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Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Get More Done by Doing Less

What are your biggest time-wasters? Your best time management tips?
E-mail your comments, tips and ideas here.

December 4, 2008
by Rick Telberg/For the Finance Executive

There’s no denying that technology enhances workflow and improves efficiencies. But for some professionals, too much of a good thing is becoming a burdensome distraction.

Most of us are just trying to do too much and not getting enough done.

For instance, a CPA Trendlines survey showed recently that nearly two out of four CPAs (44%) check their e-mail at least hourly and more than one out of three (39%) say they check e-mail “in real-time, as it arrives.”

Joanne Rock of Chicago says a major distraction is just “trying to figure out what the e-mail is requesting. Sadly, personal e-mail is commingled with office e-mail.” But then, that’s real life for all too many people.

Like Rock, many professionals find themselves succumbing to a host of digital distractions in the office, whether it is e-mail, Web surfing or IM’ing.

Furthermore, nearly half (48%) of respondents say that Web surfing is another “digital distraction,” followed by listening to music (17%). Other respondents cited gaming, fiddling with the computer’s settings and watching videos as distractions.

Accountants report feeling distracted “sometimes” (34%) or “often” (also 34%).

“Digital is by far the worst time-waster,” said Charles Pritchett of Orem, Utah, who said he checks e-mail about every hour and considers himself “terminally” distracted.

Feelings of distraction rarely come as a surprise as today’s technology-driven workplace means that professionals are often forced to multi-task, bouncing from the Web to e-mail to the telephone to unexpected client visits.

“I think that the worst problem I have is being distracted from one task by another. That is, I'll be working on one thing, thinking of another and switching in the middle,” says Carolyn Christesen of Valhalla, N.Y., who acknowledges that she checks e-mail about every hour.

Not everyone, however, views technology like e-mail, as a necessary evil.

“I don't consider checking e-mail a distraction. It's a necessity to stay on top of a fast-changing environment,” said Chip Ellis of Honolulu, Hawaii, who checks e-mail in real-time as it hits his inbox.

“I travel a lot, so much of my ‘computer work’ is done on the road. I never seem to be in one spot more than 30 to 45 minutes,” said Debbie Lambert of Raleigh, N.C.

Aside from “digital distractions,” many accountants are quick to cite phone calls and co-workers as the worst distractions or interruptions.

“Telephone — it is far more time consuming than e-mail. Actually, very rarely is e-mail distracting. If I get a quick response, I can complete my task at hand,” says Kathy L. Copp of Warner Robins, Ga.

“Client ‘crisis’ phone calls, co-worker interruptions, socializing with co-workers,” says Craig Sheets of Lake Mary, Fla., when asked about his biggest distractions.

Some accountants list unexpected visits, IT “emergencies,” colleagues talking on speakerphone and mail sorting as additional distractions.

“My worst distractions are people working in close proximity and sorting mail. There is entirely too much paper out there that has to be dealt with,” says Susan Hebert of Washington D.C.

There’s no doubt that today’s professionals are busier than ever, but, hopefully, not many feel the same as Alphonse J. Sperske in Sacramento, Calif., who, when asked about major distractions, lists “eating and sleeping.”

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? Send in your comments, tips and ideas to Rick Telberg. We’ll post and share the best.

Copyright 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All rights reserved. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.