In today’s high-paced professional world, it’s easy to lose perspective on what moves the needle in your company and get mired down in a slew of everyday tasks and emails. And while creating a structure that prioritizes reflection and planning can be challenging, it is immensely beneficial in the long run. Here to help us unpack this topic and give us a fresh perspective on our approach to work is Dan Montgomery, audit partner and director of business development at Forge Financial and Management Consulting, a forward-thinking advisory firm. In our conversation, Dan expands on how Forge’s novel approach is making the busy season more manageable for their team and what they are doing to prioritize planning, reflection, and productivity at their company. We then move on to what Dan has learned from the value of journaling, reflection, and planning and how those lessons have changed the way he works and lives his life. Finally, today’s episode offers a high-level breakdown of creating an innovative professional services model that allows for increased profitability, greater productivity, and, most importantly, more personal life satisfaction.
Key Points From This Episode:
- Get to know today’s guest, Dan Montgomery, and his fascinating childhood in Alaska.
- Why Forge Financial Management Consulting was created and who it is meant to serve.
- An overview of Dan’s firm and its approach to accounting.
- The pitfalls of the busy season in accounting and how Dan’s firm is addressing it.
- Why Forge Financial Management Consulting isn’t taking on new tax-only clients.
- The importance of prioritizing the most impactful work within your company.
- Defining your value proposition and why it will attract more ideal clients.
- How reflection helps Dan function in a more healthy way.
- A breakdown of how Dan prioritizes daily and weekly ‘Big Three’ tasks.
- The most important elements of weekly reflection.
- How to create space for focused, deep work.
- What an ideal week for Dan’s company looks like.
[0:00:04.5] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast, helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[0:00:20.8] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we are joined by Dan Montgomery, partner with Forge Financial and Management Consulting, a forward-thinking advisory firm. Dan and I discussed how he and his firm have taken a different approach to the traditional professional services model and how it has allowed for increased profitability, greater productivity, and most importantly, more personal life satisfaction. I hope you all enjoy.
[0:00:49.9] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn, search for Connection Builders.
[0:00:57.2] AD: Dan, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast, excited to have you here today.
[0:01:00.5] DM: I am excited to be here, thank you for having me.
[0:01:02.8] AD: Well, this is going to be a fun conversation and one I’m looking forward to. Dan, maybe it’s helpful for you just to start with sharing a little bit about yourself and then let’s dive into some of our topics for today.
[0:01:15.6] DM: Absolutely. Well, I’m Dan Montgomery, audit partner and director of business development at Forge Financial and Management Consulting and you know, CPA. A lot of people think CPAs are boring but probably one of the most interesting things about me is that I am originally from Alaska but I now live in Iowa, in the Midwest here. So born in Idaho, got an older brother and my parents are teachers and they’ve always been the adventurous type and you know, kind of got bored with Idaho.
There’s a lot of adventure there but they thought, you know, “Hey, let’s move to Alaska.” So when I was in preschool, my parents packed up, moved us to about as far north as you can go in Alaska, no running water. I think our first day there, we were invited to an Eskimo potluck. Somebody had passed away in the village and so we were invited to go, walked into the school gymnasium and there was a whale in the middle of the gymnasium where people were just cutting pieces of whale out and handing it to everybody, just for part of the potluck.
So I have had a lot of unique, different experiences growing up in Alaska, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Bounced around to a ton of different places in Alaska, ended up in Petersburg, Alaska which is a Norwegian settlement of about 3,500 people. So the biggest place that I had lived up until sixth grade and then from there, graduated from high school, went on to the University of Idaho so kind of back to my roots where I was born. I graduated with a degree in accounting. I didn’t take the CPA exam right out of college because I didn’t do any internships during college, which I kind of regretted not doing that but I had to go back to Alaska and work and make money.
Because my goal was, “Hey, I want to pay for college while I’m there. I don’t want any student loans” and I was able to do that. So I got my first job out of college in Waterloo actually. My parents who are originally from Iowa, moved back to Iowa once I graduated from college and so I was like, “Well, I’ll move out to Iowa too and get my start and see where it takes me” and got my first job in Waterloo, working for a private company there and then worked for another company in private accounting for about five years.
