It happens to all of us. A project gets on our desk and we stall out; a credit card bill needs to be challenged with the bank and we can’t get the energy to get it done; a book we really want to read sits on the night stand waiting for the day you actually crack the cover. Like I said, it happens to all of us.
As an accountant I feel overwhelm often. People don’t bring me the easy ones and the IRS doesn’t care about your schedule. They pay me for things that make mere mortals head’s explode. Generally I’m booked out 6-8 weeks, and any time I say yes to something or set an appointment within 6 weeks it means I subtract it from personal time. Then I stall out!
It isn’t the worst or most difficult tasks that cause my tires to spin. I eventually reach a point where fatigue sets in and if your file is in the wrong place at the wrong time (or I made too many commitments), it ends up on the hellish side of my desk where things don’t get done. I keep putting it off because opening the file creates visions of pain in my skull. When fate (a disgruntled client) pushes me to engage the task it usually is something much less involved than I thought.
Tax season is the worst. As sleep deprivation takes its toll certain files just seem to be too much to handle. I put it off and put it off until weeks have passed and I have some explaining to do to a client. It might not even be my fault. A regular client has a crisis and it sets me back. Something had to give!
Even during the off tax season I get into a bind. Some jobs just stall me out. Do I really want to that now? Of course the answer is “No.” That’s why I’ve been putting it off.
In every case when things start piling up on my desk there a pattern. Before my energy wanes too much I roll up my sleeves and demand I take responsibility. I sit at my desk and get it done! The attitude works for a while until several clients with urgent demands crush my schedule and put me into a deeper bind. The forced labor never lasts for long. Productivity declines until I’m at my desk all day and less and less gets done.
There is a solution, however. When I’ve exhausted all methods to prod me forward I do what I should have done from the beginning: take a break.
Yes, take a break. And I don’t mean 15 minutes either. Once I get that far behind and clients are calling non-stop I step away. At this point I will either burnout completely or make serious errors. Probably both. The only solution is to take a few days off. I’m in no condition to do good work until I recharge.
The Highway to Hell is Littered with People of Good Intentions
IRS letters might be urgent, but unscheduled work when my calendar is booked tight is problematic. Enough unscheduled work takes away from family and then I get grumpy faster than you think. I NEED me time and family time. I work for pleasure. When it stops being pleasurable I need to reevaluate.
Before this blog my schedule was more manageable. Now I get frequent requests. Daily! I’m still adjusting to the ever changing environment. Before Blog (BB) I enjoyed long periods of time off outside tax season. I work harder now than ever because I really, really, really love writing and I have an audience I love communicating with. Still, those months of quiet leisure are necessary. The pause that refreshes prepares me for another marathon run in the spring.
BB I worked well into the evening during tax season. My batteries were that well charged. Now I work until 5 or so at best. Unfortunately weekend work has appeared. (People do that?) Tax season would wear me out, but by June the office was quiet and I had plenty of family and me time. No more.
Adjusting to the new schedule has proven difficult. I always thought I’d handle stress better. I don’t. The constant demands of people wanting a piece of me is something I don’t handle well. It wears me down.
My intentions are good. I know I can help these people as long as I have adequate time to do so. Taking time off when demands are so great is problematic. Then the proverbial wall fast approaches.
The choice has been eliminated. Begrudgingly I step away for several days. I go home and unplug. I read good books, talk with Mrs. Accountant and my girls and walk around the farm. When I return I am magnitudes of order more productive. I needed time away from the computer screen and the multiple day break did the trick. In a week or less I’m further ahead than I would have been if I attempted to plow through. Sure, plenty of angry emails and phone messages await me. I attack them in the proper order. When allowed to recharge I make better choices, get more work done, which leads to happy clients now that I finish their projects.
And I’m not alone.
Before we continue, I want you to understand this isn’t about me. You see, I know you face the same challenges in your life. An unpleasant task, or at least a perceived one, stalls you out. You procrastinate. In some cases it can cost you big time! It saps the pleasure from life and can even hurt relationships. You need to hear my story to learn the lessons you can apply to your own life.
Your favorite accountant’s story might resonate, but there is an even more visible example: Elon Musk. Musk, you might recall, is the top dog at Tesla, the all-electric car company. He also runs The Boring Company and SpaceX. Solar City is under the Tesla umbrella. Tesla has one of the largest buildings in the world in Nevada producing more batteries than the human race had built throughout all of history. In other words, Musk has his hands full.
