The Accountant’s Triathlon

InsightsFirm News, Sarah Dekutowski


Like everyone, as accountants and finance professionals, we have been juggling a lot these past months.  Remote work arrangements, new government regulations and ever-changing guidance, higher costs, and resource constraints…the list could go on and on.  We have somehow managed to keep the routine tasks and regular processes going like month end close, budgets, payroll, etc.  We have also added in Paycheck Protection Program Loans, Provider Relief Funds or other grant programs, new lease accounting standard, system implementations, mergers or acquisitions, and so much more.  It seems overwhelming at times, and you are not quite sure how to explain it to others on the “outside.”  To me, just pick three of those projects or processes you have on your “to do” list right now and call it “The Accountant’s Triathlon.”

As you may or may not be aware, a triathlon is made up of three sections – swim, bike, run – with transitions between each to switch out gear for each portion of the race.  The distance may vary from a sprint which typically includes 800 yards (half mile) swim, 12-15 miles bike, and 5k (3.2 miles) run to the Ironman with a 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike, and 26.2 miles run.  It doesn’t matter which distance you choose as it is generally a challenge for anyone.  How do you successfully manage this significant challenge?  Consider the following:

Prepare.  Most people don’t just decide one morning to do a triathlon.  There are workouts to do, equipment (goggles, bike, sneakers) to gather, and other preparation needed.  Similarly, as new accounting and finance projects or tasks are identified, you need to prepare.  Developing the timeline, determining the action items or steps to complete, and doing the necessary training are key to getting you ready for the race.

Learn from others.  Before I did my first triathlon, I talked with others with experience, read articles, and sought out suggestions and recommendations from coaches.  What can you do?  Reach out to your peers who have already gone through what you are about to do, ask experts who can offer advice and guidance, and find good resources who provide varying opinions and ideas on the work you have to complete.

Develop a good team of support.  You definitely need someone who understands the long hours and the commitment it takes to take on this type of challenge.  Identify people who will be in your corner to help and assist you with the work that needs to get done.  Also find people who will be cheering for you on the sidelines or tell you to keep going when you don’t think you can tackle one more task or one more hill.

Stay focused.  With competing priorities and many deadlines, you may to try to multi-task or be concerned about an upcoming project rather than the issue right in front of you.  Fight the urge to get distracted.  Don’t look too far ahead in the race.  Take it one step or one section of the challenge at a time.  Complete each task, work through those tough parts, and stay pointed in the right direction – that finish line!

Be realistic.  Evaluate what success or completion means for the project or problem to be addressed.  When you cross that finish line, is it a medal, a best time, or what?  For me, I had two basic goals – finish the race without getting injured and not be the last one to cross the finish line.  Be sure you take the time to define your project’s success and stay on track to reach those objectives.

Run your own race.  As a competitive swimmer, I enjoy the first part of the triathlon and always wish the swim distance was longer.  As I progress through the bike and run sections, I watched as others (so many others!) pass by to take the lead.  Recognize your own strengths and limitations and use them appropriately to complete the task.  Accept that others may have already finished the race while you are just headed out on the run.  Let others carry some of the weight of the projects and take the lead while you are there to support and help when needed.

Have fun.  If we are not enjoying what we are doing, then why do it?  Sure, there will be some good days and some bad days.  But ultimately, if the good days outweigh the bad days, you must be doing something right.  Focus on the positive, laugh about the craziness of it all, and give yourself a break.  After all, who would want to do a triathlon or become an accountant?

Expect the unexpected.  This phrase is used often, and it is so true.  You have to accept that things are not going to go as you planned.  My first triathlon was supposed to be a “summer sizzler” but instead was a “summer soaker.”  Be ready to adapt, adjust, and roll with it.

Reflect and reward.  When you are finally done, take time to reward yourself and your team.  Don’t jump right into the next project or task.  After finishing a triathlon, my favorite thing is to head to Waffle House and share a big meal with everyone involved.  With your fellow competitors and your support team, you laugh and commiserate over the race.  And usually, before the meal is done, we have already decided on our next race (or in this case, the next big project) to tackle.

Now it’s your turn to focus on your own triathlon.  Is it Provider Relief Fund reporting, Lease Accounting Standard, and Year End Close?  Or maybe you have put together a race of Paycheck Protection Program Loan, System Conversion, and Budget?  No matter what you choose, when people now ask, “What are you working on?” just smile and respond, “The Accountant’s Triathlon!”

Written by Draffin Tucker Partner, Sarah Dekutowski