Smaller practices and sole practitioners face the same challenges, sometimes to a greater extent because they don’t have the built-in redundancies of larger firms. “When you’re the boss, you’ve got to set your priorities, but it can be hard when you know that the success of the practice depends ultimately on how you handle that decision,” says Jody L. Padar, CPA.CITP, CEO and principal of the eight-person, Chicago-based NewVision CPA Group (www.NewVisionCPAGroup.com). “People choose their own priorities, especially when they are their own boss, and if you can’t make those decisions it will be detrimental to the business.”
“We don’t live in an 8-5 world anymore and our profession certainly isn’t that either,” she notes. “And technology has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that you can work anywhere, but a curse because you can be disrupted anywhere, anytime. If you allow it.”
The strategy she’s adopted is quite simple, although increasingly difficult in the minds of many professionals: She actually turns her mobile phone off at times. “If it’s family time like evenings or Sundays, there probably isn’t an emergency email that can’t wait until morning. But if I even allow myself to look at the email, it might spur me into action, at the very least taking my attention away from my ‘off time’ and focusing it on projects that might have to be done tomorrow or next week.” And, she notes, that if something truly is an emergency, it likely wouldn’t come in by email and there are other ways to contact her.
That isn’t to say that Jody leaves her work at the office. Quite the contrary, her practice is very mobile in its focus and utilizes many remote access tools and programs. Her point though, is that it’s necessary to decide when she will work and when she will not, because if you don’t decide one way or the other, then you’re giving up control over that decision.
These limits and personal rules are a good way to get through the routine workflow of most of the year, but when tax season comes around she acknowledges that the added workload does cause changes to her responsibilities to her work, clients and family. During the non-busy season, she says she puts in about 45-50 hours per week, but this increases to around 60 hours per week in the office or with clients by the time March and April arrive.
With the increased demand on her time, she says she relies more heavily on her husband Christopher to take on more when it comes to running the household and managing their childrens’ activities. “It’s really important to have a true partner at home who can take charge of the family and cook dinner so that we can still have a meal together,” says Jody. While her husband also has a professional career, he is able to free up a little more time during the tax season months, which helps take up some of the slack. And, importantly, while they both see this as an increase of demand on both of them, they know that it is temporary, and that things will be back to normal after April 15 (April 18 this year). She also has extended family in the area who are also available to help during the busy season. “You just can’t do it without a support system.”
Another professional accountant who has achieved a successful balance between work and personal life is Colleen Black, principal of Colleen Black and Company, PC, (www.CBlackTax.com) a four-person practice in Billlings, Montana. As she has developed and grown her firm, she focused on promoting healthy lifestyles among her staff, including providing gym memberships for employees and their families. They also competed as a team in Shape Up Montana, a wellness event that promotes exercise and weight loss.
She was recognized in November 2010 by the American Society of Women Accountants (www.aswa.org) for her success in balancing work and life priorities for her and her staff. In addition to physical health, her firm periodically reviews their business relationships to identify potential “stressor” clients. This helps to find and discontinue the ones who can be so difficult to work with that it is a negative drain on staff time and morale.