The Upside of Lazy
You could have heard a pin drop. While addressing a partner group for a client, I said two words that made them gasp audibly before a complete silence set in as they looked at each other in a state of disbelief.
I said, "I'm lazy."
I could have worded it better, but let me give you some context.
I'm not lying on the couch or playing video games all day. I'm extremely focused on producing outstanding results, but I'm not aroused by burning unnecessary energy to produce those results.
This impacts my personal and professional life.
👉I utilize smart home technology to simplify things. I don't need to run around at night locking doors, turning off lights, and setting thermostats and alarm systems when Alexa is happy to do it for me with a single command.
👉I use adaptive cruise control when I drive to keep all passengers safe and myself out of trouble. I'm capable of braking when the car in front slows down (except for two times…), but not capable of staying within an acceptable range above the speed limit.
👉I don't read the paper or watch the news as both subject me to content that isn't of interest or benefit. I use technology to deliver customized content based on my preference and habits.
👉I use an AI notetaker during meetings to quickly summarize the discussion and highlight all action items rather than take notes.
👉I use virtual assistants to help with mundane tasks that can't be effectively supported by technology – yet...
👉I implemented a "Thief of the Month" award at my firm to celebrate the best idea lifted from another firm. I stole this idea from another company. No need to reinvent the wheel!
👉We were paperless and serverless, with pandemic-ready remote access in 2008.
If there is an easy button, I'm all for hitting it!
Look, Bill Gates supports me on this. He said, "I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because they will find an easy way to do it." It's not surprising that Bill is all about working smart, not hard. We wouldn't need his technology otherwise.
Greg McKeown, NYT's best-selling author of the books Essentialism and Effortless, promotes the notion that less can equal more and challenges the idea that achieving has to mean overexerting. Check out Greg's social media video posts for "effortless" examples. They're amazing!
Of course, Tim Ferris made his bold statement in 2009 with his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. Great concept! And if you don't think any of it applies to public accounting, reread it.
Let's look at some other famous supporters of laziness. Economist Vilfredo Pareto figured out that he could reduce his activities by 80% while only losing 20% of the upside. Nice trade-off! Cyril Northcote Parkinson, another Economist, discovered that he could significantly limit his actions and achieve the same results simply by self-imposing tight deadlines for completion. Then there is Adam Smith and his theories on division of labor. Henry Ford put those theories into action on the assembly line. Why should someone overexert themselves by building the whole car when they can just put a nut on a bolt and pass it on to the next person to perform an equally mundane task? And Management Guru, Peter Drucker said "Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done."
I know the accounting industry struggles with this, which is why the partner group was so shocked at my statement. So let's dig in.
Two wrongs don't make a right, right? But in public accounting or law, maybe they do. In those businesses, inefficient processes combined with hourly pricing strategies produce incredible financial results for firms. To hit the easy button in this environment is to shoot oneself in the foot. One can argue that most or all of the efficiencies gained by the significant technological advances since the early 1990s were given away due to our flawed billing arrangements. The financial payoff is a powerful motivator for working long and hard in an hourly world.
Pushing the envelope also boosts our self-worth. Ambition is a learned behavior, and we are taught that hard work pays off. Study hard, and work hard. Society glamorizes eighteen-hour days and sleeping on the factory floor, while our role models in our firms give up holidays and vacation time as they frown upon anyone who doesn't follow suit. And as accountants, we welcome the client that drops the question off on Friday night needing an answer by Monday morning. We are warriors who beat the deadline – always! And it feels good.
But at what cost?
First and foremost, it is more challenging to attract the right people to the profession. Gen Y and Z are more comfortable asking questions than their generational predecessors, and they are asking the question, "why would I do that?"
A close second is employee retention. If we can get past the first question of why would I do that, we need to confront the following question: "Why would I continue doing that?"
Now layer in the declining productivity of someone experiencing burnout and fatigue, which leads to declining levels of physical and mental health, and higher levels of depression, dependency, divorce, and disconnection from family and friends, all of which are common in the professions.