And then joined TDT CPA Advisors and been there for about nine years and then some exciting news, I guess, Alex that I want to share too is you know, effective on October 31st, we split off from TDT to form another company called Forge Financial and Management Consulting. So our business intelligence practice and our audit department joined that firm, started that new firm and really excited for that future and where that is going to take us.
[0:03:37.6] AD: So I want to come back to that in a minute, I have two things. One, when you introduced and when we stared off this recording, you said your name and your company. It’s funny watching you because you had to say the right name because this is so fresh, this is so new.
[0:03:48.3] DM: Yup.
[0:03:48.5] AD: And so for all of our listeners, that’s part of the exciting topic here. Before we jumped on recording, Dan and I were chatting a little bit and he shared the news with me and we kind of had a good discussion around it. So I’m excited because we’re going to dig into some of it and we’re going to tie into a couple really interesting topics that I think our listeners will be able to take home and use for themselves and how they function in their own business and then in their own career.
But before we get to that, I do want to say, I’m glad this is a podcast and not a video cast at least for my side of the video here because my jaw was like, hitting the floor when you were talking about this whale in the metal. That is, I knew that you spent a chunk of your life in Alaska but wow, I almost think we could just change the entire topic of the podcast and just dig into what life in Alaska is like so.
[0:04:28.6] DM: I could probably talk for hours on Alaska, yup.
[0:04:31.4] AD: That was definitely one of the more interesting experiences I guess, I’ve heard someone share with me. So all that said, I’m excited for our conversation today. So you just shared and you are in process of splitting out and from your current organization into a two separate entities and you were going with one of the entities and kind of changing and growing how that business looks and why don’t you just give us the high level of what that looks like and you know, our listeners, give them a view of why it’s so different, why there’s kind of unique element behind all of this?
[0:05:02.7] DM: Absolutely. So TDT CPA Advisors is the firm that I started with about nine years ago. They’ve been in business for almost 50 years now, started in southeastern Iowa and some of the smaller communities, serving those communities from you know, helping people with individual tax returns, farmers with tax returns, small to medium sized businesses in those communities, serving those communities and serving them very well.
And over the years, we’ve really just shifted our mindset as far as half of our company was working on clients throughout the nation and we kind of had these two separate visions where one vision wanted to serve those local communities that they historically had done and the other vision wanted to serve clients nationwide and then really focus on productivity, work-life balance, just changing the traditional CPA model and that’s what kind of spurred the spinoff from TDT to create this new firm, Forge Financial and Management Consulting.
[0:05:59.7] AD: Well and for our listeners, I would say it is also that spurred the conversation, this podcast we’re recording because again, before I knew all the details of the spinoff in this but you and I were chatting a little bit about your firm and how you approach the accounting business and obviously, for our listeners, if you’re not in a CPA firm, if you’re in any form of professional services, I think there’s a lot to be taken away from some of the thinking that’s happening here but you know, Dan, can you just speak to it specifically to your business and kind of compare and contrast traditional CPA model to what you all have been successful with here?
[0:06:33.5] DM: Absolutely. Yeah, so a traditional CPA model is during tax season, you’re going to work 60 plus hours a week in a minimum just to get the work done because that is such a compressed time where you’re focusing on that compliance work and then also, the same with the audit practices as well, you’ve got compressed seasons where…
[0:06:51.0] AD: Busy season, I think we call it, right?
[0:06:53.5] DM: Busy season, not fun season is another word for it. So we’ve really focused on how can we spread the workout throughout the year not only for our own sanity but to help clients in a better, more proactive way.
So our company, Forge Financial Management Consulting, we don’t take on any tax-only clients, any new tax-only clients. So we focus on what clients can we serve monthly so that we’re helping them have relevant financial information so that they can use that, make decisions, be more profitable, grow the right way.
[0:07:25.9] AD: Let me play devil’s advocate there for a minute because I’m thinking, I’m listening to this and you’re saying, well, you don’t accept any new tax work. You do tax work but you don’t accept any new tax only work because you want a client that you’re working with throughout the year and of course, that’s the more appealing client. Everyone I think can agree with that but how do you say no to the revenue of it? How and I should say, why do you say no to the opportunity of tax only work?
