At one time or another everyone has experienced the desire to do more things that interest them. It might be traveling the world or trying multiple sports or musical instruments. A few people, prodigies, manage to conquer several musical instruments at once.
In business we see Elon Musk tackling business after business with endless energy. Small business owners are lulled into a false sense of ability when they try to multitask at the same level.
In our personal lives we might attempt to read several books at once or even write multiple books at one time. After all, we dug deep into a handful of textbooks simultaneously in college.
At work we crack open several projects at once. Before long we stall out as our brain freezes. Why does this happen? Elon and a minor percentage of the population considered prodigies manage it. Why not me?
Back from Holiday
One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, wrote about this issue a year ago.
People demand as much as they can get from you. I get a steady stream of emails from readers stating they wish they could find a local accountant like me.
Clients demand I, and only I, touch their tax return.
People demand every step be taken personally by people they admire. But they don’t know what they are asking for.
Does anyone believe I personally prepare a thousand tax returns annually without a bit of help?
We want to think our heroes are really superheroes!
If only your favorite accountant could be an awesome husband, father, business owner and blogger without a push from another living human being.
A New Brand of Musk
Elon Musk isn’t doing the incredible at the level outsiders think either. If you watch closely, Musk is expert at focusing on the task at hand.
With so many businesses, Musk must multitask. But he doesn’t! At least not to the level many people think.
Musk has been candid about his work schedule. He works long hours with few days off. But he separates each day into specific tasks. Some days he’s working at Tesla, the next day at SpaceX.
Each day is dedicated to the project at hand. Musk attacks several projects over the course of a week or month, but each day is dedicated to one project.
Focus is key.
Most people are thinking about the time they should be spending with their spouse and kids when at work. At home they are preoccupied with work matters.
All this is insanity! You can only be where you are. When your mind wanders to a project you are away from you end up nowhere. The wife and kids don’t get your undivided attention. Later, when exhausted from all the mental anguish, you underperform at work. You end up spiraling down.
In college you read several books at once as you worked through each course. The same happens in your personal, work and/or business life.
Why it worked in college (if it worked for you in college) is that you were in Sociology when you were in Sociology and not in Algebra! It sounds like common sense, but we tend to lose this skill set once we enter the workforce or start a business.
Business owners are the worst! I’ll vouch for that.
Demands come from every direction. As a business owner you want to solve everyone’s problem. But you can’t!
Nobody is helped when you are spread thin.
But business (or side gig) demands constant attention. When a client arrives without an appointment you own them answers to their problem, right?
No, you don’t!
You owe the client who scheduled an appointment who happens to have her stuff spread across your desk at the moment.
If you take every call, constantly check your email or allow every interruption you will end up exhausted without getting anything done you wanted to accomplish. The client is screwed and so is your family when you get home.
Back on Holiday
Ryan Holiday is a writer. Writers need plenty of free time to allow the creative process to work.
Last year when I attended Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida, the facilitators informed me they tried to get Holiday to attend. Holiday immediately sent them to his agent who said the fee is $15,000, plus expenses. The fee is high as a way of saying “no”. There were some complaints at Camp when this was revealed, but Holiday’s career would spiral out of control if he attended every offer.
Readers who pay close attention can tell when I’m rushed. It shows in my work and the scattered mental process.
Holiday talks about keeping his calendar as open as possible without harming his career. He says “no” to almost very distraction. He admits to lapses, as any honest individual would. Still, lapses evolve into serious issues if allowed free rein.
Holiday calls it “calendar anorexia”. By keeping his scheduled appointments down to a minimum he keeps ample open time to think and create.
I wish I were as good at it as Ryan. Writing a blog is a business all its own. A tax practice is a business requiring serious time commitments. People reading this blog know they can dig for 30 seconds and have my office phone number. The call is corralled long before it gets to my office, but it does take time from my team members.
Distractions are common in an accounting office. If I’m to get any work done distractions must be avoided.
I spend more time at the office than I should, but I enjoy the work environment. I take time to read and research, manage my business, review my budget (what budget I have) and investments. Tax returns take plenty of time during tax season. Managing a small business is a time sink, if allowed.
People will wear you out if you let it happen! They’re not bad people either. They lack discipline so they just “drop by” for a quick question. Not a good idea if you want the answer from me.
The Cost of Yes
Yes costs more than money.
Every interruption has a cost. Each distraction takes more than the “few minutes” the client/potential client/salesman promised.
It takes time to push paperwork (or any project being worked on) to the side to do something else. Your mind has to shift focus to the new task. This takes mental effort!
Once you are finished with the “few minutes” you need to refocus again on the original task. Research says it takes up to fifteen minutes (longer for some people) to get back up to speed on the original project. The “few minutes” squandered as much as a half hour of productive time. And that’s assuming the “few minutes” were really only a few minutes.
Take a couple personal calls and client interruptions and you’re productivity collapses to nothing while you end up exhausted! Worse, the boss is ticked you aren’t getting anything done.