For years Musk managed the mine field of tasks. Stress must have been intense often, but Musk seemed to weather well.
Then the endless years of sleep deprivation and incredible demands started to show the world how human Musk really is. A few months ago he called an analyst on the Tesla earnings call a “bonehead”. The stock quickly tanked. Rumors started to appear over working conditions at Tesla. The high investment costs of an auto company kept Musk busy dealing with Tesla’s financial situation while production issues plagued the company and investors were getting antsy over missed production targets and goals.
Musk kept falling. He called one of the rescuers of the kids trapped in a Thailand cave “pedo guy”. That didn’t go over well. In a brief moment of clarity Musk apologized for his “bonehead” remark on the previous earning call. Then the bottom fell out.
In a momentary lapse of sanity Musk tweeted he was considering taking Tesla private and that financing might actually be secured for such an event. This wasn’t exactly true or at least didn’t seem obvious. This set off a firestorm. Tesla stock first rocketed and then collapsed, losing nearly a quarter of its value. Musk now has even more issues and stress to manage.
I personally believe Musk did many of the foolish things he did due to fatigue. He has proven he can handle stress. It was the lack of sleep that probably contributed to many of his recent woes. I read a report that Arianna Huffington encouraged Musk to take a break and get more sleep. Musk’s response: I don’t have time for that right now.
As much as I love Musk, his drive and creativity, he is racing toward potential disaster. He is stressed to the max and it is clear to me he isn’t at his best game anymore. Even under such stress he is still a genius, for sure. But if he keeps pushing he takes the risk his body can’t cash a check his mind has written. That could cost him his life or worse. The world—and his dreams—will not be realized in the way he wants.
Huffington is right. Elon, you need to recharge. You must take a break or it will kill you. The world can live a week without you, but will suffer greatly if we lose you permanently.
And there is one more thing to discuss. You might need a break to beat procrastination. This in turn will increase your wealth as you will make better decisions and move forward at a steady pace without fighting fatigue. My story you’ve read before. Musk is a giant and not like you or me. Now I want to share is a story of a man in this demographic; a man who has managed multiple projects and suffered the same things I have and found solutions. I talked with this man earlier this week. Now I want to share the story of a man known as J Money.
Growing to Significance
J Money, aka J$, is a unique individual. I’m not talking about all the incredible projects he has undertaken over the years and successfully completed. I’m actually talking about his appearance. He has this, ah, haircut. You see, there is only a strip down the middle with the path of hair set up in spikes. If you meet J you’ll also hear his distinctive voice. And, you’ll instantly know you are in the presence of a man who cares deeply for his family and the people consuming his work.
J is a normal guy. Not an Uberman like Musk or a crazy accountant like yours truly. J has three sons and a wife he loves dearly. J could take a knee and live the sweet life of nihilistic decadence if he wanted, but instead he choose to change the world (something Steve Jobs would have appreciated).
J’s accomplishments and legion. His largest contribution to the financial field is Rockstar Finance (recently sold). Rockstar touched every corner of the financial world. But J does so much more. He still publishes Budgets are Sexy, one of the best blogs to grace our demographic. And here is a list of his massive accomplishments. Take a moment and check that last link. Even if you know J, you should review his incredible successes.
Okay, are you back? Excellent.
Have you seen the number of Plutus Awards he’s won? The Lifetime Achievement award is most impressive. You only get that if you’ve dedicated a minimum of 10 years toward serving the financial needs of a hungry public. And he does it with humor as several Plutus awards attest.
Once again I’m going to ask you to take a short break and follow this link so we can seriously discuss the issues. Here is a list of J’s projects, past and present.
Did you check it out? No, it’s okay. I can wait.
Guys like Elon Musk, J and me, are insatiably curious and driven. This is our greatest strength and greatest weakness. Our curiosity and drive allows us to scale new heights and accomplish incredible things. The same drive pushes us past acceptable limits. Before we know it we’ve crossed a line where we are less productive and making poor decisions. I outlined above my weaknesses and Musk’s are very public. But what about J?
