As we roll into a new year, and those of us in public accounting roll into a new tax year, I thought it would be a great time to talk about your calendar. It doesn’t matter whether you have a super organized calendar or you’re a hot mess, understanding how to get your calendar to work FOR you, instead of against you, will be super helpful this year.
If you think about it, time management wouldn’t be possible for accountant moms without a calendar because in these modern times we just have so many things we are involved with. From our meetings, deadlines and work obligations, to our family appointments, activities and important dates to remember, being both an accountant and a mom requires a lot of planning and help from our calendars.
When my kids were younger I had a giant dry erase board calendar on a wall in the kitchen where I marked down all the soccer practices and games, the karate classes, the doctor’s appointments, and the other activities our family was involved in. This was before things like Outlook or Google calendar, so I also had a large wall calendar next to my desk at work in order to try to stay on top of things as much as possible.
The thing when it comes to using a calendar, is that even though you may have your favorite type of calendar, whether it’s digital or paper, I promise you that you probably aren’t using your calendar in the best way possible. A lot of us are using our calendar against ourselves, trying to be organized, but ironically still feeling overwhelmed in the process of getting a sense of control and having things become simpler.
An interesting study by the University of North Carolina proved how much we use our calendars – they found that 66% of us always keep our calendars open, while 21% of us check our calendars several times a day. It’s probably no surprise to you that these numbers show what we already knew – the frequency of consulting our calendars is high, especially in the deadline driven field of accounting.
Whether you’ve taken training on better time management or you’re just winging it with your own system, there are things you should know about calendaring your time, especially as you enter busier times of the year like tax season. As you well know, especially as a mom, there’s nothing more precious than time, so it’s important that you set yourself up with the best way to make the most of it.
I can tell you from experience, having had a 30+ year career in public accounting and having been a mom for almost that entire time, that getting your calendar to work for you is one of the best things you can do for your career and your family. Honestly, being able to help you better manage your time so that you can spend more time doing what you love, is one of my passions and one of the reasons we have The Balanced Accountant Program with CPA MOMS.
While I coach my accountant mom clients on the various challenges they face, better time management is truly one of the most important skills you can focus on for your career and your family. I’ve seen it time and time again, that once you learn how to better manage your time, life just gets more manageable, more enjoyable, and more peaceful – things that have been important to me and I know are important to you as well.
This week I’m going to discuss 4 ways to get your calendar to work FOR you instead of against you, hopefully helping you to be able to spend more time doing what you love as well.
Plan for reality rather than fantasy
Everything I’m going to share with you, I learned in my studies with The Life Coach School, and has made such a big difference in how I implement my own time management system and in how I coach my clients to personalize and create theirs. Once I discovered something that helped me have much more control over my time and increased my ability to get more done in less time, I knew this was something that other accountant moms needed to know as well.
The issue for a lot of working moms is that we feel so much pressure to get it all done that we actually use our calendars against ourselves, often without realizing it. We’re trying to do our best, but unfortunately we’re setting ourselves up for overwhelm and procrastination.
This might sound obvious but it’s important to point out – the #1 thing that you must do in order to manage your time is plan in advance how you’re going to use your time. You cannot skip the planning phase and expect to have a powerful sense of control, productivity, efficiency, and balance.
The Balanced Accountant Program that we offer through CPA MOMS shows you step by step, exactly how to have a better time management system, as well as the key that you were never taught to actually focus on, but for this podcast I just want to make sure you know how incredibly important planning your time is. It cannot be understated.
With that said, the first way to get your calendar to work FOR you instead of against you is to stop planning unrealistically when you’re scheduling your time. This is something that trips up a lot of the accountant moms that I work with because they believe that cramming as much as they can into their calendar time blocks is how to get everything done on their to-do list.
For example, they’ll schedule 30 minutes to pick up the kids from school, and get them home to start homework or head to some after school activity, but in reality it actually takes more like 45 minutes to an hour. The issue is that when they plan for the fantasy of 30 minutes, they feel rushed, they’re not calm and focused, and the kids can sense their rushed energy.