“Yes” costs more than money; it costs peace of mind, satisfaction and tranquility. Interruptions are stressful!
Good for Business?
I get asked to attend a lot of events. Mini conferences have sprung up all over the country and around the world in this demographic. My work with Mr. Money Mustache and other popular FIRE (financial independence, retire early) bloggers coupled with a Plutus Award has made me in somewhat high demand.
My first impulse is to always say “yes”; my inclination is to please people. I want to make the readers happy. And I might get new readers!
Except, if I really thought about it, there is no way I can sit with each reader personally. If my readership consisted of only people I met personally this blog would be very, very small. And unprofitable, too.
Traveling kills me. Of all the things in this world I loathe, traveling tops the list. I don’t begrudge those who enjoy the experience; I just want to be left out.
I felt obligated to attend several events each year as part of the price for being a blogger. There is some truth to that, but it wears me down doing something I really don’t enjoy.
Late last year it was made abundantly clear I need to stop attending events to please people. A natural part of my work/business life will bring me in contact with readers and potential readers. I don’t have to travel across the country or to the other side of the planet to be successful in this genre.
My readership will grow whether I travel to endless conferences or not. Your personal life is the same. Constant distraction subtracts from your overall enjoyment of life.
On the left side of my desk is a media kit I’ve been working on for a while now. It’s not done, but soon.
This upcoming Saturday I have a special “Stalking the Accountant” where I will share why I write so much. You’ll enjoy it.
From this I will complete my media kit so the world can share my stuff without contacting me. I already made it clear you can steal my stuff. Now you can poke and prod without bothering me. It’s the best of all worlds; everybody wins!
Camp Accountant will be my sole public appearance. I’ve committed to FinCon18 in Orlando, but am uncertain of any additional commitments beyond that.
Elon Musk may be the new fragrance of the business world. Without the discipline and focus necessary to succeed it will all end with exhaustion, anxiety and burnout.
We can do better than that. We can consider the consequences of every “yes”.
It might only take a minute, but I don’t have the luxury of spending that minute in an unscheduled interruption.
Sometimes accounting can be a downright boring subject. It is the job of your favorite accountant to spice it up a bit with stories and jokes so the message resonates and therefore gets through. No matter how brilliant my idea to increase wealth or lower taxes, it is worth nothing if I can’t keep you reading to the end.
Many people find blogs like this by accident. The people hunting for blogs like this already are open to the concepts. Not so the wayward traveler finding her way here from search engines. I write for the choir, but always consider the wayward, too.
I use stories to convey the message. Money is fun to read about and have. To keep readers engaged I impose secret formulas to keep them coming back. It’s almost like a sickness the reader can’t quite put her finger on. How come I am so draw to this blog about (egads!) accounting, saving money, investing and retirement? the wayward soul asks.
Let me be clear. The message is simple: Save half your gross income and invest in a broad based index fund. All done. Now you have another 23 hours and 58 minutes to fill today. Money stuff is done.
Easy as it is, I still need to make a living writing this blog. I enjoy the writing process and telling stories. Changing people’s lives for the better is a bonus.
Didn’t See It, Did You?
The opening to this post contains a hidden secret. Writing is generally done in solitude and this writer gets lonely sometimes. His mind also wanders. Telling an engaging tale is no longer enough. Your friendly accountant includes a special something in about 10% of posts on this blog and you probably missed all of them.
Writing time is playtime for me. Everything is choreographed with a purpose in mind. Sometimes I deliver better than others, but under the hood there is a structure holding the whole thing together.
During tax season there are fewer hidden secrets within my posts due to time constraints and because I am sleep deprived. Writing a quality post takes time. Then I have to edit the thing until secrets are interlaced within the text.
A few weeks back I received an email asking if I knew my writing creates words in unusual places. The reader discovered the secret. But even this reader had no idea how deep the hidden messages are buried.
Take a look at the opening section of this post. The first letter of each paragraph spells SMILE. A casual reader will miss it every time. Of course this is waaaaay too easy. I’m a numbers guy so using the numbers in pi (3.14159265359) or a Fibonacci sequence happens more than once. The first letter of certain words, paragraphs, or even certain letter spacing is part of the game. There are a few instances where I use the screen width (will not work on mobile devices) to get letters to line up to create passages at angles across the page. Think of it as The Wealthy Accountant’s Bible Code.
Writing (and reading) should be fun. Finding hidden passages is only one kind of Easter Egg hidden in my work. If you crack the code you will gain access to work of mine not widely disseminated. Over the years I set up simple blogs with personal musings. They are not meant for public consumption. But I love to hide the url or other clues to my hidden writings to see if anyone figures it out. Since search engines don’t include these blogs in their search results I know when an intent reader finds the clue because I see the one lonely traffic data point in Google Analytics.
