We just hired a new employee at my firm and my boss was explaining to this employee who I am and what I do for the company, especially since I only work 6 hours a day, 4 days a week in the office. He explained to this employee that “Dawn gets more done in less time than anyone I’ve ever seen. I honestly don’t know how she does it.” Well today I’m going to share one of my best time saving tips – knowing the difference between data versus drama.
You see, as accountants, we live in an exceptionally data-driven world, surrounded by facts and figures all day, every day. We are the compilers, synthesizers, and analyzers of our company and client’s data, helping to make sense of it all so that decisions can be made today and in the future.
In essence, we are the keepers of most of the data that supports the success, and tries to avoid the failure, of individuals and businesses all over the world. We evaluate data and extract the information it’s telling us, in order to decide what changes may need to be made based on that data.
We deal with the facts and statistics collected for our reference and analysis purposes, and as we all know, if the data that we’re looking at is not put into context, it’s going to be useless. Until we know why we’re looking at the numbers, we don’t know the purpose.
We are also constantly looking at data in order to report what happened over a period of time and to come up with a forecast for what we believe might happen in the future. It’s not always easy, but our companies and the public rely on us to make sense of things that most people aren’t trained to understand.
As we have all traveled along our own career paths, going to school, possibly taking the CPA exam, and working in the accounting field, we have also developed what I like to refer to as the “accountant’s brain”. Even though we may work in different fields of accounting, or have vastly different levels of knowledge, we’ve all been trained to work with and analyze numbers, as well as find solutions to problems.
Unfortunately, that accountant brain of ours can become an issue if we don’t understand how to manage it properly. As I’ve shared before on the podcast, it’s like having the most amazing piece of machinery on the planet but not being given an instruction manual on how to use all the features.
So what can often happen when it comes to your accountant brain and dealing with so much data, is that you can become so used to believing certain things, that you just automatically assume that what you believe is a fact. For example, most public accountants would say it’s a fact that tax season is stressful, and they would be happy to show you all the data they have to support that fact; or they’ll tell you that it’s impossible to get everything done in the time they have available, arguing that their busyness is a fact, not fiction.
The problem though is that many of our assumptions can most often be drama and not data, causing a lot of unnecessary issues for us both professionally and personally, especially when it comes to our ability to manage our time. Because of the data-driven work that accountants do, we can frequently get caught in the trap of not being able to delineate between data versus drama, wasting a lot of time and energy in the process.
That accountant brain of ours is great for analyzing and processing lots of data, but it’s not so great at separating out the data from our beliefs about that data. Here’s why that’s so important for us as accountants – because until you understand how your accountant brain works, you will overwhelm yourself with problems, not being able to truly understand what’s true data and what’s just drama, and wasting a lot of precious time.
Let’s be honest, I have yet to meet an accountant who doesn’t want to reduce their overwhelm and stress. I promise you that if you get a better handle on separating data versus drama, you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as my coaching clients and I have been once we gained this awareness and improved their time management.
This week I’m going to discuss a better way to understand the difference between data and drama, and then I’m going to share a much better way to handle drama.
A better way to understand the difference between data and drama
While we’re all used to dealing with data for the accounting work we do, we also have a lot of data in our personal lives as well. For example, the balance on your credit card statement, the address you need to plug into Waze, or the price comparison of one brand of bread versus another – we have to deal with data in so many different ways.
Although there are many definitions of data, I personally like the definition of data that philosophy offers which states that data is “things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.” Basically data isn’t just the numbers that we deal with in our work and our everyday lives – data is ALL the things outside of us.
In essence, data are the facts that we really cannot control. It’s things like the weather, the words someone said to you when they were angry, and the fact that your middle schooler doesn’t want to play soccer anymore like you did when you were her age.
So when it comes to the difference between data and drama it’s important to understand that data is actually neutral, which means it’s neither good nor bad. What often trips so many of us up, is when we start interpreting data and make it mean something that creates drama.
