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Taking a New Look at Time

June 20, 2018

As proud as we at the VSCPA are of our educational offerings, it's rare that continuing education can be described as “life-changing.” But that's exactly what happened to VSCPA member Bill Young, CPA.

The story begins in Cleveland in 2007, where Young attended a session led by another VSCPA member, the late Jim Ball, CPA. But that session wasn't even the true game changer for Young.

That session started a professional relationship between Young and Ball that resulted in Young's session, “It's About Time. It's About You!” at this week's 45th Annual Virginia Accounting & Auditing Conference, held at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center and the Fairview Park Marriott Hotel in Falls Church, with another edition being held at the Founders Inn in Virginia Beach in October.

“The session we went to was on setting goals, and I was so impressed by it. He asked us to write down one goal we had, and my goal was to start a relationship between my firm and Jim Ball,” said Young, a partner at Mitchell, Wiggins & Co. in Petersburg. “I got his information, and asked him to come down and do a session on goal setting. He said he’d do it, but said he wanted to come down first and do a session on time management, because you need to get that before you talk about goals.”

It was the time management session that truly transformed Young's outlook. Ball presented a two-point treatise on the value of planning that changed his entire perspective on work.

“You’ve heard the old saying, ‘Time is worth more than money,’” Young said. “I think a lot of people say it, but I’m not sure a lot of people really believe it. One of the things we say in our seminar is that you can lose every dollar you ever had, and you can earn some more. But if you lose time, you can never get it back.”

Ball's two main points — the ones that Young and coworker and co-presenter Carman Faison, CPA, hope to truly impress upon attendees — deal with planning on a weekly and daily basis.

“It’s a different way to think about time that I found very intriguing, and I wish I had had it 40 years ago,” Young said. “Two of the main principles are planning, obviously. Jim is very big on planning your weeks, that you plan a week at a time.”

“The second component, which is more powerful than the first,” Young added, “is planning your days. One of the things that we try to get across is what Jim called the ‘thunderbolt.’ He decided that like you plan your weeks, you should also plan your days, and if possible, plan your day before you leave the day before. He has a sheet of paper called ‘Thunderbolts’ where you list five or six items at the most. It’s not a to-do list. A thunderbolt is something that you really need to get done that day. It’s almost like you made a commitment to get it done that day. I certainly don’t accomplish this, but when I put something on that list, it means I’m not leaving the office until it’s done.”

Young practices what he preaches — he uses the thunderbolt system in his day-to-day life and taught his two children the practice. He tells the story of his younger daughter texting him from college to tell him she had accomplished all her thunderbolts and was going to bed, to which he responded “Honey, this is the greatest text you’ve ever sent me in your life. I feel like I’m getting through.”

Planning, blocking off time and adhering to your planned schedule are the central tenets of the Ball system. He and Faison do a skit about a coworker who asks for “just five minutes” in order to illustrate the necessity of saying, “No.”

But Young's major takeaway from Ball's time management session came from a visual metaphor his mentor used.

“He came into our firm and played this thing called the birthday game,” Young said. “He gave everybody 80 little cardboard squares and said, ’80 is your typical life expectancy. First of all, take the number of years you’ve already lived and push them away. You don’t get those anymore.’ And I’m 60 years old and only have 20 left, and the guy next to me has 55 left.

“A third of those cards or chips you’re going to spend sleeping. Some more are going to be spent working. It made you graphically focus on how little you’ve got. It makes people focus on how valuable time really is.”

And that’s a message that plays right into the detail-oriented nature most CPAs share.

“A general trait of CPAs is that we’re pretty organized,” Young said. “Sometimes I think that because we are organized, we think there’s nothing we can learn. This is old hat, and we can’t learn anything new. And a lot of it won’t be new. But there will be new things even to organized people like us.

“That’s a generalization and a stereotype, but even before I knew about Jim Ball, I was the master of the to-do list. We all sort of live our lives by to-do lists. We’re very due date-oriented, task-oriented and ‘Let’s get it done’ oriented. It fits right in to what we need in our profession.”

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