There is a second kind of hidden message buried within the tomes of this blog. The best way to describe these Easter Eggs is to point one out, kind of. Last Christmas I wrote a post titled: Silent Night. The storyline is true, but underneath is a reference to a movie that has a depressing Silent Night. Your job is to figure out the movie I refer to.
Of course, none of this searching for clues is required to enjoy this blog. However, some people keep coming back again and again. I provided something extra for these people who want to pull apart my work for additional meaning.
Yeah, I know. I’m messed up in the head. (Wasn’t it good enough to just write an interesting post and move on? No.)
The Sick Bastard in the Room
Before you shoot me an email asking for the location of all the secret messages, know that I plant the messages, but don’t keep a record. Kind of fucked up for an accountant not to keep a record. What can I say? I am a sick bastard.
Imagine the thrill I have when accidentally running across one of my previous word games! After a year or two I forget (I forget a lot sooner) where I buried the cash box in the back yard. Me bad.
All I can tell you is have fun. If you don’t like puzzles, feel free to keep reading as always. If you like a challenge, pick at the carcass of a few posts and see if you can rip some flesh loose. Some stuff requires inside information. Don’t worry about those Easter Eggs. Maybe I said or did something at a conference and then include a subliminal reference to the event only those in the room at the time would catch.
There are still plenty of goodies for everyone. Most of all have fun.
The End of another Tax Season
As you may have noticed, I wrote a bit shorter the last week or two. I needed the time to get as many tax returns as humanly possible out the door. Think nice things about me. (Or not. I’m good either way.) I also leaned toward simple subjects to write about (for me). I am burnt out on taxes so another tax problem to work through could have sent me into a psychotic rage. My brain just not could take another tax return right now. Besides, you wouldn’t want me to lose it on page, would you? (You in the back. Yeah, you. Sit down and shut-up. One more attempt to get me to flip out and the police will be involved.) (SECURITY!)
Okay, I like to have fun. Tax season is winding down and I am getting most stuff out the door I wanted done. There are a few things I need to focus on after the due date, but it is manageable. Regardless, I will have my life back. Lack of sleep has me a bit punchy. As if anyone could tell.
So this post isn’t too short, here are the posts coming up later this week:
Wednesday: The Risks of a Side Gig. A side gig is the easy way to check out of the rat race early and fill time once retired. But watch out for the side gig that becomes you.
Friday: The Trauma of Retirement. People don’t understand how traumatizing retirement can be. If you think you can save a ton of money, tell the boss to “fuck off” and travel the world, “See you in the funny pages (yeah, people used to say that 60 years ago), you have another thing coming. It takes a plan if you are going to avoid the emotional pitfalls of early retirement (retirement at any age for that matter).
It’s the best I can give you, this last blog post of the 2017 tax season. I hope all your returns were pleasant. I love all you readers. Thank you for stopping by and being a friend. Hopefully we can share more ideas over the rest of the year to make our worlds a better place. (Yes, I meant to say worlds, as in, we each have our own world we live in. How our worlds intersect and interact is what we call reality. Now go on a word hunt.)
The past year has been the most brutal of my career. What started out as a good idea has cascaded into a challenge I am still working the details out on. Challenges excite me, but this one showed up unannounced.
Back in the day when I was building my practice I didn’t work that many hours because it was a seasonal business and I saw no need to bust my tail for “a few more dollars”. (A good movie, by the way.) My strategy was simple; always do better than the year before. As the years accumulate, beating last year required more work. It wasn’t money; it was pride.
Eventually I was working way more than I wanted to, so I cut back dramatically and seriously considered selling my practice and living a “real” retirement. The reduced hours and the return to a normal lifestyle (for me) put the “selling the business” idea on the back burner.
It all changed a year ago. This blog and other media attention sent requests for my personal services through the roof. The process of digging out is still ongoing. I had no choice but to say “no” a lot more than I ever had before. That is a difficult pill to swallow because I love working with people and helping clients reach their goals.
Last tax season when this hit, my office had a perfect storm. Illness was an issue and under-staffing was acute because I did not anticipate what a post in Mr. Money Mustache would do to me. The worst part was a key employee who felt jealous of my success and decided to bow out. She was part-time, but an experienced tax pro. Her daughter also worked for me and was full-time. Their performance and quality of work was beyond bad. Certainly not at a professional level.
The two employees had to go. They came to me to resign, each in turn and I think they knew if they didn’t I was going to terminate their employment with my firm anyway.
The extra workload coupled with several illnesses in the office and two rouge employees who refused to prepare tax returns by mid tax season left the task to me personally. Work has never bothered me. I rolled up my sleeves and did as much as my body could deliver. When tax season was over I hired more qualified people and trained them. They are paid more than the departing employees, but have earned it by stepping up and getting the work caught up.
Considering the struggles, my practice had a record year. It proves jealousy only hurts the one who feels it.
And I had to deal with a new issue personally: burnout. Burnout is no stranger to me. When I started buying rentals I bought a lot. I mean, a LOT! Too many, in fact. After 10 years I burned out and started selling until they were all gone.
