How to break the ‘always-on’ cycle and boost your productivity

It’s impossible to expect people to function at 100%, 100% of the time. Including yourself.

When you work in, or run, an accounting firm, chances are you value your time based on your ability to make the most out of every single minute. But at what cost?

In reality, this isn’t sustainable. After all, you wouldn’t overwork yourself at the gym during leg day and risk injury, so why would you risk your mental health?

Being ‘always-on’ can quickly lead to burnout if left unmanaged. And the domino effect of that will impact your ability to run your accounting firm, lead your team, and manage your personal life.

So, how can you break the 'always-on' cycle and get back to basics—back to feeling more like you? Back to running your firm and not your firm running you?

What is 'always-on'?

It’s important to first understand what ‘always-on’ is. If you’re familiar with the feeling of being on a merry-go-round that never ends, then you know what being always-on feels like.

It’s when you never disconnect. You are always in work-mode, thinking about a client or wondering if you or your team are letting things fall through the cracks. You’re constantly checking emails, scrolling through Slack, being interrupted at all hours of the day and night by notifications. The list goes on.

For some, working hard feels good. But that doesn’t mean it’s always good for you.

Breaking the 'always-on' cycle means taking the time to step away from the hustle. It means taking control of your time. It means clearing your mind and focusing on other non-work-related things. It means reconnecting with yourself, your family and friends. It means taking that step back from your work life, that ultimately, is for the greater good. 

Why it’s important to break the ‘always-on’ cycle

If you’ve ever struggled with a problem—be it a complex tax issue or even a jigsaw puzzle—and then taken a moment to focus on something else, only to return to the problem with fresh eyes and find a solution, then you should already understand the benefits of breaking this cycle.

As a practice owner, you likely believe your firm deserves your undivided attention. This devotion can have its benefits—it challenges you, keeps you engaged with your business, clients and staff, you learn new things and are able to make a difference to people’s lives.

But just like a car, going full speed without refueling will result in a breakdown. You’ll fizzle out, and potentially lose the passion that’s been driving you. And all your relationships—professional and personal—will suffer.

Taking the time to disconnect and focus on the little things will help to refresh your mind. You’ll notice increases in your productivity, an enhanced ability to problem solve, and boosts to your energy-levels.

But it’s not easy to jump off the merry-go-round. Here are some simple tips to help you take that first step.

Tips to break the 'always-on' cycle

1. Turn off notifications. 

One of the most impactful actions you can take when breaking the cycle is to snooze your notifications—even just for a set period of time each day is enough.

The fewer notifications the better, and deep work always beats scattered toggling between tabs.

Stuart McLeod, CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

2. Use time-blocking.

Clearly define your day in time blocks. Use your calendar to allocate certain hours to certain tasks—including your down time. This will help clearly define your ‘on’ time vs. your ‘off’ time.

3. Declutter your tech stack. 

How many different apps—both work and personal—do you currently have? The more apps you have, the more notifications you'll get (or feel that you'll miss), the more screens to check, the more data to get lost in.

How can you declutter your tech? Understand what information you actually need to view, and remove everything else. If it’s not serving a direct and impactful purpose, then it’s not adding value.

4. Reconsider the value you place on always being busy.

If your default state is to take pride in always being ‘on’, consider why that is. If it’s because it gives you the feeling of success, you may need to rethink how you define success completely.

Perhaps you may shift its meaning or value on how well you’re able to balance your professional and personal lives.

5. Reset your expectations.

Take a step back and assess what is reasonable. What are reasonable expectations for your own working hours, downtime, family time, etc.?

If you’re struggling to be objective, think about what would be reasonable for a loved one. Would you expect them to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week? Or would you expect a healthier work-life balance?

Are you ready to break the cycle?

Being 'always-on' isn't something to celebrate. It's not a badge of honor. 

If you're currently struggling, whether personally or professionally—and if you're always on, it's probably both—it's time to rethink your habits. What can you do differently? Where can you pull back?

You don't have to completely alter your life to break the 'always-on' cycle, but you can make small changes that will have major benefits to your mental health, productivity and relationships.

If you can only start with one strategy to break the cycle—don’t be discouraged. Begin with the one strategy, and see the merry-go-round begin to slow down.