August 12, 2021

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Programming note

On the Margins will be off next week, returning August 26. And, no, it has nothing to do with the travesty of LeVar Burton not being the next host of Jeopardy! 

And now, the newsletter. 

Morbid productivity hacks

I recently re-read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s All Small Stuff, a self-help book that I first picked up in my 20s. One piece of advice that stuck this time around was: “Your [inbox] will not be empty when you die.” GAH. Did you really need to remind me that I will someday cease to be?

Yes, actually. 

There are a few different ways to look at it, but in general, our mortality has a way of reminding us to focus on what’s most important. Right now, as I type this sentence, I’m sure someone is waiting for me to update a check-in document of some sort. I am certain that my inbox is not empty. It’s not my intention to keep anyone waiting, but my time (and theirs!) is finite. I will do the most important thing first and then the second-most important thing and so on. Sure, I will deviate from priorities due to emergencies or someone’s inevitable error, but then I will remember that someday I won’t be around, and I should go do something that I really want to do.

Early in the pandemic, there was an outpouring of ideas, challenges, and whatnot for dealing with all the downtime people had. Remember all those loaves of sourdough bread? Quarantine pushup challenges? People embarked on complete DIY home renovations. Reading lists quadrupled. The point is, when people have nowhere to go, they get antsy. WE CAN’T WASTE ANY PRECIOUS TIME. WE NEED TO ACCOMPLISH THE NEXT THING. 

But then you realize that once you’ve crossed everything off your to-do list, that only means that you can add new things to your to-do list. And are all the things on your to-do list the things that you really want to do? DON’T KID YOURSELVES.

The writer Oliver Burkeman is making the rounds plugging a new book called Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals about how we’re approaching productivity all wrong. Here’s an Atlantic interview. Here’s a Wall Street Journal essay. It isn’t about personifying every Lifehacker article you’ve ever read. It’s about remembering that you’re going to die:

[The book] confronts a series of comforting illusions that many of us hold onto instead of internalizing colder truths: that we will die not having done a tremendous number of things we care about; that every commitment we make to a person, place, or line of work rules out countless others that may fulfill us; that our lives are already ticking away. 

Okay, a downer, yes. But it makes sense. If a little voice gently reminds you every so often that someday you’ll be worm food, then you’re going to make different choices! Maybe you’ll spend less time on Facebook? That wouldn’t be terrible. All of a sudden, doing more isn’t your focus. It shifts to what you’re doing. 

And so if you have this frame of mind—I’m gonna die someday, my time is short—how would that change the way you run your firm? I sure hope you’d spend way less time filling out a timesheet. But you might also think differently about the services you offer. Or how you serve your clients. Or which clients you’re serving. Or how much time you spend clearing out your inbox. 

But, obviously, you can still make time for the occasional newsletter. 

Career limiting moves

I used to make a living covering, among other things, accountants getting in trouble. It’s a deep well, my friends. A very, very deep well. 

Accountants often get in trouble because they have access to either: 1) money or 2) information. In the first case, they take money that does not belong to them because they have a gambling problem, kids in private school, an axe to grind, or some combination thereof (not an exhaustive list). Plus, yes, yes, opportunity and rationalization. I remember the fraud triangle, thanks.

Anyway, I revisit the well today because it’s August, it’s hot, it’s smoky, and we need the occasional reminder that our comrades can and do make bonehead decisions:

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced the filing of settled insider trading charges against Leonard R. Barr, a Michigan resident and former accountant at Domino’s Pizza, Inc.

According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Barr used confidential financial data he obtained through his role as an accountant at Domino’s to trade ahead of two Domino’s earnings announcements in 2016 and 2020 and obtained illicit profits of $34,180.

Read the complaint if you like, but the gist is: He bought short-dated, out-of-the-money call options days before the earnings announcement and then sold them after Domino’s reported that it had beat earnings. If you do that, the SEC will catch you. Every time. Come on.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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