I grew my practice until long hours caused me to hurt physically. Now I am back hurting. Too much sitting takes its toll.
Don’t worry kind readers. I am a resilient cuss. I am learning to live with saying “no” more often than ever before in my life. I love my readers all the same, even if I can’t serve each individually. And I have rebuilt an awesome team in my office headed by Karen, my office manager of over a decade.
The added work challenged me in other ways, too. I had to start thinking differently. I was no longer a small tax practice in a sleepy corner of the U.S. People from around the country, and even the world, were watching and demanding a piece of me. New skills needed to be added. Slowly the skills are maturing.
When a grueling work schedule wears you down a vacation is the perfect solution. Burnout, and the steps we take toward burnout, reduces efficiency to a crawl. Working more hours does not mean you get more done. (Reread the last sentence until you really get it.) Sometimes packing up and going home is the best thing you can do. When the workload gets too great, even more drastic measures are needed.
Vacations don’t mix well with me. I find nothing appealing about sitting around twiddling my fingers. But vacations are necessary for good health and to stimulate the mind. Reduced productivity is not cured by working more hours. Even I am not that crazy. (And it is clear I crossed the line into Crazyland long ago.)
That is why I will be out of the office from January 10th through January 19th in Florida. Four of those days will be at a conference call Camp Mustache SE. Pete Adeny, the guy who writes Mr. Money Mustache, is the man of honor. I get the great fortune of speaking with the crowd for an hour one day and meeting the other awesome speakers. I also volunteered to give 10 one-hour consultations with the proceeds going to charity. Hence, a busman’s holiday.
A busman’s holiday can refresh as much as any “sitting around” holiday can. I will do what I enjoy and have a reason to meet with many of the fine people there. I will also take time each day to write so you guys will be happy and I will check email for anything pressing from the office. Maybe.
It sounds a lot like work to many people, but for me it is refreshing. There will be no interruptions when I have the one-hour consultations and the change of venue will refresh. There will be plenty of socializing and learning opportunities. Stuff I love doing. And it doesn’t hurt my feelings I was asked to speak in Florida in January, coming from Wisconsin and all.
For those of you in the accounting profession, I see abject fear in your eyes. How can you take a nine day vacation in January? Well, I do have a qualified and trained staff to handle the workload. January is busy with issuing W-2s and 1099s, things I never touch. I prepare taxes. My team does that other stuff so it really isn’t busy for me yet unless I want to sit around answering more email and saying “yes” to too many people. The break also saves me from me!
Outside the four days of Camp Mustache, I will take the opportunity to meet with people. Ideas come from sharing time with intelligent people of like mind. Mrs. Accountant and I will take quiet time to visit a museum or two and a few casual walks. The Camp will be hectic because I promised the consultations for charity. But I will also meet with people in a slower paced environment before and after the conference. A busman’s holiday for sure, but one that recharges my batteries.
There is another solution to shut out the overload life frequently sends. A full fledged vacation is not always possible. My January sojourn would not go over as well in mid-March. I would never sleep knowing the office was in high gear while I stepped out. Enter selective vacationing.
Ryan Holiday introduced this concept to me when he wrote about 23 things Tim Ferriss taught him about writing, strategy and life. Toward the end of the article Holiday lists “Taking Vacation from Stuff” as one of the things Ferriss taught him. It works like this.
Instead of a vacation where you pack up and leave, take a vacation from one particle activity. If you email Holiday or Ferriss you might get a response from them stating they are taking a short vacation from email or a vacation from phone calls. Saying “no” all the time comes off blunt and makes nice people feel like they are acting like a dick. Saying you are on vacation from a select activity comes off more politely and vacations are something people understand better than a flat out “no”.
I started using the selective vacationing idea and find it a powerful way to recharge without totally bowing out of life. Email and phone vacations are a nice way to focus on what gives me greatest pleasure at the time. I love the work I do so taking time to just sit around does not appeal to me. Focusing on tasks I find fulfilling does.
Selective Vacationing for Normal People
If a business owner can take a selective vacation, so can you. The biggest distracters in our modern world includes: news, social media, email, texting and phone calls. Take a vacation from each so you can feel the freedom the disconnection creates. Take a vacation from each in their turn to focus your creative energy where it is most productive and satisfying.
This is an alien concept in our modern world. What did people do with their time 30 years ago when they couldn’t check their cell phone nonstop? How did we live back in those Dark Ages when we couldn’t stimulate our mind with mindless social media updates? Committing to a social media vacation causes many people to experience withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addicts when they get treatment. This stuff is really addictive.
Some selective vacations are easier than others. I have never been much of a social media guy. I have people take care of that stuff for me and posting is mostly automatic programs doing their thing. I look normal without doing what normal people do—sit on social media all day. And I have not died from lack of social media stimulation either!