As the number of new hires dwindles and turnover accelerates, the pressure increases on those who remain, compounding these issues and making it more challenging to maintain the end-game of making clients happy.
If that sounds bleak, here are some suggestions to hit the easy button and bring a little laziness into the picture.
Play a game you can win –We shouldn't play a game we don't have a chance of winning. Using a pricing strategy that reduces revenue if you're more efficient and effective is a tails client wins, heads firm loses game. Why would you want to answer the same question twice when you only get paid to answer it the first time after doing the research. The next client to ask it only pays for the time it took to rattle it off of the top of your head. Change the rules and play a game that you can win.
Get organized – Use a system like Getting Things Done (GTD) to organize everything into a massive to-do list, and prioritize it. Then cross out the bottom 60%. You're not going to get to it, which means it shouldn't be there, and it's just stressing you out. Be protective of this list. Don't let anything on without a clear value proposition for your attention.
Leverage technology – Lift with the legs, not with the back. Use technology to help you with the heavy lifting of managing your tasks. Tools like Monday, Asana, or ClickUp can help with task management, while Teams, Slack, and Zoom help with remote communication. Loom or Bomb Bomb can take and send quick video messages with screen capture to walk someone through a process when a call isn't warranted. Outlook will filter your inbox, while Outlook integrations like Calendly help manage your calendar. Fireflies or Fathom will take meeting notes. ChatGPT? The possibilities are endless.
Take a hypothetical sabbatical – if possible, I encourage you to take a real sabbatical. Real or hypothetical, the processes, protocols, and procedures you put in place beforehand that allow you to go will continue to serve you well into the future. Pretend, then implement. Who will cover what aspects of your work while you're gone? What decision-making authority do they have? How do things escalate and resolve before reaching the last resort of calling you? Evaluate the validity of existing rules that prevent the results you want.
Impose a hypothetical time limitation – I'll caveat this by saying I don't wish this on anyone. But the more emotion you can bring into it, the more powerful it will be for you. Imagine that you have primary caretaking responsibility for a child or elderly relative who needs special care. Outside care is expensive, limiting the amount of coverage you can afford. As a result, you need to generate as much income as possible and have five hours per day to do it. Working late isn't an option, and once you get home and take over care, you can't take phone calls or respond to texts or e-mails. How will you spend your five hours? At a minimum, you can't let the day have its way with you. No unnecessary meetings. Your inbox can't become your to-do list. Just laser focus on reaching the desired results you need.
Lift and deploy – Boomers and Gen Xers are quick to judge our Gen Y and Z entrants in the workforce as not willing to work as hard, putting it mildly. Talk to them. Ask them what apps or services they're using to make life easier. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. What are other industries doing to streamline operations? Remember that Mcdonald's didn't come up with the drive-through concept. The banking industry did. Observe and borrow.
Be strategic with your saved time – 75% of business owners who sell their businesses regret their decision within the first year. It has nothing to do with the sale price. They don't develop a clear vision for their life after exit, which leads to guilt and disappointment. Consultant Alan Weiss says that discretionary time is the only true wealth. What will you do with the time you free up? Will you volunteer? Be a better mentor? Take a vacation or spend more time with family, knowing that these things help "sharpen the saw" and make you more productive. Will you spend more time on the vision and strategy of the business? Without a clear vision and strategy for saved time, you may experience guilt and disappointment, and drift back to busyness but with more on your plate. By the way, busyness is a form of laziness.
What's the upside of a bit of laziness? Our great ancestors learned to conserve energy to forge a competitive edge in their pursuit of scarce food resources. It was a matter of survival. As accountants, we are more likely to die of indigestion than starvation, so the connection between energy conservation and survival is lost. But is it taking a toll?
Suppose we can shift our mindset away from it needing to be hard to be good.
Then, we can channel our energy into bringing curiosity and creativity to our firms, driving enhanced solutions for clients, and making public accounting a more appealing career choice.
Is the pursuit of laziness leaving you feeling overwhelmed? Hit the easy button and schedule a call with me HERE.