Whether you are in public or private accounting, there’s no denying that deadlines are a normal part of the accounting profession. But it’s not just our accounting work that has deadlines – our personal life also has plenty of deadlines.
For example, not only are there filing deadlines for work projects like tax returns or financial reports but there are also plenty of deadlines like bills that need to be paid or discounts we want to take advantage of before they expire. As far as deadlines go, being both an accountant and a mom typically comes with many deadlines throughout the year.
For the accountants who meet their deadlines so diligently, it’s often due to becoming incredibly stressed and overwhelmed and working late, throwing their peace of mind and work-life balance entirely off kilter. There are also those accountants that end up missing various deadlines, making them feel guilty and even more stressed and overwhelmed.
So whether you’re one of the accountants who always meet their deadlines or not, I’m going to bet that you might dread certain deadlines either way. But the funny thing is that not only do deadlines come from outside of us, but there are also plenty of self-imposed deadlines, which can negatively impact our relationship with deadlines.
For example, the deadlines we set for ourselves to achieve certain goals like losing 20 pounds in 3 months for that upcoming wedding or having all the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away by Sunday night. It’s not just those corporate or government-imposed deadlines that create pressure; we’ve also got plenty of other self-imposed deadlines that we heap on the pile.
Another interesting thing is that some accountants swear that nothing would get done if they didn’t have a deadline. If you can relate to that belief, you probably have an issue with procrastination which creates an unhealthy dependence on deadlines.
If you think about it, we may not only have a negative relationship with deadlines, but we can also make deadlines become the boss of us. I don’t have clear statistics, but in the productivity and efficiency world of the accounting profession, I’m going to bet that at least 50% of accountants could benefit from improving their relationship with deadlines.
So since you’re the one listening to this podcast, it doesn’t matter where you fall in the spectrum of your relationship with deadlines; this episode will be super helpful. The truth is that if you want to manage your time better, get more done in less time, and feel better about the work you do, you need to put some effort into improving your relationship with deadlines.
This week I’m going to discuss how your relationship with deadlines is developed and how to improve it.
How your relationship with deadlines is developed
Whether you love them or hate them, there are no escaping deadlines as an accountant. Even if you live your personal life without any self-imposed deadlines, have plenty of freedom to do what you want when you want, or you’re an accounting entrepreneur that runs their own practice, deadlines are an integral part of the work you do as an accountant, therefore, your relationship with them needs to be understood.
In fact, many accountant moms’ whole personal and professional lives are a series of revolving deadlines – from regulatory agencies, clients, and banks, to school, family obligations, and healthcare. You’ve not only got tax returns, loan payments, and license renewals, but you’ve also got event planning, teeth cleaning, mammograms, and biological clocks.
If you’re anything like the accountant moms I coach, your relationship with deadlines is probably full of contradictions. You might crave them, avoid them, depend on them, and resent them, all within the span of one week.
For example, you might feel a sense of accomplishment when you meet a work deadline, feel resistant and avoid signing the school permission slip for the class trip that’s due by this Friday, feel grateful for the 25% off coupon code that expires by the end of the month, and resent the tax deadline that affects your travel plans with your family.
For those of you who avoid deadlines or resent them, the reason is that you have a human brain. As I’ve shared on the podcast, you have two main operating systems in your brain – the lower, primitive brain and the higher, executive functioning part of the brain.
Your lower brain is the part of your brain that runs your life 80 – 90% of the time, and it is motivated by three things – to seek pleasure, to avoid pain, and to conserve energy. So what does this all have to do with your relationship with deadlines? Everything!
If you avoid or resent deadlines, it’s because your lower brain is motivated to avoid pain and conserve energy. Your brain expects the task that needs to be done to be unpleasant and take effort, which it is not on board with.
So what happens is that you end up rationalizing why it’s okay to work on something later, all because your lower brain is running the show. The problem is that the longer you wait, the more resistant your brain becomes and the more pressure, guilt, and resistance you feel.
On the other hand, if you are someone who craves and depends on deadlines, that could also be a hidden problem for the same reason – you have a human brain. If the dread of missing a deadline or the thrill of hitting it becomes what drives your actions, you might be dependent on the dopamine hit you get from a deadline and end up overworking to chase that high you get from deadlines.
If that’s the case, you probably rationalize why it’s okay to work more hours or use the deadline as a motivational tool to spring into action, bear down, and get stuff done. While it might sound like it makes sense, you must also understand the ramifications of a dependent relationship to deadlines.
One of the main issues is that this can be one of the pre-cursors to burnout – not understanding why you have the relationship you have with deadlines and what to do about it. It might not seem like it’s a problem to crave or depend on deadlines, but that’s because you’re solely focused on the result of getting work done and not on how that focus is affecting every other area of your life.