Start with an easy (or at least easier) selective vacation. Also start small. Maybe take a few days to a week vacation from watching/checking the news. For some reason when you get back the world will still be here. And if it isn’t, there wasn’t a thing you could have done to change the outcome. So take the selective vacation.
Choosing which activity to take a vacation from is largely determined by what is burning you out or causing the most stress. Periodically I burn out from too many appointments. Clients are sometimes annoyed when I take an appointment vacation. They see me sitting in my office working intently while I refuse to take an appointment or accept an interruption. The extra work I get done, the work I enjoy, satisfies more when I can focus on it for a couple days or week. It feels good and clients get over it.
Your personal life is the same. My 29th wedding anniversary is fast approaching. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is we both know when to step back. We never take a vacation from our fidelity or love, but we do take time where we do our own thing. It’s healthy to have your own space. I don’t own Mrs. Accountant. She is her own woman and has the right to live her life as she chooses. A mutual vacation might mean we still stay home, but we don’t do many activities together or I might sleep on the couch or take a conference or continuing ed class on my own. I am slowly working toward a vacation where I find a place to lock myself away and emerge myself in several writing projects I am eager to start working on.
Normal people are not always tuned in. You can take a break from your iPod. People are so plugged in and so accustomed to constant stimulation they don’t know how to act when the endless barrage of distraction stops. It’s not healthy, people.
A selective vacation is for you. Find the areas of your life taking outsized amounts of time and back away for a few days. The time away will help you refocus and make better decisions. Social media, phone calls, television, radio, music, all need to be turned off at times. I love reading. I mean I really love reading. Still, there are times I take a short vacation from books. Sometimes it feels like I am spitting in God’s face when I do, but I adjust. Reading is yet another distraction.
The selective vacations you choose will change over time. Paying even modest attention to your day will reveal things you need to take a break from. When something starts to cause stress or no longer feels good anymore it is a sure sign you are reaching burnout and are ready for a selective vacation.
Finally, learn to enjoy quiet time. I know, look who’s talking. I can do it and do it more often than you might think. Early morning and evenings are times I take to quietly reflect. My schedule can dig into this personal time, but I am very protective of my quiet mornings. An hour to sit and think or research a topic of interest is a great way to start the day. Don’t open email first thing in the morning. There will be plenty of time for that later. Just breathe and enjoy the moment knowing today you will not have to check social media or make phone calls or open your email folder.
When you plan a selective vacation, write it down and put it somewhere conspicuous. I tell my staff when I am taking an appointment or email vacation. You might want to put a note on the bathroom mirror to yourself about your current email or social media vacation. Let people around you know about your selective vacation. Most people will respect the boundary once they understand what you are doing and adjust.
Modern society has granted us so many luxuries and we squander our inheritance on trivial distractions. Take your life back and experience the awesome world of abundance and freedom we live in.
Keith Schroeder passed away early Saturday evening after a short battle with illness. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, parents, and brother.
Keith complained of a headache Wednesday. He used over the counter medications with no improvement. On Thursday he visited his doctor who prescribed stronger pain killers. It was determined the headache was due to the change of seasons and allergies. The medication improved Keith’s condition until Saturday morning when the pain returned and was unbearable. He was rushed to the hospital over concerns an aneurysm was about to burst.
Prior to surgery Keith spent time with his wife and daughters comforting them. He seemed to know the end was near. He talked about how much he loved the girls in his life and how happy they made him. “I am so proud of you girls,” he said as he held their hands. To his wife he said, “I am the luckiest man alive. You gave my life meaning and hope. Without you I was nothing; with you I am everything.”
Keith grew up on a farm and had fond memories of working with animals and later doing the same on his own small farm. He was happiest when with his family walking his land and watching his animals play.
After high school Keith went to work in his father’s business until he was injured inhaling silo gas. His serious farming days over, he focused on his other passions: numbers and writing. He loved business, investing, and working the tax code. Over the years he ran several businesses, none more successful than his accounting practice. His office was his home. He loved working with clients and employees helping them realize their dreams.
The office was also his greatest regret. He said to his wife, “I know you wanted to travel more. I wish I would have felt the same.” Keith worked long hours in his practice and more recently on two fiction blogs and an accounting blog. He enjoyed communicating whether it be writing or speaking before a group. His greatest thrill was making a difference in someone’s life. There was limited time for travel and he preferred to spend his free time on his farm. It was where he felt most comfortable.
“Remember the lessons I taught you, girls,” he said speaking to his children. “The world is an awesome place filled with good and evil. Do not allow the evil to corrupt you; savor the good.” To his wife, “I wish I were a better husband and father. Everything interested me and distracted me from you. I gave all I have; you deserved better. I never wanted children because I thought I would be an awful dad. I tried with all my might to be a good person and failed all too often.” “I love you all,” he said to his family, “because you accepted me, flaws and all. I will miss you.”
Keith loved sharing stories. The last thing he said before going into surgery was, “Remember the Star Trek episode where Natasha Yar is killed? She left a video to be played after she died. I always liked that idea. There is no video of me, an oversight I wish I could change. Yar’s last words always stuck with me, ‘No goodbyes, just good memories.’”