The truth is that data is just the facts, but it’s when you start to interpret those facts that drama can come into play. With that in mind, the biggest issue I see for so many people, accountants and non-accountants, is that we believe our interpretation of data is also a fact, but most of the time it’s not – it’s really an optional interpretation of a fact.
For example, there’s the fact of the weather being rainy today, but when you interpret that fact as “This is going to be horrible getting to work” or “Well that just ruined everything”, it’s actually your optional interpretation that creates drama. More often than not, drama leads to unhelpful feelings like worry, frustration, or resistance.
Of course not all interpretations of data cause drama, but unfortunately it happens much more than you realize. Another example would be the balance on your credit card statement – that is just data, but how often do you have a completely neutral interpretation of that data? How often do you think it’s too high and feel overwhelmed? Or think it’s never going to get paid off and start to worry?
The problem is that when you think it’s too high and feel overwhelmed, you believe you’re just stating a fact, instead of an interpretation of a fact. When that happens, when you confuse drama for data, you’re actually overwhelming your brain in the process.
The reason this is incredibly important for accountants to understand is because your accountant brain actually reduces the number of options you perceive to be available to you when you are in a fight/flight/freeze state that comes with drama. You literally reduce the ability of that intelligent brain of yours to find solutions because drama sends your lower brain into survival mode.
When this happens, your decision-making ability is decreased exponentially because you’ve decreased the options your brain has to choose from. You are putting the parking brake on, but still trying to drive somewhere fast.
I have a perfect example of this from a month ago in my office – that same boss that was explaining how much more I get done than anyone else, well he and and I were going over some workpapers in the conference room (we’re not paperless yet) and while he was looking at the prior year workpapers, he started to get agitated. I asked him what the problem was and he said the date on the prior year workpapers was one week earlier last year than we were looking at this year’s workpapers; the date on the workpaper was 9/5/20 and we were looking at this year’s workpapers on 9/10/21.
I asked him why that was a problem and he was shocked that I didn’t see it as a problem. I explained that what I saw on the top of the workpaper were numbers – it was data, not drama. The meaning he gave to that date from the prior year workpapers was that we were behind, that we weren’t working as efficiently as we did the prior year, and that we were going to miss the deadline.
He literally could not see the other optional ways to look at that data because his brain was in panic mode, created by his perception of the data. Since I was able to see data and not choose drama, I showed him how we were actually ahead of schedule, how we had been more productive and efficient than last year, and how we were going to have no issue with the deadline.
He laughed and said, “You have no idea how many times I see data, like the date on the calendar or the date on a workpaper, and create drama in my head”. Unfortunatley, it’s not just dates that have triggered drama for him and a lot of other accountants – it’s often things like the fact that the IRS proposed a new change, that clients are calling about their quarterly estimates, or that the pool of qualified candidates is smaller than in the past.
It’s important to know that the more accustomed you are to seeing drama and believing you are stating a fact, the easier it will be for your brain to jump to that conclusion. The truth is that whatever you practice becomes stronger, even when it comes to your perception of data versus drama, which is why you will want to get a better handle on it now, rather than wait until you end up with a drama-filled, stressed out life.
A much better way to handle drama
On a previous episode of this podcast, episode #29 – How To Stop Being A Drama Mama, I discussed how being a drama mama can detrimentally affect your children. In that episode I shared that there was a study done in which the researchers found that they could measure a couple’s marital happiness by asking them questions or, more importantly, taking a 24 hour urine sample of their children.
At first this might seem confusing – what does a child’s urine sample have to do with a couple’s marital happiness – but what the researchers found was that children who get upset when their parents fight are more likely to have higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their urine. The test involved 200, 6 year-olds whose parents had a simulated telephone argument, and what they discovered is that the increase in cortisol also increased their blood pressure, blood sugar, and reduced their immune response.