[0:07:50.9] DM: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I think the best answer to that is that we also want to grow in the right way and just accepting everything that comes in the door is not accomplishing that because if we accept that work and we do have that compressed time during busy season, we aren’t doing right by our staff, our team with what we set out. As you know, we have a goal right now where no one works over 50 hours ever even during busy season, that’s our goal that we try to stand by.
[0:08:15.8] AD: Say that again.
[0:08:17.8] DM: No one works over 50 hours, even during the busy season.
[0:08:20.4] AD: Which is crazy, right? I mean, anyone who is listening is saying that 50 hours during busy season, how could you ever get it done, right?
[0:08:26.4] DM: Yup and you know, really how we do get that done is take on the right work, keep retention high so that we don’t lose people or not retraining, retooling every season because everybody out there knows how much effort that takes to get the right people in the right seat and then, to train them, to do that job.
ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a connection builder’s podcast.
[0:08:51.7] AD: So there’s two top there, two points I really want to dig into. Number one, take on the right work and I want to say, from my own experience both myself and for others I’ve worked with in this area, finding the right revenue is always the hardest challenge but always the right kind of approach to business and I say that because all too often, we want to grow for growth sake, right?
And always want more, generate more revenue, generate more opportunity and of course, you want to do that. There’s an economic incentive, there’s the ability to grow and yes, you need to have revenue to grow a business and to build but not only your personal book of business but as you grow kind of an organization, you have to chase it.
The challenge becomes not being clear about what you do best, how you’re going to do it best and what the right client, the right revenue is for you and rather, just shooting for and taking anything that comes your way and I think latter is what I all to often unfortunately see and what happens especially in a service-based industry, as a CPA, a lawyer or anyone else that ultimately sells some portion of their time, knowledge and expertise to a client for a service, recognize that it’s really easy to get spun up and have more work than you have time to get done an all that is doing is distracting you from actually doing the real strategic focus of what you’re trying to get done, right?
[0:10:11.0] DM: Absolutely.
[0:10:11.7] AD: So share some of your thoughts or experience around that. Like, tie it in to some of the work that you’ve done and where you’ve seen it benefit you in your firm.
[0:10:19.3] DM: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head with taking on more work and distracting you from what’s important. First of all, it distracts you from the things that move the needle in your firm. We’ve implemented EOS, the entrepreneurial operating system within our firm. So every quarter, we have rocks, those projects and goals that really move the needle within the firm so, if you’re just taking on a boatload of work, those things are going to get low priority, when really they should be high priority items.
So that’s one thing that just moves the firm forward. The other thing is, it’s a distraction from you’re A-level clients too, those clients that really generate the revenue that you’re really providing value to. If you start not paying attention to that side of your business that’s going to really hit the bottom line if you start losing those coins.
[0:11:00.7] AD: And that’s where you have to know what you do best and you have to know where you drive the most value and then be really clear about what type of business you want to take on, right? That’s where exactly as you said, you all know that you want to take on clients that you can serve year-round rather than those tax-only, right?
In your case and so anyone listening, take the time, think that through and understand and it’s always easier said than done, right? There’s a lot of thinking and a lot of analysis and it’s going to evolve and change over time but the concept, the idea that I’m not just chasing growth for growth’s sake is very important.
[0:11:34.0] DM: Yeah and thinking it too about your clients as far as like, where can I provide value and I’m just going to take clients where I can provide value. If it’s something that really anybody can do and it’s not just a 1040 tax return or something like that, then I’m not providing any value that somebody else can’t do very easily.
[0:11:51.4] AD: Well and when you figure out that value prop, that’s where you can start generating or creating a better business with the better set of clients, right? knowing where you do well, and actually, one thing you said that I think is a competitive advantage, right? If we think about what do you do well, what’s your value prop, what are you unique, that’s really some element of a competitive advantage in the business setting.
You talked about count retention, you talked about having people with long tenures and understanding people leave organizations for a lot of reasons. Some are uncontrollable life events, changes, things that they’re going to move on anyway versus those that leave because they don’t enjoy the work, they don’t enjoy the culture, they feel overworked, they don’t see upward momentum, they don’t feel invested in and that’s where I think a lot of firms are having those challenges.
