Boundaries: How and Why They Are Good for CPAs

After spending nearly twenty years with accountants (including myself!), I’ve come recognize a common trait among our tribe. We’re a group of people who love saying yes.

We say yes to clients, firm partners, our team members, family, friends, volunteer engagements and so on. People love us for it. I mean, when you think of qualities you look for in people you work with, willingness and reliability are right up at the top of the list.

But as you’re working tirelessly to meet the needs of everyone you encounter, how are your own needs being met?

As I write this post, we are half-way through the traditional busy season. How are you feeling? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting 15 minutes or more a day for yourself? How’s your energy level?

If you're feeling further down the lousiness scale than you’d like, it might be time to establish some boundaries.    

You  a Machine

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Setting boundaries can give you control when you don’t feel like you have any.

Because of who you are and the work you do, people in your life count on you (and that’s a positive thing). But without some boundaries, they’ll push it.

Here's an example: Most of us check emails outside of office hours, right? When you respond to an email at 9:30 PM, you are sending a message that says more than what you type in your response. You are telling the recipient that they have access to you at this time. From their perspective, your office hours just extended. Great for them probably, but not so great for you.

Being on all the time is simply not sustainable. If late night responses become your modus operandi, eventually your stress levels will go up, and your productivity and the quality of your work will go down (unless you balance this with a leisurely morning routine). These downsides also creep right in to affect work culture and retention.

Consider this simple truth: human beings are not machines. We need downtime. 

How to Create Boundaries in Public Accounting

So, where do you begin? I suggest starting with some self-reflection. What are your goals—in and out of the office? What’s important to you? When it comes to work, what’s realistic and viable, also taking your wellbeing into account? More than anything, we want to keep the commitments we make, but we need to also make the commitments we can keep.

As you begin to establish boundaries, teach the people in your life where the boundaries are. Here are ways to accomplish this:

  • Adopt a closed-door policy to give yourself solid chunks of time for focused working. This Forbes article provides the basics and some tips. When done well, this type of arrangement can contribute greatly to everyone’s productivity.
  • Focus on one task at a time. Close all windows and programs that aren’t contributing to the project at hand (this includes email).
  • Put physical space between you and your technology. There’s research that suggests there is a 20-second rule for forming better habits. Move your phone 20 seconds farther away, and you’re less likely to check it every other moment.    
  • Block time on your calendar to communicate to team members when you are and are not available.
  • Set an out of office message to let clients and colleagues know when you aren’t available. Let them know when they can expect a reply. You can also provide them a way to contact you if it truly is an emergency situation.

Please note that for each of these suggestions, communicating the boundary is key—and how you say it is just as important and the content of your message.

In our industry, there will always be exceptions to the rules, and sometimes boundaries have to be adjusted. You’re a professional; you are not going to leave anyone hanging. But setting boundaries will give you back some control of your time.

You deserve to recharge your batteries and your team deserves a re-charged you.