As much good as J has done, he still felt the strain of all the responsibilities. Burnout was once again knocking at the door. Then he got some great news. Mrs. J had some good news for our hero. Let’s just say it meant J now has three sons. Three young children is a handful even for a guy as talented as J. Rockstar got sold and effort was made to refocus. Workload had to decrease. It was time to live more.
When you really love a task it’s easy to be consumed. As Musk and me, J’s strong drive needed some adjustment.
As I prepared to write this post I remembered something I heard about J. I thought it best if I confirmed my memory by contacting him. He responded almost instantly.
What I remembered was either reading or hearing J came close to burnout a time or two. What he calls hustles I call a Full-time Job Plus. J confirmed burnout was approaching. With his third child on the way he had to make serious changes.
First, he “. . . forced myself to cram it all in during the week no matter what it takes.” Parkinson’s Law tells us work expands to fill the time allotted. J discovered he could organize his day to get it all done. Weekend work was out! And rare has been the evening when he opens the laptop to work a project. (Note to self: channel J.)
Triad of Hustling
Just cutting the available hours for work isn’t enough. There has to be a process of elimination so certain projects and tasks are discarded permanently. J had a Jordan Peterson moment where he sat down and really thought it through. He came up with his Triad of Hustling.
J discovered there were three variables to any project:
1.) How much time did the activity consume?
2.) How much money did it make (or did it make any)?
3.) Was he having fun?
J felt if he could answer yes to at least two of the variables it was an endeavor worth keeping.
I encourage you to read J’s article fleshing out his Triad of Hustling. I think the variables should apply to everything in life. Many things don’t make money. Fine. Then it better be enjoyable and not consuming all available time. For business ventures money plays a larger role. If it doesn’t it better be as entertaining as hell and take all of three point seven seconds!
More Wisdom from J
I asked J to confirm his weekend rule and if he could provide something I could quote. He was generous in doing so.
Elon Musk could learn a thing of three (triad) from J. J informed me he is approaching his one year anniversary of not working a single weekend and he has held true to his goal. I think you’ll agree his work hasn’t suffered either.
Here are a few highlights of the email J and I shared.
J: All you have to do is not open up your laptop haha… well, that and actually DOING YOUR WORK during the work week and cut out all the distractions (italics mine; note to self: paste to computer screen). Amazingly time opens up for it when you commit to it!
He also lists pros and cons. (Yes, there are cons. If you are honest with yourself you will acknowledge the cons, as well as, the pros.)
Here are several of the pros: More quality reading time, better napping (yes, naps are important!), more alert when with his wife and kids, no need to rush to get back to work, much more excited to get back to work Monday fully recharged and feels like he is living more. That is a pretty darn good list to strive for!
These are the cons to address. Monday morning starts with a backlog of material that piled up over the weekend. Emails and comments need attention if you’re a blogger. Another potential issue is if something blows up over the weekend. Since the computer stays off all weekend J will not know about the issue until Monday.
Overall, J said, it is one of his best habits and highly recommends it to everyone.
Then J ended his letter with what I consider most profound statement:
And even if something does explode, it’s not the end of the world… People don’t revolve around us as much as we seem to think!
Yeah, something like that.
How Taking a Break Destroys Procrastination and Increases Wealth
J pointed the way. Elon Musk is showing us how badly things can go when you don’t use moderation. My experiences show how you can stall out and reach epic levels of procrastination when adequate free time is not scheduled in. Call is Keith’s roller coaster.
More hours working a task, even an enjoyable one, doesn’t automatically equate better results. After a point it starts to become, what economists would call, negative utility: more work actually add no additional value and even destroys work you’ve already done!
When you follow J’s lead and open weekends, or whatever time you choose to recharge, you increase your total output compared to not taking any time off at all! Procrastination is born of futility and fatigue. When your head hurts from lack of sleep it is hard to start a difficult task. Putting it off is bad; refusing to take a break and making poor decisions is worse. Worst of all is stalling out and never getting the task completed, the ultimate procrastination penalty.
The pause that refreshes increases quality of life. It also increases financial wealth! Think of it. When you struggle because you never step away you get less done and therefore earn less income. Breaking through procrastination sometimes means taking a break.
Or you can keep pushing and face the health risks of Elon Musk with no quality of life to show for it.
More Wealth Building Resources
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