When you’re having those challenges, that turnover, you hit on this. Productivity plummets from turnover. And I think that’s often overlooked. People know that. I think it’s – but if you really think about how much productivity you lose from turning someone over and that’s something that I think is overlooked and your point of the right clients, it does help get rid of the clients that maybe are not as good to serve, not as good to work on, the ones that burn people out easier versus the ones that create a better work environment for your team and ultimately, help you gain more leverage and operating leverage in that sense alone.
[0:13:12.9] DM: Yeah, absolutely. I think picking the right clients is a key factor on employee happiness and retention. I mean, if you’re coming to work every day and working on things that don’t bring you joy and you don’t even think you’re providing any value to anybody then yeah, you’re going to look for another opportunity where that is the case.
[0:13:28.1] AD: 100% All right, so let’s now dive into and this is actually what the root of today’s conversation was supposed to be around is productivity and getting more done, right? And Dan, that’s where you and I, our very first conversation was around that, everything we just talked leading up to this is.
Obviously, some of the changes that are coming in your business because of the different approach to operating and creating productivity but let’s dive in specifically. What are some of the thing that you do personally for yourself to help with your overall productivity?
[0:13:57.2] DM: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess about a few years ago, our managing partners, she started implementing the full-focus system herself. So using the full focus planner, so previously, Michael Highton Company, now, the Full Focus Company and they have a really good productivity tool.
It’s basically just a journal where you keep track of your day, your tasks for the day, your goals. Good way to keep everything together and on track both in your professional life and your personal life because really if things aren’t helping your persona life, they bleed over to your professional life and same with your professional life into your personal life.
So they’re all connected. So that’s something that I’ve taken on and started implementing as well as many others in the firm and something that I still continue to work on. It’s always a work in progress but just setting goals, tracking goals, laying out my week, what that looks like as far as what I need to accomplish, what I can delegate, what things I can batch to get done more efficiently.
And then taking the time at the end of each week to reflect on that week as far as, “Okay, what went well, what did I accomplish, what didn’t I accomplish and why didn’t I accomplish it?” and then changing my way of thinking and how I approach the next week based on that too. That’s been a game changer.
It seems like you know, when you get into that route where you’re really in quadrant one where you’re working on those urgent, important things that need to get done right away like, “I don’t have time to stop and journal basically on how my day is going” but it’s when you’re in that area that you need to really do it the most and I fall into that trap sometimes and after reining myself back and be like, “This is truly important. I need to do this because I know I operate a lot healthier when I am doing these tasks” and focusing on my productivity.
[0:15:33.2] AD: Your last statement there is, I think, the key to all of this. You operate a lot healthier and I think that goes for everyone and I want to spend the next chunk of our conversation, digging into a couple of kind of the key components of that structure and how that helps you and where it can be beneficial but the point I want to take before we dive into this is, this is all about, when we talk about productivity and time management, it’s really about, you know, I always, I do a presentation.
We have a workshop on time management. I always – I lead off with, “What is time management? How do you manage time?” and it becomes almost philosophical in nature like, what is time, you get 24 hours in the day, I get 24 hours a day. It’s this measurement of kind of a lapse of a duration, right? And how do you manage time?
If you know a way to manage the way those hours look and how do you display time without saying time? If you know a way to manage it, let me know but there is no managing time, right? That’s an illusion, that’s a fallacy where the reality is, it’s really about managing you, yourself.
[0:16:31.8] DM: Right.
[0:16:32.3] AD: That you, as an individual, right? And that is true time management and what’s all too often, and I experience and I think many of us do, it’s so easy to get tied up in the day-to-day, it’s very hard to truly judge how long something will take and how much you actually accomplished. So I mean, what did you do yesterday at 11 AM? Do you have a clue? Like off the top of your head?
[0:16:55.2] DM: Probably not.
[0:16:55.7] AD: Right? Let alone over the last week in the last month, right? And so it’s so easy to forget what you did or what’s coming up. All these things and to just be very spun up in what’s going on and so my lesson in my own experience, it’s all about your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly rituals and habits that you do that are designed to help manage yourself, so you can show up and do healthier work, be a healthier version of yourself.
