Working Hard At Working Smart

Julie Shenkman
Posted by in Accounting, Auditing & Tax


In all types of enterprises today, financial professionals are facing increasing workloads. Accountants, analysts, and their managers find themselves working longer and longer hours. Younger professionals can't seem to "get a life," while older professionals struggle to attain the balance between work and family time that they seek. And as our increasing workloads diminish the quantity of our personal time, the increasingly frantic nature of work diminishes the quality of our personal time as well.

Traditional time management skills only go so far towards addressing the problem of too much work and not enough time. Most time management advice focuses on establishing priorities, being organized, and eliminating interruptions. But these tactics offer no protection from employers and others who make increasing claims on your time. You can be prioritized, organized, and uninterrupted -- and still be overworked.

Of course, your boss is probably just trying to get the greatest value from you at the least cost. That's a very important aspect of his/her job. An example is the common situation of chronic understaffing. Even if employees who are expected to work longer hours are paid a premium, it is usually far cheaper for the organization to have fewer employees do the work than to spread the workload out over a greater number of employees. This situation is good for the employer but unquestionably burdensome on employees.

While you can't blame your employer for trying to get the most for their money (after all, your job probably involves helping your employer do just that), you can establish a more equitable boundary between your work and personal time, and you can learn to get more done in less time without sacrificing the quality of your work. This is what a certain few financial professionals who manage to stay on top of their growing workloads do. This article explores how such busy financial professionals pull it off - by working hard at working smart.


Financial professionals who succeed at managing their growing workloads exhibit four interdependent success factors:

- They are adept at measuring and communicating the value of their work.

- They choose to work for organizations whose culture is focused on creating value rather than on exercising control over employees' busy-ness.

- They acquire and exercise the bargaining power needed to establish a satisfactory work-life boundary.

- They continually acquire the know-how and tools to work more efficiently/productively.

Now we'll look at how you can apply each of these factors in managing your career.

Measuring and Communicating the Value of Your Work

Smart financial professionals work hard at quantifying the value of their work to their management, focusing on what their organizations explicitly value. You should always be able to demonstrate the value of what you're doing for the effort you put into it. If you can't, your boss has considerable leverage to pressure you into working longer and harder.

You might think that your boss is already well aware of the value of your work, or that it's his/her job to quantify it. That's rarely the case. One reason is that financial professionals are taught to value things in terms of their cost, leading your boss to equate the value of your work with the cost of your labor. Carried further, your boss will tend to equate the value of additional work assigned to you at the marginal cost of your labor -- which is effectively zero for a salaried employee! In reality, the value of your work to your employer is usually far greater than the cost of your labor.

Even if your boss does know the value of your work, he/she may not wish you to know it. That's because your employer enjoys a negotiating advantage over you as long as you remain ignorant of the true value of your work. So don't be surprised if your boss downplays the value of your work or discourages your attempts to quantify it.

Finally, just as it is important to assess the value of the work you are now doing, it is important to assess the value of the work you could be doing if you had the time to do it. Identifying valuable work that you're capable of doing but which is going undone due to lack of time may be summarized as "having something better to do." Otherwise, as far as your boss is concerned, you don't have anything better to do until he/she thinks of it. Don't sit back and wait - take the lead.

The quality of your work life hinges considerably on mutual recognition of the value of your work by both you and your employer. Bosses simply have much greater respect for the time of employees who are doing valuable work and know it.

Working for Organizations That Are Focused on Business, not Busy-ness

Smart financial professionals work for results-oriented employers. In today's competitive business environment, being effective at producing value is crucial. And in professional work, the creation of value is driven by qualitative differences in performance at least as much as quantitative ones. Employers who focus exclusively on obtaining a greater quantity of work from employees are missing the point.

Unfortunately, many organizations manage professional employees using decades-old supervisory practices that were developed for an uneducated, unskilled workforce engaged primarily in physical labor. Quantity of output was the main metric, as opposed to quality or value. "Idleness" was to be avoided at all costs.

Because such management practices are still prevalent, you will need to work hard at identifying and qualifying exceptional employers who understand that more work doesn't necessarily translate into more value. Here are some questions to ask prospective employers at the appropriate stage of the recruiting process to find out where they stand on this issue:

- How do you measure the value of employees' work? How do you try to maximize that value?

- How is the boundary between work and personal time determined here?

- Are "face time" or being the last to leave at night key values in the organization's culture?

- Are superior individual efficiency and productivity "rewarded" with more work?

Acquiring and Exercising Your Bargaining Power

Most employers would like you to believe that they're doing you a favor by employing you. Maybe they are, but you owe it to yourself to test that notion objectively. That's not being disloyal - it's simply refusing to cede control over your life to someone whose interests differ from yours, especially when it comes to your time.

The boundary between your work and personal time is the product of continual, implicit negotiation between you and your employer. Exactly where the boundary gets established depends on your relative bargaining power, and smart financial professionals make it a point to have something to bargain with.

Even though your employer may wield more bargaining power than you do, you should be working hard at recognizing and exercising the full measure of yours. By exercising -- and ultimately increasing -- your bargaining power, you are much more likely to reach a mutually-agreed-upon understanding of "a fair day's work for a fair day's pay" rather than letting your employer define it unilaterally.

There are many aspects of your bargaining power to recognize, exercise, and enhance, but perhaps the most important is maximizing the career opportunities available to you. A worker with career options outside of his/her current organization is a worker with bargaining power. Always be on the lookout. Always have somewhere to go. Know what you're worth in your labor market, as you define it geographically and on the basis of your skillset. Again, it's not being disloyal; it's holding your own against an employer who has considerable bargaining power and no inhibitions about using it to claim more and more of your time.

Continually Enhancing Your Efficiency and Productivity

Ultimately, the only way to handle more and more work is to spend less and less time doing what you're presently doing. This cannot happen without continuously improving your productivity.

There are a number of relatively modern ways you can improve your productivity in financial work, but their newness means you're unlikely to have learned about any of them in your academic studies. Furthermore, if your background includes public accounting or consulting experience, you're unlikely to have seen productivity improvements implemented on a significant scale, because they would have required an investment of non-billable time to reduce billable hours!

And so, few financial professionals are aware of the benefits and techniques of emerging disciplines like Task Deflation, which is simply about spending less time doing what you do without sacrificing the quality or quantity of your work product. But what would be an employer's incentive to invest in Task Deflation? It is the value to be derived from doing what you will have the time to do that will more than adequately fund new procedures and tools that will in turn enable you to create more value in the same amount of time.


As mentioned in previously, the factors that make financial professionals successful at managing growing workloads are interdependent. Here's an example of how they can work together:

Bob tells his boss "I could improve our bottom line by _____ dollars annually if I could get my current work done in one less day a month and spent that day doing _____." It's exactly the kind of thing Bob's boss Jane wants to hear from the financial professionals who work for her. And Jane knows that if she doesn't respond with the resources for Bob to boost the bottom line, there are plenty of other organizations that would -- and she knows Bob knows that, too. Jane respects Bob's time because she wants Bob to be satisfied so he continues to create more and more value for their organization.

You don't get in such a position without hard work on the points mentioned in this article. But that's what working hard at working smart is all about.

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