Here at Michigan CFO Associates, we are in the midst of the “busy season”; the period from mid-January through April. Not because we prepare tax returns (because we don’t do taxes – and I feel compelled to repeat that as part of my “mantra”). Rather, we’re busy assisting with year-end work needed for CPAs to do tax returns. At the same time we’re finalizing budgets for the new-year, and continuing the important, ongoing financial analysis and guidance for the businesses during January, February and March.
But beyond any cyclical “busy seasons”, it’s easy to get lulled into telling everyone in cocktail conversations how “busy” we are – not only at work, but in all aspects of life.
Some of the busy conversations are funny; some are ironic. And some are just annoying. I have a friend who begins every conversation by telling me how busy he is. The scale includes “busy”, “crazy busy” and “packed”. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to remove the word “busy” from my vocabulary.
A few years ago I was introduced to a business owner who was interested in working with us. After a meeting or two, he told me “we’re really busy finishing up year-end right now, let’s talk in three months”. I obliged and reached out three months later and they were busy with an acquisition. Three months later they were busy refinancing with a bank. And three months later, a building purchase. After that, it was “year-end” again, and we had a conversation that went like this:
Me: Hey Larry, when we met a year ago, your margins were low, you weren’t making enough money and your cash flow was poor. How are things going now?
Larry: Well, we still need help with all of those things; our sales have grown but we’re still not making the profit we should be making. . . we’ve just been so busy all year.
Me: Right, with closing the books, buying a competitor, refinancing with your bank, and buying a building. You realize those are things that we, as CFOs, specialize in, right? Along with improving profit & cash flow?
Larry: Um. . .
We did eventually start working with Larry. But I couldn’t help but think “What are you WAITING for?!?! Once all the big financial decisions are complete, THEN you’ll need a CFO?!?!”
It sounds funny, but most of us are guilty of allowing ourselves to be busy with things we’re not good at or are not the best value-adding use of our time.
I’ve read two great books on this subject in the past year, and I’ll share one takeaway from each author. In Procrastinate On Purpose, Rory Vaden notes that prioritizing doesn’t create more time; it borrows time from another area. “You multiply your time by spending time on things today that will give you more time tomorrow.” Seems obvious when you read it, but how many of us actually apply it? We usually revert to “By the time I explain it, I could’ve done it myself”.
In Crazy Busy, Edward Hallowell asks the question: “Where do your best ideas come from? Where do you do your best thinking? For most people it’s either in the shower, or in the car - because the mind is free to go where it wants. The unconscious is like a great incubator. If we are too busy, to overwhelmed, too goal directed and data driven, we will not notice the new ideas. . . and they will disappear.” Hallowell advocates “unstructured play time” to engage the imagination and let the mind wander - to rise above the day to day noise.
So what are you busy with? And what can you spend time on today that will give you more time tomorrow?