Because, that’s really what maximizes output, that’s what maximizes productivity and effectiveness and the impact that you’re making. So with all of that said, let’s dig into some of the key pillars. So number one that I want to get your thoughts around is, writing down what you’re doing: Task. Talk to me about how you approach it and what it does for you and the benefits you’ve seen.
[0:17:44.8] DM: Yup, so at the start of every week, I set my, what I call my weekly big three. So if I had to get three big things done that week, I want those front and center and I actually have a sticky note where I put those on my desktop monitor, so they’re always in front of me. I know, you know, if I don’t get anything else done this week, these three things, I need to have traction and move the needle with these three things.
[0:18:03.6] AD: Why only three?
[0:18:04.9] DM: Because if you focus on more than that, you’re probably not going to get very many done, you’re going to be jumping back and forth and it’s just going to fall off the rails quickly. So limit it to three and then I also have at the start of everyday – actually, at the end of every day, I set my daily big three tasks for what I need to get done the following day.
So that when I leave work that day, I know what my day is going to look like when I go to work the next day and then when I’m home, I don’t have to think about work. I have already thought about and planned my next day and the things that I need to accomplish there.
[0:18:33.8] AD: So to recap here, we’re coming up with three things a day and three things a week that are important to you, right? We’re focusing on those and only three. Now Dan, I have way more than three things to do. I have a ton of stuff on my list, how can I land three things? How can you only do three things in a week?
[0:18:49.0] DM: Well, that’s a good question. So the three important things, so you can probably go through your list and say, “If I didn’t do anything else like I have to get these three things done” and you might have tasks and other things below that but those are good items to lay out because there might be some stuff that you can delegate where it’s like, “Okay, is this really important high priority work that I need to be doing right now?” So it just gives you an effective tool to prioritize what needs to get done.
[0:19:12.9] AD: In the prioritization is to me, my own experience with focusing on three items and I am a very big believer in that kind of the value of that and it’s because of the prioritization. Listen, I will speak from my own experience I very much I apply, I have a massive running list of tasks to do, as projects and I actually slice and dice my work down in a lot of different ways but the single number one thing I try to focus on a daily, weekly and monthly basis is three things.
What are those three, get them done and then refill the three, right? It’s every day you try to get those three done, every week and the purpose and the point behind all of this in my own experience is that prioritization and because there are and anyone listening who is a busy professional can attest to this, there’s always more to do than you have hours in the day for, right?
[0:19:57.4] DM: Absolutely.
[0:19:58.4] AD: Have you ever found yourself saying, “You know, I have so much free time in my hands I don’t know what to do with it all” right? If you’ve ever been in that place, good for you but I don’t know what that is, feels like, right?
[0:20:06.4] DM: I keep hoping for that day but maybe.
[0:20:08.4] AD: Right? And it’s just that’s how the world works, that’s not what it’s like to be a professional in today’s world and in today’s economy. So you’re always going to have more to do than you have hours in a day to get done and that’s where the real key is, this s about prioritizing what you’re actually going to do, so you get the right tasks done and it doesn’t – you can get many other things done.
I mean, often times I find what I’m most disciplined about truly focusing on just three things, I will get those three things done and then get 15 more things done right behind it. Where in the inverse when I fall off of that discipline around that and I put eight things on my list and say, “Well, I am going to get this eight things done” I get one and a half done because I jumped around, I didn’t really know what to get done.
I did a little bit here, a little bit there and I wasn’t focused and prioritizing my time right? I assume you’ve had a similar experience in that, right? Because it is hard to be disciplined in doing every single day no matter what but you have to focus on that, you have to make that a priority and know that as you do that, it makes it much easier to focus your time and energy on the right places.
[0:21:10.6] DM: Absolutely and one thing I would add to that too Alex is by setting your big three, it makes you really focus on those big three where if you just had them in a running task list, you might not pick one of those things out because it is something maybe you’re dreading on working, you don’t want to do but it is something that’s important that really moves the needle that you have to do and have to get done and something that maybe you can’t delegate.
So you’ll skip around that task list and do the things like, “Oh hey, I can get this done quickly” and it is something I enjoy working on where you really didn’t focus on those things that move the needle.
