Philip Fisher continues his work-life balance series with a look at how partners can avoid burnout and work the hours stated in their contracts.
I was going to start this section by suggesting that from bitter experience the vast majority of partners with whom I have had the pleasure of practising work far too hard. However, on reflection, it may be better to rephrase that by suggesting that they spend too much time in the office and too many hours away from it occupied with business issues.
The distinction is important, since in many cases if the office was locked at 6 pm. and not reopened until 9 am there would be no disadvantage to the practice. Similarly, if a mysterious virus stopped the iPhone/Blackberry from operating outside those hours the world would not end. Some might disagree.
Learn to delegate
Bearing that in mind, the first stage in helping you as a partner to enjoy life more should be an exercise to determine the amount of time that is wasted in the office, either pretending to be macho by working till nine at night merely fiddling around or failing to delegate unimportant pieces of work.
Ultimately, unless an activity is enhancing the business, you are wasting your time. This could apply to a marketing strategy as easily as checking a set of accounts for the 37th time, even though it has already been through three pairs of experienced hands. Many of us are bad at delegation but it is an important art form that can reduce stress and increase life expectancy.
Having completed that exercise, it should be possible to understand whether and how the working day can be compressed into the working day as stated in your contract/service agreement.
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Break the ‘always on’ routine
Certain conscious decisions can help a great deal. If nothing else, you might wish to follow my example and turn off the work phone/email server when on holiday. Typically, I would regard day one of any long holiday as fair game to clear up problems and then only check every two to three days thereafter. This has never caused a problem. You might also wish to provide a safety net by asking a colleague/secretary to field any queries and agree that they can call you at a specific time or with a specific message if there is anything desperately urgent.
Having got the hang of this tricky but miraculous bid for freedom, you could then extend the principle to weekends and quite possibly non-business hours.
Enjoy time at work
Trying to make working hours enjoyable is also a helpful way to improve the quality of life. If you are a football fan, then not only ensure that your firm gets a box at Arsenal/Spurs/Chelsea/West Ham or for arty types the Opera, theatre or alternative entertainment venue but also make full use of it yourself by entertaining clients.
I know others who broke up the tedium and stress of working life by becoming involved with their firm’s international association and attending conferences around the world tour three times a year.
Long lunches get you out of the office and can also be pleasurable even if you have to humour the odd boring client to justify the cost and time foregone.
Another way of reducing stress is to work at home once or twice a week. This takes out the daily commute, allows uninterrupted work on important projects and might even enable you to catch up with the kids when they are actually awake.
Look to the future
A completely different approach, as suggested in an earlier episode of this series is to accept that life as an accountant is hell but restrict its longevity. I have a colleague who decided before he hit 40 that he wished to retire to Florida on his 50th birthday. He accepted ludicrously hard working hours with that goal in mind. Sadly, the punchline doesn’t quite work since he entered the second half-century a few years ago and is still based in London, although not working quite as hard as previously.
Another friend did rather better, having worked in the Big Four throughout his career, which was great for the bank balance when he retired and now spends over six months of each year enjoying luxury cruises and exotic holidays while improving his golf handicap on the rare occasions when he is at home.