If you’ve had a chance to listen to episode #213, where I interviewed Lara Johnson, the spouse of a busy CPA, she explained that while work and deadlines are an accountant's whole world, it’s not your family’s whole world. Therefore, when you make deadlines all-consuming, rather than finding ways to balance every area of your life, you’re creating an unhealthy relationship with deadlines at the expense of other things.
I’ve worked with and spoken to accountants who are so obsessed with deadlines that they don’t know what to do with themselves once a deadline has passed. They define their value and worth based on meeting deadlines, and they feel lost without one.
While I think deadlines are helpful in being able to be productive and in better time management, I also think it’s important to understand your current relationship to deadlines and how you can improve it. If you want to manage your time better, create more time for the things and the people you love, and get more done in less time, you’ll want to improve your relationship with deadlines.
The most important thing to understand is that your relationship with deadlines is based on what you choose to think about them. But even if you think your relationship with deadlines is fine, you still need to be aware of how you feel when you think about deadlines and what you do or don’t do when you feel that way.
For example, if you feel rushed, you’re going to take a different action than if you feel calm and in control. The truth is that deadlines don’t cause you to feel anything – only your thoughts about deadlines create how you feel.
Thankfully, no matter what your relationship with deadlines is like, you can always improve it.
How to improve your relationship with deadlines
I’ve done numerous podcast episodes on your relationship with various things – your relationship with people, money, and to time, to name a few – but I’m going to give a quick synopsis of what I teach when it comes to improving your relationship with anything or anyone. Any relationship you have is based on your thoughts about that person, place, or thing.
The reason that’s important to understand because your thoughts are 100% optional. You’re not stuck hating someone or something just because you’ve been thinking about it in a certain way for a while.
If you think about it, you’ve already changed your relationship with many different people, places, and things throughout your life. For example, there are probably foods you hated as a child that you now like or at least feel less negative about.
Maybe you were hurt by someone a while ago, and now you rarely even think about them, changing your relationship from painful to indifferent. Or think about how many things were new and confusing when you first became an accountant, and now you can do them with your eyes closed.
I specifically remember being completely confused by the adjusting journal entry for payroll taxes for the longest time. I had only ever worked in a big firm and had never used Quickbooks, done bank reconciliations, or prepared adjusting journal entries.
I was so confused and felt incompetent because I couldn’t wrap my brain around the various clients that I was working on. That was until I changed how I thought about the tasks I had to do.
Once I changed how I thought about them, I improved how I felt about them; I was open to learning the best way to approach them, and now what I used to despise I can do with no problem. I improved my relationship with various tasks because I changed how I thought about them.
The same goes for your relationship with deadlines – change how you think about them, and you’ll change your relationship with them. The best part is when you feel better about deadlines, you do better work and make it possible to not only meet the deadlines but improve your productivity and efficiency.
For example, having been in the tax department my entire 30+ year career, I had a very antagonistic relationship with tax season deadlines. My thoughts were typically things like, “This is so hard,” “I hate this time of year,” or “I can’t stand deadlines.”
The issue was that thoughts like these made me feel frustrated and resistant. But when I felt frustrated and resistant, I also made it harder on myself to get the work done for the deadline, to figure out the best course of action, to get more done in less time, and to be as efficient as I could.
As I shared before, even if you crave deadlines or your relationship is more dependent on them, you need to get clear about what you’re currently thinking and feeling that’s creating that dependence and be willing to acknowledge the not-so-positive results you’re getting from that dependence.
For example, if you pride yourself on working 80-hour weeks to meet deadlines, you have to be willing to take a look at what you’re thinking and feeling that’s leading you to work that many hours and the effect it’s having on you mentally, physically, and relationally. How is that dependence affecting those around you?
I’m not saying that you should blow off a deadline at all, but if you discover that your thought is something like, “I’ve got to meet this deadline, or else,” you might want to take a look at how that feeling of fear is driving your actions and how helpful that is. Again, you can still meet any deadline even if you improve your relationship with deadlines, but you can meet them in a way that doesn’t burn you out in the process.
Once I improved my own relationship with deadlines, I saw a huge improvement in my efficiency and time management. For the past few years, I’ve been able to complete my tax season work a week ahead of the deadline, giving me time to calmly review everything, catch anything I might have otherwise missed, and not work until midnight on April 15th.
So whether you love them or hate them, deadlines will be a part of the accounting profession for a long time; you might as well work on improving your relationship with them so that you can finish what’s necessary with your sanity intact. With some brain management, deadlines can actually become a welcomed part of your work and your life.
* Whether you are in public or private accounting, there’s no denying that deadlines are a normal part of the accounting profession.
* Even if you live your personal life without any self-imposed deadlines, have plenty of freedom to do what you want when you want, or you’re an accounting entrepreneur that runs their own practice, deadlines are an integral part of the work you do as an accountant, therefore, your relationship with them needs to be understood.