[0:21:40.7] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[0:21:48.0] AD: Well and last thing I’ll say in this, for anyone who either uses a to-do list like a running written to-do list or their inbox as a to-do list, either the task that’s been on there forever and never goes away or the email at the bottom of the inbox that you have opened like 35 times and looked at but just never did anything with, that’s the one you need to do something with. That’s the one that’s probably important.
That’s the one that’s getting in the way and the one that you should just make your number one priority and get done because you’d be shocked at how much that drains emotional energy and focus from you when you’re dreading that task hanging over your head, right? We all have parts of our work like that and this is probably a topic for a totally different podcast but trying to find out what that is, remove those items off your plate and focus your energy and things that don’t drain you is important.
But we all have things that fall in our plates that we just dread doing, right? There’s always that task and you’re just like, “Oh, I don’t want to do it” and when you are avoiding it, that task avoidance, that’s where you need to step back and ask yourself, “Can I delete it? Is there any way I can just not do this?” In my own experience, there’s more often than not you actually could just delete it and not do it. It felt important but it really wasn’t important.
Then there are those task that are really actually important like whether it’s a client deliverable or something, something that’s a true responsibility that you truly do have to do. If you let that sit there and you don’t work on knocking it out and getting it off your list, it drains you. You’re focused on it, your energy is going into it and it slows down your productivity in every other place that you work.
[0:23:13.0] DM: That’s the one thing I’ve really worked on managing too, my task list and not having that running total that just flips over into Monday and I didn’t get it done that week. So what I have implemented recently is I take two hours beginning every Friday morning and go through that task list and just knock out as much as I can from that list, so that is not carrying over into the next week haunting me yet again.
[0:23:33.6] AD: I totally agree. All right, let’s go to what I think is the next important element of this, reflection and a little bit of you know, it’s the end of the week, you reflect, you understand what you did, you plan what’s coming up, you make sure you don’t have those rolling tasks, walk me through your thoughts around that and what it’s done for you.
[0:23:48.5] DM: I think the biggest thing is just looking at, “Did I accomplish the weekly big three that I set out to accomplish and if I didn’t, what was the reason for that?” Did I get distracted by other things that popped up that week or maybe there is some work that I could have delegated that would have given me the time to accomplish that big three?
So that when I am working on it next week, I’m more aware of that and I can look back on those reasons why I didn’t accomplish those things and change because if you never change what you’re doing, it’s just groundhog day every day, over and over again and nothing magically is going to make like better for you.
You have to take a step forward and stop taking steps backwards or stay in the same place, otherwise it’s just going to be the same, same struggle day after day.
[0:24:30.8] AD: Well, in the reflection, that the power of reflection, the taking time to reflect, in my own experience is twofold. One, it’s learning what didn’t go well, right? It is learning, “Okay, I thought I’d get this done, I didn’t. Why not?” and whether that’s a point of saying, “Okay, I need to be more disciplined and sit down and just get this done” or saying, “There’s something getting in the way of doing it, maybe I don’t actually need to do it” or analyzing why it’s still in your list even though it shouldn’t be or you should have accomplished it.
Or, it’s understanding, “Hey, it was a rough week, here’s what threw me off. I way overestimated what I thought I’d get done, I didn’t get nearly as far, lesson learned, here is how I can be smarter going forward” right? Those are all learning lessons and if you don’t slow down to take that time, you’ll never gain those insights and recognize that as you make a habit of reflecting, that doesn’t take all that much time or energy.
It just takes slowing down and making a habit of actually thinking about it and then capturing those thoughts and being proactive in how you’re going to act upon the insights you gain from that. The other and this was the unexpected benefit that I’ve picked up over a couple of years of trying to embrace a weekly reflection, call it celebrate the wins, right? This is another component of being, knowing that you are celebrating what’s going right and what’s going well.
But the reflecting is a whole, when I can look back and say, “Yeah, I got the three things done that I said I would get done and I get five more things done that I didn’t plan to get done. Wow, I made a lot of progress this week” or even if I only got just the three things done and I can still slow down and say, “This worked really well. I feel good about this” right? What comes out of that is that continued motivation, right? It makes it easier to stay focused on what you are working on.
[0:26:14.4] DM: Yep, absolutely and reflecting I think it is very important to reflect on the good things that happened, that is an important discussion. You know, if you are winning at work and you worked 40 hours and like you said, you got the three things you set out to accomplish and the five extra things and you only worked 40 hours, so you are winning in your personal life probably and you are winning at work. I mean, that’s the double win, that’s what everybody strives for.