The reason I’m reiterating this now is that even if you’re not having marital issues that your children may be affected by, whether you realize it or not, the way YOU are affected by drama absolutely has a detrimental effect on you and indirectly on them as well. For example, think about the last time you were frustrated or overwhelmed at work – not only did that affect how you showed up and did your work, but it most likely also affected how you showed up at home, even if you were trying your best to leave your work issues at work.
In addition, all those stress hormones, cortisol, discovered in the children’s urine in that study I just shared – the same thing is happening to you. So whether you want to work on a better way to handle data versus drama for your sake or your children’s, I’m going to help you learn how to delineate between the two.
So the key point to remember when it comes to data versus drama is that data is not only neutral, but in order for it to be considered data, everyone would need to agree on the facts of the data. For example, if your spouse said “I don’t want to go to that restaurant”, the data in that situation are the words he said in which you would both agree that they said them, and if they needed to be proven in a court of law, everyone would agree that those were the words said.
In other words, data is just the facts of a situation and those facts don’t mean anything until we make it mean something with our thoughts about the data. It’s the thoughts we have about the data that give it meaning and it’s those thoughts that can more often than not create drama.
In the example I shared about my boss and I looking at the prior year workpapers, the data was the numbers on the top of the page that were in the form of a date. The neutral fact was that we had put that date on that page last year when we reviewed the workpapers, but the thoughts that we each had about that date gave those numbers a unique meaning to each of us.
His interpretation of the data created drama and anxiety for him based on his thoughts about that date, wasting a lot of time spinning in his mind about the drama; my interpretation created no drama, and created calm for me, based on my thoughts about the same exact date. But here’s the most important point I want you to understand – until I pointed out and created an awareness for him about the drama he was creating, he didn’t realize that there was another optional way to look at that data.
He’s definitely not alone because most of the accountants I work with and coach have the same issue and to be honest, I did as well before I learned how to manage my mind. We are so quick to assume that we’re just stating facts, when in reality we’re just stating our thoughts about facts and believing there’s nothing we can do about it and not realizing how much that is affecting the amount of time it takes to get our work done.
Thankfully you have a human brain and with that comes to the ability to think about what you think about. You have the incredible ability to actually write down the thoughts that your lower, primitive brain is offering you, and you get to not only determine which are data and which are drama, but then you get to decide which thought you’d like to think instead.
So how do you know if it’s drama? Check in with how you feel – that is the best indicator of whether it’s data or drama because again, data is neutral, therefore it doesn’t create a feeling. Your thoughts and interpretation of the data will create how you feel.
Here are some examples of drama that most accountants believe is a fact, and how it typically feels:
- Tax season is stressful – overwhelmed
- I don’t have enough time to get this done – anxious
- I don’t know what to do – confused
- They shouldn’t wait until the last minute – frustrated
These are just a few examples of the drama that accountants often create, so if you notice that you’re feeling things like overwhelmed, anxious, confused, or frustrated, stop and ask yourself why. Why am I feeling this way? The answer will be the drama you’ve created by the thoughts your lower brain offered.
This is how I get twice as much done as everyone else in much less time – knowing the difference between data and drama. I just question how I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way, notice the thought creating the drama, and choose on purpose how I want to think about the data, in a way that actually supports me.
So hopefully you can see that although we deal with a lot of data in our line of work, not everything we believe is factual, is actually a fact. My suggestion is that you check in with yourself more often in the upcoming days and weeks, making sure you know what is data versus what is drama, and begin to take back control over the drama and over your time.
- What can often happen when it comes to your accountant brain and dealing with so much data, is that you can become so used to believing certain things, that you just automatically assume that what you believe is a fact.
- The problem though is that many of our assumptions can most often be drama and not data, causing a lot of unnecessary issues for us both professionally and personally.
- Until you understand how your accountant brain works, you will overwhelm yourself with problems, not being able to truly understand what’s true data and what’s just drama.