When the fantasy doesn’t happen, they’ll often get mad at their calendar, at themselves, or at their kids for not being able to get things done as quickly as anticipated. Again, in order to have better time management, you need to plan your time more effectively, but the problem is that when you plan for a fantasy instead of reality, you set yourself up for failure which can then lead to believing that calendaring and time management just doesn’t work for you, your situation, or your busy life – but I promise you that’s not true.
The best way that I learned to begin planning for reality instead of fantasy is to keep “field notes” – just like a scientist keeping notes of their discoveries, you can use a small notebook to track the average time that things tend to take or what you noticed about different blocks of time and the reality of how best to use that block. By not beating yourself up, and instead coming from a place of curiosity, you can adjust your calendar to reflect reality rather than being frustrated or overwhelmed trying to live up to a fantasy, letting your calendar work FOR you instead of against you.
Don’t be vague
So many of us, myself included, tend to be vague in our calendar blocking, often calendaring generalities instead of specifics. The issue is that when the time comes to do something scheduled on your calendar and you were too vague when you planned your time, you are actually setting your brain up to be confused, often wanting to procrastinate, and then eventually feeling overwhelmed.
Why does that matter? Because confusion is one of the tricky things that your lower brain loves to use, due to one important fact – when you’re confused, you won’t take action. Remember what I’ve shared on previous podcast episodes – your lower brain does NOT want to expend energy so it uses confusion to keep you from doing what needs to be done.
For example, let’s say you scheduled “Call with XYZ client” on your calendar for 10 am on Wednesday – it sounds like that would be fine, but the issue is that now your brain has to expend energy thinking about what the call needs to be about, what needs to be discussed, and what the outcome should be. When you’re too vague on your calendar, you’re not doing your brain any favors, again, unfortunately giving it easy access to overwhelm and possibly procrastination.
Another reason why it’s important to not be vague when calendaring your time is because when you make decisions ahead of time, you are using the higher, executive functioning part of your brain. This makes it so much easier to carry out what you had on your calendar later on, because you’ve made it clear what result you plan on having with that block of time.
So instead of being vague, you will want to make sure that you’re breaking down your time blocks enough so that you know each step and that you’re specific about the result you want from that block of time. It might sound ridiculous at first, but you’re going to want to know what results you’re creating in every block of time, so much so, that there is no confusion when the time comes.
For example, if you’ve calendared FOR yourself instead of against yourself, you’re going to have planned for time to review XYZ client’s file on Tuesday, blocked time to jot down the points you want to discuss, scheduled time to do any other research that is necessary, and then scheduled time for the call with XYZ client on your calendar for 10 am on Wednesday with all the information, topics, and discussion points you pre-scheduled included in the description of that time block, or in an easily accessible place.
When Wednesday at 10 am comes around, you’re making it much more likely for your brain to easily do what’s on the time block because you made it as specific as possible, not allowing for confusion or overwhelm. By knowing and planning for exactly the outcome or result you want from that block of time, you make it so much easier yourself.
Again, the secret is that when you’re planning, you’re using the executive functioning part of your brain, but when you’re carrying out the plan, you’re typically using the lower brain. By not being vague with your time blocking, you’re being much kinder to your future self that has to do the thing or create the result.
It just takes a little practice to calendar things more specifically, but I promise you that you’ll see a big improvement in how much easier it is to get more done in less time, especially when you’re not confused or overwhelmed. The best question to ask yourself – would everybody understand what will be created at the end of that block of time? That’s how to get your brain onboard, make time management easier on yourself, and how to have your calendar work FOR you, instead of against you.
Be honest with yourself, be kind to yourself
I see this time and time again, where a coaching client is so focused on getting things done and crossing things off their to-do list, that they’re not considering the future version of them that has to do all the things they’re planning and when they’re planning them. In my experience, this is one of the reasons why coaching clients procrastinate – their calendars are planned without consideration for being honest with themselves and being kind to themselves.