[0:26:35.2] AD: One hundred percent, so you have to reflect on it. You have – I shouldn’t say you have to but it is very beneficial. You show up healthier, I like that way of thinking about it, you show up healthier for yourself if you do take the time to really reflect on what is going well and make sure you understand those wins.
[0:26:51.7] DM: Yep, absolutely.
[0:26:53.4] AD: All right, let’s go into another I think one of the last kind of key component I want to dig in with you, this idea of focused work space, deep work and this is one thing you and I talked about before is clearing out blocks of times and I think you even said it a few minutes ago, you take a block of time to get all of your cast in on Friday, anything outstanding. Talk to me about this time blocking, creating space for work and how you’ve done it and how it’s benefit you.
[0:27:16.4] DM: Yep and one of the teachings in the full-focus system is laying out your ideal week and I know Alex, you’re a subscriber to this too. I know you have an ideal week where you’ve got items batched and really know when you work most effectively and when you can work on that deep work. For some people it might be in the morning, for some people it might be in the afternoon.
For me, I know as soon as I step in the office until about 11:00 in the day is when I am the most productive. So if I’ve got deep work where I just need to shut my door and focus and get that deep work done, that’s when I need to schedule. So I’ve got an ideal week where in the morning, I’ve got focused time on my calendar and I try to stay away from any meetings during that time, that’s when I’m going to get that deep work done.
I really focus on those rocks or those goals that I’ve set for my big three for that day to knock out as many of those as possible and then also for, you know, I do a lot of business development work too. So like times where I take meetings and coffees and lunches like I have that set up. So specific days, I am doing those activities, so if someone reaches out to me and wants to do that, I am not putting that on a random spot on my calendar.
So that I am shifting gears from one thing to the other thing just because that takes so much energy to shift from one task to a different task that requires a different mindset.
[0:28:26.8] AD: That last part is I think the real key is recognizing that you eat a lot of energy up by shifting from one thing, one type of work to another and for anyone who is ever carved out time and I have been really speaking about my own experience, I’ve been really fortunate in how the type of work I do and how I get to approach work and there are some weeks I am crazy busy and travelling and have a million things going on in meetings.
There are some weeks where I can block off two, three, sometimes four days in a row with little to nothing on my calendar with almost entirely focused on and that’s largely unrealistic for a lot of folks. I get that, just the client work and everything but I am sharing kind of my own experience around it, it is wild how much deeper a thought you can get into and things, the creativity challenges you can overcome and I guess new thinking of approaching work.
But also not necessarily task-based work but moving forward those deeper bigger projects when you can block time off and really just commit to focusing on one element or one component of something, you get there is a scaling effect that happens as you give yourself more and more space to work on something and it is your time of getting focused in on what you are doing and it takes some incredible amount of personal discipline to block your calendar.
And a lot of business planning to do the type of work and create a system that allows you to have space and not have so much direct demand on your time. Share a little bit with how you’ve done that or how that’s been how you have thought about that, how it’s affected you in giving you that extra space?
[0:29:58.4] DM: Yeah, I think one thing that’s important when you are thinking about the ideal week is you really need to have – so at our firm level, we have an ideal week and no matter what company you’re in, if this is something that your company wants to implement, I would encourage that company have what is the company’s ideal week. So what is, you know, maybe we limit meetings.
We don’t do meetings after 3:00 or we don’t do meetings on Friday. We limit meetings to say, Monday or a specific day and time range so that other people within the firm, within the company can lay out their ideal week knowing this is what the firm or company has set forth as the things that I need to be involved in and I can work around that, this is my schedule to work around. I know what I need to get done, I know what my responsibilities are and then how can I lay out my time and energy to fit in those puzzle pieces.
So I think it’s really important to have that at the high level, which is what we’ve done. We don’t have meetings after 3:00, we have no meeting Fridays, we kind of condense our meetings to Monday but not in the morning because we know a lot of our team has high energy in the morning and that’s good time to focus. So that’s been really helpful for us with setting the ideal week.
