As accountants, our lives revolve around meeting numerous deadlines:
- Filing tax returns
- Filing accounts
- Paying PAYE
- Paying VAT
- Paying tax
- Confirmation statements
Multiply that by the number of clients that you have and suddenly we have a calendar full of different deadlines, for different clients, for different things throughout the entire calendar year.
Thankfully in recent years with the introduction of robust workflow and practice management software managing these deadlines has become much easier.
However, there is still an underlying problem…
Throughout our working lives as accountants, we’re trained to be deadline-driven.
If we don’t meet deadlines, there can be any number of fines and consequences for us and our clients.
And what this means is that for lots of us our primary motivator becomes meeting deadlines.
But why is this a problem?
Because of this, for many accountants, the only way to motivate them to change is the increasing pressure of an approaching deadline or the pain of missing it.
Take the Making Tax Digital deadline for example…
For lots of practices in the UK (especially the younger ones) they’ve been using cloud accounting software for a number of years and have a large number (if not all) of their clients on the cloud.
However, without the approaching MTD deadline next year on the 1st April, there would still be lots of accountants out there lacking the motivation to do this.
It’s only because of the external deadline that they’re suddenly willing and motivated to make changes.
And what this means is that for any number of potentially beneficial ‘working on the business’ projects for example….
- implementing a new pricing system
- systemising your workflow
- developing a ‘wow’ factor customer service strategy
…because they lack any external deadlines, the motivation to complete them simply isn’t there.
But why is this the case?
Deadline-driven vs. Task-driven
Typically, people can either be deadline-driven or task-driven.
Neither style is better than the other as such, but it can have absolute differences in the way that you are motivated to complete tasks.
People who are deadline-driven (i.e. most accountants) consistently complete tasks on time, even if it’s in the final seconds.
And what motivates them to complete these tasks is a set of feelings and emotions that are activated when a deadline is in sight or imminent.
Without the deadline, there’s no motivation to complete the task.
But the deadline has to be external, and it has to be real.
Artificial/internal deadlines often don’t have the same impact, and external deadlines (i.e. clients) will tend to take priority.
On the other hand, task-driven people feel compelled to take action immediately when they have uncompleted tasks.
They are motivated to take action by the feeling of relief when a task is successfully completed which means they’re often motivated to do things constantly.
So how have you been trained to be deadline-driven?
Ok, here comes the sciencey bit.
Want to skip ahead to the next section where I share some practical ideas for motivating yourself to change when you’re deadline driven? Feel free…
Being deadline-driven is addictive, and the reason is because we get addicted to the hormones and chemicals (mainly cortisol) created during these stressful periods. It feels so good once a deadline is met, that it almost becomes a kind of pick-me-up that you need time and time again.
But over time this can transform your brain and how it works…
Your amygdala grows (survival instinct part of the brain) and your frontal lobe shrinks. This means that your frontal lobe which is responsible for rational thoughts and logic doesn’t kick in as well, limiting creative solutions and meaning there’s often only one way to get the task done.
So, the longer you spend in an environment that’s predominantly deadline driven, the more you train and reshape your brain to only respond to deadlines.
Sciencey bit over, here’s the practical bit…
How else can you motivate yourself if you’re deadline-driven?
Being deadline-driven is useful for completing client work, but it’s not useful for the limitless number of ‘working on the business’ projects you could be doing.
So how can you better motivate yourself to focus on these?
Here are a couple of ideas…
1. Create space and time outside of your normal working routine
While ever you’re in your normal working environment and routine, your brain will default to its deadline-driven mode.
So, if you want to find the motivation to work on things that don’t have an external deadline, you need to find some time outside of your normal working routine and environment.
One of the things I suggest to all of my clients is that they carve out a minimum of 2 hours every singly week to focus on working on their business, as long as:
- It’s not in their office
- It’s not between normal working hours
It might feel counter-intuitive to be working more hours at first, but it will pay off down the line.
2. Set targets and re-visit them regularly
If there aren’t any external deadlines to motivate you to get things done, then why not create some?
Setting targets and goals with your team and revisiting them on a regular basis is a great way to tap into your preferred source of motivation and get things done.
3. Find an accountability partner
Having somebody (or even better a group of people) to hold you accountable will help externalise some of your goals and motivate you to complete them.
Every week members of my coaching and mastermind programme hold each other accountable to what they’ve done that week, and what they’re going to be doing in the next week.
It’s a pretty powerful process and gives you the extra boost of motivation that you need.
If you change nothing, nothing will change
As accountants, our brains are trained to respond and be motivated to meet external deadlines.
But when these deadlines don’t exist, we find it hard to motivate ourselves to change.
By following some of the steps above, you can train yourself to become more task-driven and make positive and progressive changes in your accountancy practice when external deadlines might not exist.
If you change nothing, nothing will change.