Two hours later the doctor informed the family of the bad news. A good man, a father, husband, son, brother, friend, left us Saturday night. He touched us in a thousand ways. We will always remember him for his undying passion to excel. He cared deeply. For all his flaws he touched every one of us in ways that will follow us to our last day. He taught us to never fear death, to cherish life as long as it lasted. He said our philosophy of life was worthless if it failed us at the end. It never failed the man we admired, regardless the scars. May his words continue to speak to people for a long time to come.
Visitation will be held Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. at the funeral home followed by interment.
How do you feel? Is there a lump in your throat? The above obituary is an exercise we should all undertake (no pun intended, I am all serious today). Practicing Stoics understand death is only a natural part of living. I am not afraid of death or the dying process. Whether it happens fast or slow is of no concern to me. What I am interested in is how I live life now.
One Stoic practice is negative visualization where you imagine the worst that can happen, really feel it, and then realize, when finished with the visualization, it isn’t that bad so there is nothing to fear. The worst isn’t that bad! Death is the ultimate fear for many people. The obituary above is only a visualization. (It was a lot more intense, but I kept a few things private.) I sat back, closed my eyes, and wondered what I would feel if I was facing death right now, today. I wanted to look back from my deathbed and see what I was proudest of and what I wish I would have done differently. The things I wish I would have done I can now do now that my eyes are opened! By looking back on life in this manner I can see where I will want to make changes and then make them while I still can.
Contemplating your own death is hard, I understand. We all know it will happen. You can do the same exercise of yourself as a very old person reflecting on a long life. What were your regrets? What made you happy? Really dig into it. It’s okay to cry. When I soul search it moves me emotionally. I think it is an indication you are doing it right. I caught myself smiling at times and in tears at others. Then I wrote the above abridged version for you, my friends.
Your obituary will be much longer, as was mine. Writing it down makes a difference. By writing it down it becomes real, alive. The reason we put ourselves through this emotional exercise is to learn what really gives us joy. In the hustle and bustle of life we can forget to stop and think about who we are and where we are. Even retired people get too caught up in their life, forgetting to breathe deeply and focusing inward.
Writing your own obituary takes time and should be repeated at least annually. You evolve as I do. I am not the same person I was in high school, or before I was married or in the early days of my business. I changed. My business changed. I am ever grateful Mrs. Accountant changed with me in a way where we could walk the road of life together. It takes sacrifice. I’m okay with that. You have to decide what you are willing to sacrifice to live the life you want, to live right.
My children sometimes read this blog. Not often, but sometimes. When I informed the household of my intentions to publish my obituary they wanted to hear it. Regardless of age, we all want to know how to live a good life. Don’t wait until you die to find out how.
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Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.
QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.
A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.
Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!
FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early
There are only a few good reasons to work. They are good reasons, of course, but can quickly overrun your personal life, destroying the original goal of working in the first place. The two good reasons I can think of to works are:
- Saving for retirement, and
- Love of the work.
In the beginning it is hard to tell if you love your work because you have to work. That is why we preach early retirement here; not to bow out of life as soon as possible, but to live the life you want. Once you have amassed a large enough nest egg you are retired even if you chose to continue working your job. FIRE allows you that freedom.
Once you have moved beyond the need to work a job many people continue to do so. Self-employed people are the worst. I know, I’m living it! Just because you can quit doing what you do to earn income does not mean you should. If you enjoy the work environment, co-workers, clients, and the work itself, why would you quit? There is no shame in doing what you love as you work toward financial independence and even afterwards.
No matter how much you love the work, however, there are always days. My office is living a series of “one of those days”. I want to share how I plan on working through the situation. First, some background on why we are feeling the pressure.
The Building of a Disaster
Every catastrophe starts with a great idea. In this case I had a plan to partner with Mr. Money Mustache on an idea. It went better than planned. The guy is awesome and instead of giving me a minor plug, he gave me a full article. When millions of people see the work I do they want to join the fun. Unfortunately, I have a small accounting office.
It was a challenge at first, but I was on a mission. We accepted about 1 in 120 requests from people/businesses to be a client. This low acceptance rate still increased our client base and workload over 50%. As a good business owner I hired additional staff to handle added tax work. Then the best laid plan started to burn.
We still had to field thousands of emails (sometimes 200 or more a day) just to tell people “no”. My time was stretched, but people understood. The perfect storm was brewing. Then the phone calls came. The people we accepted as clients wanted more personal time than I had to offer. My workload was getting further and further behind. I was no longer keeping promises, never acceptable business practice.
A CPA I hired with 9 years experience proved incompetent. I refused to allow work to go out wrong. Worse, he could barely manage a tax return a day. I let him go. My number one tax preparer contracted a respiratory infection that affected her all tax season; she missed over three weeks during the heart of tax season. Another preparer is attending college and only worked three days a week. The great news is I never get sick. But the work kept piling up as people demanded my attention instead of allowing me to complete work.