[0:31:03.4] AD: I think that the macro picture of that is it gives some parameters and framework for the rest of the team to think about and back into. The kind of last topic I want to tie into here and it ties into this last one we’ve been talking about and shifting gears a little bit but business development, right? Because this is something we speak a lot about here in the podcast and I spend a lot of time around, how do you create or how have you seen the benefits of batching if you will, some of your business development type activities?
[0:31:27.1] DM: It’s been great. It’s had a huge effect on me because I love business development. I didn’t always love business development, it used to terrify me to be honest, Alex. When I started business development, I always thought of it as sales and this is getting into a little bit different conversation but I will circle back to, I thought of it as I had to sell something and I don’t like – I am not a salesman.
Never have been, never will be but I do like connecting with people and once I’d realized that business development is all helping people that’s when the light flicked for me and I was like, “Okay, I love business development because I love connecting with people. I love helping people” and that just refocusing that really flipped the switch for me on business development but back to your question with the time on batching those activities.
It takes a lot of energy for me to do business development and connecting with people. Even though I enjoy it, it is something that drains me very quickly. So batching has helped conserve my energy there where I am not working on maybe reviewing audit work and then switching to an hour when I am having lunch with somebody and then back to audit work and then having a happy hour or something like that.
Where if I’ve got it and focused times, I am not just piecing that into my calendar whenever it fits.
[0:32:32.6] AD: Well first, I appreciate you sharing some of your thoughts around BD and the change of mindset around it and that is probably a topic for a whole another podcast behind that but the idea that you want to put the time and energy into it, it’s important for you but you recognize that it drains you. I think for many people, myself included, it could be very draining and everyone has different levels of it but at some level, you are interacting with humans.
There is a part of that where everyone does have a different wear and it is certainly a different headspace if you will than deep work or focused work or task-base work, right? When you try to shift back and forth, it can make it difficult and you know, I’ve heard some people with the recommendation that have a meeting at lunch every day or have a coffee every day, something and I get that from trying to build habits or build a rhythm of business development.
But what I really encourage people to think about more is what works for you personally and understand how it affects you, how your energy, the headspace you’re in and then figure out how to build your week around that and often times for many people and this is definitely true for me, I find that if I can put two activities or three activities in a day and relatively close to each other, I can go do those and then spend the rest of my day doing something else and it not really throw me off that much versus if I try to do those three activities on three different days or two activities on two different days, it is so much more effective to try to stack those together a little bit.
[0:33:56.5] DM: I 100% agree.
[0:33:57.6] AD: Yeah, so I think that it is an important element to keep in mind there. So with that, we’re winding down to the top of our time here. Dan, my last kind of question to you, looking back and this is for – I love asking this to people and for listeners to think about in their own life. If you could look back and go back to Dan the year he graduated from college, what advice would you give him? One piece of advice.
[0:34:18.9] DM: Start implementing the full-focus system right away and not 15 years later when I’m at now because I am just seeing the side of it that’s helped me professionally but also personally. I used to be the type of person that I’d bring work home, I’d think about work when I was at home and I just – I didn’t enjoy my personal time as much as I should have and now that I have implemented all of these things, I have experienced the double win.
I can say this year as a partner at a CPA firm, I’ve only had maybe three weeks where I have worked over 45 hours and been successful and had a great personal life as a result of that and I just also share like from a team aspect when we implemented the productivity tool, we actually worked less total hours than we did the year before but we had more charged hours than we had the year before.
So people worked less but we build more and so it works. It is not something that’s going to distract you from making money. It is going to help you be more successful, more profitable, keep people that are valuable to your company and succeed.
[0:35:24.3] AD: It takes time to build the habits and the discipline of an organization but with doing that, there are benefits behind it, right? Whether that is speaking to yourself personally or speaking to an organization. So Dan, this has been a great conversation. I appreciate you coming on here and sharing your thoughts with us today. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?
[0:35:41.5] DM: Yes, so [email protected] is my email address and our website is www.forgeahead.com and yeah, I’d be happy to talk with anybody about this. I love sharing our journey in any way that I can help, I will.
[0:35:56.5] AD: Awesome. Well listeners, make sure to reach out. So Dan again, I appreciate you being on here today.
[0:36:00.1] DM: Yeah, thank you so much Alex.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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