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The Terror in Your Inbox

CPAs share remedies for e-mail addiction. Start coping: Join the
Stress-O-Meter survey panel. See the answers.

February 7, 2008
by Rick Telberg/For the Finance Executive

Do you get cold sweats when you open your e-mail inbox? Do your hands shake at the thought of unread messages? Do you find yourself communicating in italics, CAPS and bold more than the spoken word?

If so, you may be one of many CPAs suffering from a modern-age plague:
E-mail Addiction. If you’re reading this, you already know what we mean.

HOW ARE CPAs COPING WITH BUSY SEASON?
CHECK THE STRESS-O-METER

Join the survey. See the results.

(Free. Confidential.)

All joking aside, many professionals admit that e-mail consumes much of their workday. Based on the feedback we’re getting from finance and accounting professionals, nearly 40 percent check their e-mail “in real-time, as it arrives.”

Another 44 percent report that they check e-mail “frequently,” or about every hour.

The worst distraction is “trying to figure out what the e-mail is requesting,” says Joanne Rock of Chicago, Ill., who works for a not-for-profit. Sadly, her personal e-mail has co-mingled with her office e-mail. It's “real life.”

Some respondents mention electronic news items or alerts as a distraction, as is the anticipation of an expected e-mail.

“Digital is by far the worst time waster,” said Charles Pritchett of Orem, Utah, who works at a public accounting firm.

But it doesn’t stop with e-mail. Many respondents, like Kathy L. Copp, CPA, of Warner Robins, Ga., cite the phone as their leading adversary. Others list chatty clients and co-workers, unannounced visitors, other people’s speakerphones and questions by staff members as top distractions.

“The telephone. It is far more time consuming than e-mail,” says Copp, who works at a public accounting firm. “Actually, very rarely is e-mail distracting and is mostly helpful. If I get a quick response, I can complete my task at hand.”

Says our friend Andrew Pfau of Jericho, N.Y., who works at a public accounting firm, when asked about office distractions: “Telephone calls — some on the landline and a few on the cell phone, sometimes at the same time.”

Nearly half the respondents (48% to be exact) admit that they sometimes succumb to Web surfing. What are they doing online?

Some CPAs are doing research, checking stock quotes and reading the news. Others admit to browsing Amazon, eBay and YouTube.

The good news: There may be some hope for today’s tech addicts. Some CPAs are sharing their secrets on how to stay focused.

Among the top four suggestions are to:

  1. work at night when all is quiet,
  2. draft “to-do” lists,
  3. refrain from answering unknown calls, and
  4. log out of e-mail to avoid temptation.

“[I] hold calls and don’t check e-mail [and] focus only on work before me,” says Terry Forman of Coral Gables, Fla., who works at a public accounting firm.

“A few weeks ago, I moved my Inbox off my desktop, so now I'm not tempted to check it frequently ... it works! Also, when I close my laptop on my desk, I am able to focus much better,” says Brenda Zamzow of Los Angeles, Calif., who quickly admits, “however, I rarely have the courage to do that.”

Several accountants suggest listening to music to block the surrounding noise of phones and co-workers.

“I tune out the noise and concentrate on what I'm doing,” says Michelle Ramirez of Santa Ana, Calif. “Actually, listening to music very quietly deadens the outside noise.”

“[I] use another piece of technology to limit distractions … my iPod,” notes Linas Kubilius of San Francisco, Calif.

If all else fails, perhaps consider Jim Fritzsche’s method. This CPA of Elk Grove, Calif., says what helps him stay focused on the task at hand is a swift “virtual kick in the ass.”

Now, if only we could find that “virtual kick in the butt” widget on the Internet!

CHECK THE BUSY SEASON STRESS-O-METER: Join the study group. Get the benchmarks. Stay informed.

COMMENTS: Questions, rants or raves? Write Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission

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.