yourself. It’s also far too easy not to take a break at all, especially in the first couple of years of your business.

Manage client expectations. Tell clients well in advance when you’ll be away and that you won’t be responding to emails. They may still email you, but at least you’ve managed that expectation.

Set an out-of-office giving the dates you’ll be away from and sign-posting people to FAQs or similar while you’re away. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of business owners who don’t do it.

Do. Not. Reply. To. Emails. If people think that you’ll still respond while you’re away then they won’t take it seriously when you say you’re not available. Trust me – I’m still paying for this mistake!

Get a call answering service if you’re a sole practitioner. If clients have your mobile number, divert your calls to a friendly and professional call answering service when you’re unavailable. This gives your absence additional credence and also provides a friendly human reiterating when you’ll be back in the office.

Throw your phone into the sea. (Just kidding)

We all want to be the best that we can be. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that means working ourselves to burn-out. If you want to run a successful practice and, more importantly, enjoy it and stay healthy, you need to take steps to make sure that you get time for yourself.

You don’t have to go on a long haul flight and lie on a beach to do it. Strategic, high-quality time off will do wonders for the health of you and your business.

Replies (7)

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By mkowl
15th Nov 2019 10:09

I am just about getting back to an even keel after taking a 2 week break in summer 2018.

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By jamieacc
15th Nov 2019 10:48

This is so important, I now go on holiday with our young family and switch my phone off when we leave the house and turn it back on again when we return. This is something I had to learn very quickly when on my first holiday after setting up in practice i returned to the hotel room at 10pm to find a barrage of missed calls and texts from a friend/client demanding that I call him and so i did and all he wanted to discuss was whether I thought he might be able to remortgage in 3 months time! This was not improtant and I was only away for a week, so after this I decied that I was going to switch off all connections for each holiday and it is so much more enjoyable! I ensure that all urgent work is completed before holiday and that clients are aware that I am going to be away, anything that occurs whilst on holiday has to wait until I return.

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By Diana Miller
15th Nov 2019 11:50

I am one of the few people that does not have a mobile so, if my laptop is off re emails nobody can get to me. To be honest the laptop is rarely off but when necessary it just buys me a few hours sanity. Email traffic is however constant with the assumption you read it as soon as it is received. The stress of being a sole practitioner is incredible.It has racked up gradually over 10 + years and so I guess we have adjusted and got used to it but anybody else I speak to outside the profession things we are mad.

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Replying to Diana Miller:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
15th Nov 2019 14:05

Diana, all my clients understand that I work in the week (between 9am and 6pm or so) and at weekends and evenings they can wait for a response until working hours.

If you are answering out of hours regularly, then you are creating the expectation of that level of service.

I don't have a work mobile either as I find texts too much hassle.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
17th Nov 2019 09:59

It depends what you mean by "taking time for yourself". You dont have to take a holiday to take time off.

I havent taken a set-number-of-days-holiday in years but I have set myself a rule that I'm out of the office at least once a week and (apart from looking at Accweb to catch up on what is happening etc) I have Sunday off (unless Tom is pushing for an article!).

I also see most clients outside of the office at a very nice relaxing hotel up the road for a cappuchino and fattening cake.

Attending networking events is time off.. it can be fun if you choose the group carefully.
Being self employed means that you can go to events that other people who work 9-5 cant.. a day out to Accountex for example (3 hours train doing nothing except looking at the countryside as you travel). This Weds I'm off to a landlords event being given by the local Council to include a buffet on taxpayers money - nothing to do with tax.

Until a month ago I didnt have a smart phone - I do now but the email facility is permanently switched off. If clients want me their emails have to wait until I'm back in the office. I put on Google's automated email response.

... but then I live in the heart of Dorset and my "time off" is looking at the view of the hills whenever I look up from my desk.

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By Gillian Mill
18th Nov 2019 15:30

The concept of time off is really interesting and is mainly about client expectation.
I work flexi-time and my message to clients is very clear. I am at work for 35 hours a week most weeks but those hours are not at set times; if you ring / email outside of that I will answer the next time I am in.
Clients see me out riding my horse or walking the dog at 11am on a weekday and never complain. I do get emails which say " nice morning so i presume you'll answer when it starts raining."

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AIMS Accountants for Business
By AIMS
18th Nov 2019 16:28

As someone who works with a lot of accountants who started their own sole practice to get away from the constant time pressures and deadlines of big business, it's also interesting to note how this applies on a much smaller scale as well! When your home is your office, it's vital to get out of the house for a little while each day.

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