I have had the privilege to attend and speak at the AICPA’s EDGE Experience in New Orleans, co-facilitate a strategic planning session for a Top 100 firm in Mississippi, speak at the Colorado Society of CPAs’ inaugural Young Professional Summit, and wrap up my month speaking to the Colorado Society of CPAs’ third annual Women’s Summit.
It was a busy couple of weeks, but as I reflected on them as I flew back to Baltimore, one common thread appeared — busy-ness.
In this rapidly changing, hyper-paced world, we have all become insanely busy. Think about the last time someone asked you, “How’s it going?” or “What’s new?” and you didn’t automatically reply with the word “Busy” before launching into how it was really going and what was really new. What would you think if, upon asking your colleague, friend or spouse how their day was going, they answered, “Really boring. I just can’t seem to find enough work to do.” It’s like asking a new parent how it’s going and hearing them say that they’ve never slept better.
Because of our perceived busy-ness, research suggests that we live up to 95 percent of our lives on autopilot. We are just going from one thing to the next with little time in between and with little thought into what — or more importantly, why — we are doing it.
Top futurist and bestselling author Daniel Burrus asks whether the executives at GM were busy during the five years leading up to their bankruptcy. Of course they were! But that didn’t help them, did it? “It’s a fact of life in the 21st century: We’re all very busy. Unfortunately, it is possible to busy yourself right out of business. Blockbuster, Chrysler, Polaroid, Borders … the list is long,” Burrus said.
One of the presentations I delivered was on the book The Upside of Stress by Dr. Kelly McGonigal. In her book, McGonigal uses research to explain how stress can actually be good for you … if you have the right mindset. One of the benefits of stress is the opportunity to learn and grow. This opportunity comes from hormones in the stress recovery process. The same hormones present during the stress are actually released to help you recover. For example, cortisol and oxytocin reduce inflammation and restore balance. Those who release higher levels of stress hormones during a stressful experience recover faster.
One hormone that is part of the stress recovery process is dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA. DHEA increases neuroplasticity in your brain, increasing activity in the regions that support learning and memory. The recovery process can take several hours, during which your brain is actually rewiring itself to remember and learn from the experience.
How many times have you gone through an experience and found yourself replaying it in your head for hours after it is over. Or maybe your emotions tend to still run pretty strong even after the event is over. This is part of the recovery process. It is almost like a stress vaccine. Your stress response helps you be better prepared for future stress.
So here’s the problem: Recovery can take hours, even days, and if in our busy-ness we have moved on to the next meeting, conference call, or stressful situation without allowing ourselves to take a break to reflect, we could lose out on all that learning.
So, how do we not lose out on this valuable learning, ensure we are concerned with the right things, and maintain our day-to-day schedules? We make rest and recovery a priority. Burrus suggests blocking out just one hour a week on your calendar. This sacred time is used to reflect on the past week and think about the future. Amy Vetter, chief relationship officer with Xero and author of Business, Balance & Bliss, suggests that if you have a jam-packed meeting schedule, finding two minutes — just two — to sit quietly with your eyes closed. These two minutes might seem like forever when you have 1,000 things to do, but it isn’t — it is all you need to completely reset your nervous system. What if everyone prepared for a meeting this way? What would coming in fresh, without the baggage of the previous meeting and focused on the task at hand do to the productivity of meeting?
Whatever you choose to do to recharge, reflect, learn from experiences, and think about the future, just make sure you make it a priority. You can’t afford not to. As my EDGE tweet said, “The overall theme of #aicpa_edge (and really the month of August for me) stop being so busy! Take time to pause, observe, learn and reflect — it is essential to be #futuready.