Darkest Before the Dawn
By the tax due date I was further behind than at any time in my career. It was overwhelming and clients did not care. The non-stop calls and emails only made it worse. We actually prepared fewer tax returns by the due date than the previous year even with additional staff. Most new clients and many regular clients were suffering my misfortune.
Let me introduce you the two most awesome women I have had the honor to work with: Karen and Natasha. Karen is my office manager and prides herself on quality work. She takes her work personally. Natasha is my front desk and administrative assistant. As the tax season wore on, Natasha never complained, but I could see her efficiency decline. She was worn out by the phone calls and complaints of slow work. The workload was too much, as well. Natasha is like Karen in that she prides herself in doing high quality work. This only made Natasha feel worse.
Karen is another story. By sitting in a chair so many hours she acquired back pain. She started wearing a brace so she could handle the extended work hours sitting.
Keith’s Rule # 11: Never work yourself to injury.
The brace was only a short-term solution, if you can even call it that. My entire team collapsed under the weight of excessive demands. Pain drained Karen even faster. Yesterday it ended in an argument over workflow. Last night she came into my office and nearly broke into tears. Listen to what she said, “I can’t take anymore. We are not serving our clients the way they should. I have never done such poor work. Our clients deserve better.” She didn’t say those words exactly, but it is what the conversation was about.
How do you handle an overwhelming situation? What can a business owner do when he finds himself with more work than it is possible to get done?
I love the work I do, but in the accounting/tax industry there is always a due date looming. This means stress can interfere with a balanced lifestyle. Clients are sometime miffed when I take an afternoon walk or jog in the park during tax season or in cases like now when we are so far behind. I still do it.
Keith’s Rule # 12: Health is more important than work.
For Karen and Natasha, they have lost balance in their lives. My job, as business owner, is to bring the balance back so they can serve the clients right. After tax season ended I gave my team a paid day off in addition to their normal vacation days. I required the extra day off. It was a grueling tax season. But one day is not enough.
Karen and Natasha suffered the most because they fielded all the phone calls, complaints, and emails. Each phone call pushed them a little lower and less efficient. It was beginning to feed on itself.
This morning I woke up around five (normal for me) and rolled over to snuggle Mrs. Accountant. We talked a while about the challenges in the office, both worn out employees and clients who need work completed. It was then that I hatched my plan to get my office back.
I am forcing Karen and Natasha to have a one-hour massage on company time and company expense today. I know they will complain they do not have time; I have a solution for that, too. Karen and Natasha both will receive four hours of uninterrupted time each day: no emails, no phone calls (I will take their phone away). Karen will have a DO NOT DISTURB sign on her door during her four hours. If she needs a coffee, it will be brought to her; she can have her cigarette break (yeah, I have an office of smokers, except me) outside a door from her office. I do not want her to accidentally run into a client that starts the whole process of interruption all over again. In four hours she will get more done than she has been in a week. Once she gets momentum and her sanity back she will start feeling better about herself and how she is treating clients.
Natasha is a bit different. It is hard to get away at the front desk. No problem. I am bringing in a temp to answer calls for her 4 hours a day. She can see clients, but can also focus on getting her work done. By getting a break from the non-stop phone calls she will be able to help the clients by getting work recorded and to the clients faster. By reducing the stress level she should feel better as she accomplishes her goals each day.
Well, if clients don’t get the hand-holding, will they be pissed? Sure, a few will. A small number of clients are the ones applying all the pressure and stalling all work efforts. They will be mad until the work gets done. If they persist I will have one less client. There are 12,000 itching to fill the slot.
My team is more important than just beating work out of them. It sure feels that way this tax season. I hate it and it will stop now. Karen fought me yesterday on some of these ideas, but this is coming from exhaustion. I will regain my office after a fantastic surge in new business. By taking actions that treat my employees fair and with respect, we will serve clients better. New clients always take more work as we learn to understand their situation. It was my fault I accepted too many. I will honor my commitment to my clients (even if on the slow side at first) and treat my team with respect. I learned a lot this year. I will use the added knowledge to improve the work we produce in the future.
I know my attitude will make my team healthier and happier than ever while showing respect for their personal life and well being.
* I am not the only one experiencing these types of challenges. Feel free to share your situation and solution in the comments.
Several years ago my office building was burglarized. Two young men used a tire iron to break a window and enter the building. Tax offices do not have a lot of stuff worth stealing so they settled on two monitors and an old safe with an empty coffee can in it. People pay their bill by credit card or ACH in the majority of cases; a few still pay by check and cash comes in during tax season and is removed each day.
The young men caused thousands of dollars in damage for the massive haul of two monitors worth maybe $20 each. (New monitors are under $100.) So what were they geniuses looking for? Well, it seems they remembered I had a soda machine outside my building a decade ago and they assumed I moved the machine inside the building. Yes, they burglarized my building for some of that lucrative soda machine money.
