How to be a highly effective performer and still leave time to experience your life

A managing partner’s perspective on how to be a highly effective performer and still leave time to experience your life

By: Lory Kelley, CPA, Managing Partner

Fundamentally, being effective at work while “having a life” boils down to being the most productive and present you can be during your work time. Is this always the case? No, but a vast majority of the time if you can strike with surgical precision during your work hours you take less work stress into your off time.

What is the secret sauce?

This is the hard part – we are all different, and what may work for me may not work for you. Finding the right combination of tools and headspace takes a lot of personal trial and error and finding “it” is more of a journey than a destination. Here are a few tips to help you on your journey.

1. Figure out your personal operating system.

Observe when you function best during the day. What are things that steal your focus? What are the most successful tactics to handle your to-do lists? Understanding your personal operating system is critical to making sure you
run at peak performance.

For me, I am my best early in the morning before the email and the other “noise” starts. During this time, I can handle my toughest tasks with surprising ease. I disable email notifications on my computer and smart phone, so I don’t lose concentration mid-task. I break down my to-do list into manageable, bitesize pieces and “assign” them to myself the night before based upon how busy my day will be. I rarely schedule meetings on Mondays to combat the “Sunday Night Scaries” and give myself room to work on tasks so I don’t feel obligated to work on the weekends.

I figured out these “Lory Hacks” through lots of trial and error. If you are not sure even where to begin, check out the book. “Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day,” by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky. The book is a great resource for ideas on how to approach your to-do list, combat the lure of “Infinity Pools” (like social media), and keep yourself energized.

2. Good ‘ole fashion discipline – hold yourself accountable.

Okay, hear me out. It is easy to put a task off to tomorrow, but eventually all those tasks pile up to what seems like an impassible, very scary mountain. Think of it this way – by knocking something off your list now, you are performing a huge act of kindness for your future self. How much better will you feel getting that task done?

If there are tasks that you never seem to get done, ask yourself why. Are you dragging your feet because the chore is anxiety provoking or are you doubting your abilities? Identify what you are avoiding and address it head on.

For example, I have put off the writing of this article for a year (yes, literally a year) because I doubted my ability to give meaningful advice. Upon serious reflection, it occurred to me that I never would have been asked to write on this specific topic if the firm’s newsletter committee didn’t think I had shown this skill. Being our own worst critic (i.e. self-doubt) is a stumbling block for all of us. Remember, we learn the most when we fail and other times we succeed despite our doubt – but you never know until you try. There is no growth in staying in your comfort zone. Be vulnerable.

To get in the practice of breaking the procrastination habit, recruit an accountability buddy who you meet with regularly to give task status updates. This person will challenge you when to-do’s are sticking around a little too long. If you find yourself being a habitual procrastinator, try the app Sensa to dig deeper into the why and to develop the skills to overcome this No.1 stress inducing habit. You will feel better and be less likely to take these stressors with you when you are trying to enjoy other parts of your life.

3. Take care of you.

Prioritize doing things that “fill your cup,” get good quality sleep, and exercise. There will always be something you should be doing whether that is doing the laundry, analyzing a trial balance, or tackling your email. Personally, this is
something that I am constantly working on. Growing up I was taught that you did not earn your right to play until your work was done. Good advice when you are little but, spoiler alert, when you are grown up, work is never done. Give yourself permission to play; the work will be there when you return. Laugh, learn something new, read a book, travel … have fun.

Have you ever been running low on fuel and are just trying to complete this one task but it is taking forever? I promise you, if you take some time for you and get some rest and then come back to the task, you will finish it in a fraction of the time than if you just “gut” through it. Making sure you are getting the proper amount of rest is imperative to functioning physically, mentally, and emotionally at peak performance.

In addition, exercise plays a huge role in combating stress by minimizing that fight or flight response. Exercise allows you to clear your head and be more settled. Physical exercise is not just good for the body but for the mind as well. I have my best ideas and am able to make better connections and conclusions as I think about things while I walk.

Understanding more about yourself, tackling procrastination head on, and honoring your body sounds fairly simple on paper. In practice, it can be pretty darn hard. Remember the power of the 1% — just get 1% better every day, week, or month and you will be amazed on how far you can get. Rome was not built in a day. Adjust the expectations you hold for yourself because making meaningful changes takes time and tenacity. You are going to have slip ups; forgive yourself, get back up, make adjustments, and never give up.


Lory H. Kelley Managing Partner, Tax Partner, CPA

Lory is BRC’s Managing Partner with more than 21 years of experience in public accounting serving clients and in firm leadership roles.  She has experience working in many industries, including residential and commercial real estate and general and specialty contractors.  She applies her knowledge and practical ideas to meet the needs of firm clients […]