I am taking five graduate classes, I have a graduate assistantship and a part-time job, I just mailed off the manuscript for a book of poetry coming out in the spring, I am an Anderson Career Services Student Ambassador, an AICPA Legacy Scholar, and the secretary-elect of Beta Alpha Psi. On Thursday, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for five, my Christmas shopping is done, and my fantasy football team is holding down a solid second place in its 10-team league. I am presently riding the train up to Santa Fe, and despite the number of plates I have spinning, I feel rather relaxed and on top of things.
I say all this not in the name of self-promotion, but to set up the topic of this blog post: my tips and tricks to Getting Things Done.
First let me divulge that I was terrible at time management and task accomplishment as an undergraduate. I was the all-nighter kid, the never-reads-the-chapter, always-taking-a-break, perpetually-behind kid. I was definitely not the Secretary of anything. And though I worked as a tutor in my college’s writing lab (where I enthusiastically coached other students on academic and creative paper writing) I could be found most nights, all night, staring at the blinking cursor on a blank screen. Suffice it to say, college was a pretty excruciating and sleep-deprived experience.
Fast-forward back to the present— my MAcct degree is almost half-done, and I’ve hardly felt a thing! Ok, it has been hard work, but the kind of work that is calm, steady, manageable, rewarding, and even fun. I was reflecting a couple of days ago on what it is that I do that helps me get so many things done without really ever feeling busy, and I came up with three things:
Have Use a Planner. This is an easy one. When I was working at the same job all day every day, I could basically keep track of my schedule in my head. But there is no way, at this point, that I could remember all the places I am supposed to be and all of the things I need to get done, and with whom, and by when. So I have a planner. And I use it. And it is amazing.
Find a Really Big Table. Most activities and assignments are made 83% easier if you have the ability to spread out your materials as you attack them. This statistic comes from a very unscientific study of my own productivity. But I stand by it. Big tables. For the win.
Just Do It. I saved this item for last, because it is real secret to all my success. And it’s not something I came up with on my own. Over the past couple of years, I worked for and at times shared an office with a woman named Shasta Brooks (of Mail Call and Shasta Brooks Law). Anytime someone asked her to do something, she would do it immediately—and cheerfully. It was equal parts amazing and flabbergasting. There I was, with my to-do list, working and prioritizing and scheduling and trying to stay organized and always a little bit behind and a little bit grumpy. And she was just doing. With a smile. I have since switched to Shasta’s method, and let me tell you, it’s wonderful. When something is assigned, I do it. When I get an email, I answer it. As soon as I have the tools and information, I take care of the thing. There’s no backlog. No rushing right before the due date. No more all-nighters or don’t-bother-me moods.
For the past three weeks, I have been tutoring two students–non-accounting business majors taking a required graduate accounting course. Tomorrow they have an exam, and I’m so excited about how hard they have worked to study for it. I feel preemptively proud of them, if that’s allowed.
The first day I met one of the students in one of those always-slightly-smelly library basement study rooms, I didn’t really know what to expect. I hadn’t tutored anyone since I was an undergraduate (and back then I helped kids write papers–not use present value tables!). We went through some problems, I asked and answered some questions, and I noticed that sometimes the most effective thing I could do was simply sit and listen as the student worked a problem out on his own.
At the end of that very first session I had such a strange but clear feeling that what I had done in that little basement room had served to enrich my education as much as all my graduate accounting courses combined. Which is not to downplay the enormous amount that I am learning in all my classes! What I mean is that the act of helping another student succeed trumped my personal successes. More than that–it gave meaning to all those classes and all those As and all that work.
After that first day, I think I probably looked forward to the tutoring sessions more than the students did! And I certainly didn’t always have the answers, but hopefully I was a bit helpful, a bit motivating, maybe a little clarifying, and even a bit of a cheerleader when the moment was right.
Anyways…send them good thoughts on their exam day tomorrow!
(The photo above is from another bit of service–I and other members of Beta Alpha Psi directed runners and walkers along the racecourse at the Doggie Dash and Dawdle this month. That dawdler pictured above took the cake.)
I had lunch today with one of my poet friends, which reminded me that in addition to being an accounting student extraordinaire*, I used to be am also a poet! My friend was in town for a governmental accounting workshop–in addition to writing poetry, she also does the books for a scientific operation up in Santa Fe. We talked and laughed about how hard it is to get into the creative mindset on the heels of hours and hours of accounting-type work.
On that note, this Tuesday video segment will be dedicated to one of my favorite Ted Talks on creativity: Elizabeth Gilbert on Your Elusive Creative Genius.
Maybe once I’m done with this Three Exam Week, I’ll see if I can’t return to a little bit of creative work.
If it seems like I have been a little quiet this week, it’s because I was working on a problem I couldn’t solve. I had to prepare a fictitious company’s corporate tax return and all necessary schedules and forms, given a trial balance and a few notes. And when I say I couldn’t solve this one, I mean that I couldn’t solve it alone.
Luckily, I was working with a team. And it was a team of superheroes. Every time somebody hit a dead end, nobody else gave up. I was absolutely thrown out of my comfort zone. And due to that very fact, I learned more during this one week doing this one assignment than I know how to quantify.
After countless hours, emails, and revisions, we submitted our return this morning. And this afternoon the professor wrote back with our grade:
I’m not used to having a question I can’t answer myself. I entered that disconcerting place, I came out the other side, and I emerged with the confidence born of overcoming.
It turns out that not-knowing can sometimes be the best door.