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.
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.
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.
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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.