Practice mindfulness now, benefit during busy season

Written on Nov 16, 2017

By Molly Ryan, content & community manager

The pure volume of information coming at us is greater than it’s ever been, and no one needs to tell CPAs what it’s like to be busy or overwhelmed.

What if there was a relatively painless way to manage the anxiety and stress that follows us around in the 21st century? That’s where Wendy Woods, MBA, a certified coach and trainer and the president of Watershed Training Solutions of Toronto, comes in.

Woods“Mindfulness is a strategy whose time has come,” Woods said. “People have preconceived notions about what mindfulness is and isn’t. Really, it’s about bringing our attention to what’s going on right here, right now.”

She said mindfulness practices can be used in a variety of ways. For example, “formal” practice is when someone sits on a chair or cushion and brings their attention to an object of focus, such as their breath. But there are less time-consuming ways to experience mindfulness.

“People think their mind has to be clear, but that’s not the purpose,” Woods said. “It’s building up our attentional muscle like we would build a muscle at the gym. A few simple ways to start include doing a guided mindfulness practice or bringing mindfulness to what you’re already working on.”

There are apps available – including Headspace and 10% Happier – and other exercises through Watershed or the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center for this type of guided mindfulness.

Or, to get started right now without the guided exercises, Woods encourages CPAs to take a short break between tasks for what she calls a “STOP,” which means literally Stopping what you’re doing and Taking a few deep breaths. That will trigger your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, calming you down and helping you to regain focus.

During these few minutes, Observe your thoughts, feelings and body sensations without the need to change or judge them, and then Proceed with whatever feels like a wise next step.

Another way to remain present is to focus on the senses; what does your hand feel like on the desk or your foot inside your shoe? What do you hear going on around you? This will help rein in your wandering mind.

“Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment purposefully and nonjudgmentally,” Woods said. “Often what happens in our world is we’re anywhere but here. We start thinking about the past or the future, or maybe we’re on autopilot. But research shows that when you’re in the present moment, you’re happier.”

Woods also emphasized the importance of being nonjudgmental, which people tend to overlook.

“We tend to add an extra challenge for ourselves when we start judging things,” she said. “Paying attention nonjudgmentally is just accepting whatever happens, not labeling it as good or bad, right or wrong. It helps us accept whatever arises.”

Woods is not alone in expecting that “attention management” will be a top skill for professionals in the next decade. Unlike time management, attention management focuses on the individual’s need to focus and remain productive, rather than beating the clock.

“Right now (CPAs) are in busy season and then they’re in another busy season,” Woods said. “But I really do think there’s a benefit (of attention management) for CPAs.”

She said CPAs can try mindfulness during a busy time, but to make the practice stick, start before the busy time so by the time it rolls around you’ll have been practicing for a while.

“Maybe start about a month ahead of another busy time and commit to doing 10 minutes a day,” she said. “That would be really helpful.”

Woods has worked with professionals across several industries, including accounting. At Watershed, her clients include the AICPA, Proctor & Gamble, Ernst & Young and many other accounting firms. If you’d like to learn more, visit

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