For example, do you really think that you’re going to want to drop off that Amazon return to the UPS store on Tuesday at 5:30 pm, when you’re going to be dealing with that difficult client at 3:00 pm? Instead of calendaring the UPS store on Tuesday at 5:30 pm, when you know that what you’ll really want to do is just get home and unwind with your family, be honest with yourself and either look for a better time or delegate the task to someone else if you can.
One of the things that I was honest with myself about early on, being both an accountant and a mom, is that I really don’t like shopping, especially grocery shopping. I tried scheduling it after picking up one of my kids from school because I would bring them with me and then let them choose a treat for helping me, but I dreaded it every week.
Once I discovered grocery delivery services I was thrilled, but I also had to deal with the self-judgment about what “good” wives and mothers do. After grappling with it for awhile, I decided that instead of thinking about what other people believe about what good wives and mothers do, I would instead choose what this smart wife and mother would do – block time on Friday to plan the next week’s meals, plan time to order the groceries to be delivered every Saturday morning, and plan time to unpack and put them away.
Maybe in your case you’re not being honest about the fact that you’re a night person and you don’t want to change that about yourself – you could, but you don’t want to. Instead of trying to force yourself to get up at 5:00 am, when really the best time for you is to get up at 8:00 am, you just need to be honest with yourself and plan around that.
Again this is why planning is so incredibly important, but by being honest and kind with yourself, you would still get everything done that you want to get done, but you’d also be the person you want to be in the process. The most common reason most of my clients aren’t being honest with themselves is because they’re trying to trick themselves into being someone they’re not – that is a clear recipe for procrastination.
You need to set up your calendar for success – your success and your time’s success. By choosing to plan your time around being honest with yourself and being kind to yourself, you make it much easier to get things done, but more importantly, not burnout in the process.
Don’t beat yourself up
As you get better at calendaring your time, one of the worst things you can do is beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. This is a habit I see a lot with the accountant moms I work with on a personalized approach to time management, and I can tell you, it only makes your calendar work against you, instead of for you.
Unfortunately, we’re so used to being hard on ourselves, as both accountants and moms, that we often use time against ourselves without realizing it. Since the accounting profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism, we have to recognize when we’re trying too hard to fit a round peg in a square hole and when we’re beating ourselves up in the process.
Here’s what I tell my clients when we work on the Better Time Management portion of The Balanced Accountant Program – this whole thing is an experiment and will continue to evolve and change as their work lives and personal lives change. The process of creating and managing your calendar is meant to be a compassionate practice, where you are continually learning what works and what doesn’t.
That’s why the notion that you can take a time management class or read a book about time management and have everything run smoothly, is ridiculous. Everything about you and your life is completely unique, therefore your time management system needs to be personalized and given the chance to unfold and shift as you do.
So be open to the idea that there may never be a “perfect” calendar because it doesn’t exist. There will always be new seasons, new projects, and new goals, so don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned.
Every intended or unintended result that you create with your time is an opportunity to learn what worked and what didn’t – again, this is where those field notes come in handy. Just make sure that you use your calendar as a supportive tool, not as a task master that berates you if you didn’t get everything done the way you planned.
I highly recommend that you use a calendar, particularly a paper calendar, in order to be able to organize and manage your time, but make sure you’re having it work FOR you, instead of against you. Your calendar is one of the most amazing tools you have as an accountant and a mom, so use it wisely. As a side note, we’re in the process of creating a CPA MOMS Planner, so stay tuned and I’ll tell you more about it once it’s finished.
For now, just remember to plan for reality and not fantasy, don’t be vague when you’re scheduling your time, be honest with yourself and kind to yourself, and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. Your calendar can work FOR you, when you understand how to work it.
- The thing when it comes to calendars is that even though you may have your favorite type of calendar, whether it’s digital or paper, I promise you that you probably aren’t using your calendar in the best way possible.
- A lot of us are using our calendar against ourselves, trying to be organized, but ironically still feeling overwhelmed in the process of getting a sense of control and having things become simpler.
- I can tell you from experience, having had a 30+ year career in public accounting and having been a mom for almost that entire time, that getting your calendar to work for you is one of the best things you can do for your career and your family