Here's What An Accountant Really Does All Day
Sarah Knight has been in the accounting field for 23 years.
Currently, she's a managing director of taxation at a major accounting firm in Denver, Colorado, managing a staff of 20 and about 1,000 clients.
"I've got the best job on the planet," she says. "The world of public accounting is so diverse. I think people tend to think of CPAs as busy during tax season, but it's demanding year round. I'm rarely behind a desk crunching numbers, sitting there with a calculator."
This is her typical day:
4 a.m.: Wake up and focus on most demanding tasks
"A lot of what I do is pretty complex transactions that take significant focus, so I knock that out in the morning," Knight explains.
She also answers a handful of client emails, using Outlook to delay their send until 6:30 a.m., "so people don't think I'm a freak. Every once in a while, one will slip by."
If it isn't a particularly busy stretch at the office, Knight also carves out some time two to three days a week for a three-mile run around nearby Washington Park with her German Shorthaired Pointer, "once it's light enough out."
7:30 a.m.: Get the kids ready for school
"I have two young boys, so I spend the next hour getting them ready for school and negotiating with my husband about who will take them," Knight says. She then drives 10 minutes to work, or, if she doesn't have meetings, bikes 20 minutes instead.
Knight explains that her office doesn't require the suits you might picture when thinking of an accounting office. "I get to wear flip-flops to work. In Denver, if you show up in a suit, you won't get the job. People will think you're trying to sell them something."
9 a.m.: Arrive at the office
"You know how students descend upon a professor after a class with questions? That's the 'pit dive' and it's the first thing I do in the morning," explains Knight. "I usually spend my morning with people lined up out the door. As I walk from the elevator to my desk it's, 'Sarah, can you help? Do you have five minutes?' I spend time with the staff getting questions answered and keeping work going. I don't usually turn on my computer until 10 or 11."
Knight estimates that she gets about 100 emails a day, and she never likes to go to bed with more than 40 in her inbox. "I'm not a lunch person, so this is my time to deal with the 50 or 60 emails that came in during the morning. I don't like to let things sit, so I tackle them quickly."
In the spirit of tackling things quickly, Knight is also diligent about answering emails from her Droid. "The best thing that ever happened to me was the smartphone," she admits. "It allows me to stay on top of things and stay connected. We're a deadline-driven business, and people have urgent needs. With my phone I don't have to feel like I'm letting someone down or not getting something accomplished."
1 p.m.: Respond to messages and deal with administrative tasks
The rest of the afternoon is consumed responding to messages, and by managerial and administrative tasks to keep things running smoothly. "From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. nothing productive gets done," she says. "That's why I get up at four. I try to keep the workflow going and do the administrative tasks that don't take much thought."
"I do my real work at home," Knight continues, "so one to two days a week I try to keep from scheduling meetings so I can work at home and concentrate."
Knight, who is an adjunct professor teaching a fall semester course on taxation at Colorado University, spends about three to four afternoon hours before her twice-weekly class preparing her outline and gathering her thoughts.
6 p.m.: Head home (or teach)
Depending on whether she's doing a sports-run for her sons or if she's teaching, Knight typically arrives home between 6 and 8:30.
"We entertain a lot," she says. "During the summer, there are people at the house two or three nights a week. I have a great husband, and we have kind of reverse duties with respect to the family."
8:30 p.m.: Bed
When you get up before the sun, Knight explains, going to bed at 8:30 or 9 is just what you do. "Even when there is something going on at our home, I'm still pretty good about getting to bed at 8:30. I just disappear."
Sarah Knight is the Tax Practice Leader for the Colorado office of CBIZ MHM, LLC, and an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado.
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