They did not find the soda machine. I retired the machine years ago. The police were so excited to gather evidence. A few days later the young men were in custody. The police and district attorney informed me I was a victim. I replied ‘I am not the victim. My building is the victim; they kicked the shit out of it.’ For some reason I did not feel violated; I can’t speak for my building since I was not the one sodomized.
The damage was repaired the same day and life went on as normal with one exception: the district attorney’s office keeps sending me ‘victim’ mail. Anytime a court date approached I was invited to ‘get involved’. I never went. The two men were convicted and sentenced to a combines 10 years in prison. Now I felt like a victim! It costs $40,000 a year to house a prisoner. The government in their infinite wisdom squandered nearly a half million dollars protecting my three thousand bucks of building damage. Really?
Before sentencing I was asked what I thought would be a fair sentence. I responded. These two young men needed money to fund a drug habit. I gathered that when they said they were looking for a haul from an imaginary soda machine. Prison would not solve the problem. They needed drug treatment and a new set of skills. I informed the court I thought requiring successful drug rehabilitation treatment and a thousand hours of community service would go a lot further than taxing me more to fill the prison a little bit more. I recommended the community service be served working with Habitat for Humanity. My thought was, clean these guys up and teach them a trade.
The court disagreed. The judge and prosecutor felt a deep desire to protect the community. The truth is soda machines everywhere rose up and demanded justice. They never seriously considered my recommendation and $400,000 of hard-earned taxpayer money was pissed down the drain. Most people say ‘put them in prison’. I prefer a more logical approach that does not include wasting money. You know what we think about wasting money around here.
Enter the Stoic
Why do I tell this story? I think about it a lot. I wonder about the two men raped by the system. They did some really stupid stuff. Who hasn’t? I wonder if they have made changes in their lives for the better. Will society be safer when they get out? I doubt it.
Most of all I wonder why I did not feel violated. The police wanted me to know they will keep an eye on the place and protect me. I shrugged my shoulders. The DA’s office sent me huge packets in the mail informing me of my rights as a victim. I was not the victim, the building was. Nobody would listen so I stopped explaining myself.
My emotions over the break-in are puzzling to many people. I examined my thoughts to figure out why I felt the way I did. After a short time of reflection I came to the conclusion my stoic nature was to blame for my settled mind. From a young age I had stoic tendencies before I knew what a stoic was. Later in life I discovered Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. One of my favorite books is A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
For the first time I realized I had internalized the truth about stoicism. Little things did not bother me. Beating the shit out of my ‘stuff’ was not a concern; I should downsize anyway. Of course, I still have feelings and emotions; a stoic is not dead inside. Events that cause most people to worry were water off a duck’s back for me.
A practicing stoic knows he is never perfect. “Stuff’ does not bother me; serving my clients does. I take serving my clients very seriously. I am bothered if I am unable to help all the people I promised to help.
It all comes down to focus. I live at a time in history where people have it really good in Western countries. I can walk/bike/drive millions of miles of roads for free. Do you know how many books I can borrow, movies, music CDs, and internet I can play with all for free at my local library? It is humbling to know I have millions of dollars of knowledge and entertainment all available for free at the library. How awesome is that?
Enter the Zen Master
I read a small number of blogs on a regular basis. Mr. Money Mustache and Zen Habits are my two favorites. Both blogs teach about living life right. I have talked about Pete over at Money Mustache already. Today I want to introduce you to Leo Babauta. Unlike Pete, I have never personally met Leo. Just like Pete, Leo seems like a hell of a nice guy.
Leo talks less about money than Pete does. Leo has taught me to relax, instead. For an excitable wealthy accountant with OCD that is saying a lot. Learning to breathe is a lesson more people need to learn, especially me. To the best of my ability I take one piece of Leo’s advice: upon waking in the morning I drink a full glass of water and then sit and meditate for 5 minutes, eyes closed. Only then can I enjoy a cup of tea.
Water cleanses the body; meditation cleanses the mind. I tell people I am retired in a convoluted sort of way. Outside tax season I have a lot of free time. I take on projects that appeal to me. I keep busy in my retirement. My desire for knowledge and experience is vast. Everything interests me. However, no one can have every experience or learn everything there is to know. I have to pick and choose.
In a world of never-ending distractions, focus is a commodity. Zen meditation, as taught by Leo, has helped me focus. The added focus has allowed me to experience more, learn more, enjoy more. The world of distractions will not end. The phone will ring, friends will visit, email will call and text messages will interfere. By practicing your stoic skills and Zen meditation you can find meaning in the life you live, as I have. When you focus you see, sometimes for the first time, the beauty all around you. Enjoy the simple pleasures: the smell of fresh mown grass, the singing of birds and the color of the sky. Take a moment every day to relax for at least five minutes. Don’t let the small stuff worry you. Focus on the important and enjoy the wonderful life granted you.