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Where You Been Lately?​

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If you are anything close to a consistent reader of my blog posts (and, if that is actually the case, you should be considering help — seriously), then you may have noticed that I have not been posting as regularly as in the past. I have a personal goal of publishing two posts a week — Tuesday and Friday. That doesn’t happen very often, so I consider it kind of a stretch goal. The more reasonable goal I’ve established is one post a week.

Therefore, it is a bit of an understatement to say that, over the last couple of weeks, I have not accomplished either of my goals. My last post was about two and a half weeks ago and, while that’s not a long time, it is far short of the two to four posts that would have been published if I had met those goals.

Amazing how life gets in the way, isn’t it?

Let me quickly note that there have been no earth-shattering, disastrous events that have caused my truancy — no deaths, no earthquakes, no rumblings from Cthulhu. Nope, nothing more than the “stuff” of life; a couple of health things (again, nothing bad), some deadlines and travels, a mother moving 30+ years of memories to a new location… As I say, the stuff of life.

And so, while the last couple of weeks have resulted in a few partially-written blog posts and some additional ideas rattling around trying to find escape onto the “written” page, nothing has seen the light of day. But the deadlines established for this little slice of my life, while important to me, are not that important in the grander scheme of things. For example, I have both a column and an article due to Internal Auditor magazine. And those deadlines are much more real than the arbitrary ones I have established for the blog posts.

In life, we face a lot of deadlines. And it is important to understand that missed deadlines come in many varieties. There are those for which there are no excuses and there are those which are so inconsequential that no one even thinks to ask for an excuse. In between there are varying degrees of necessity. Which means that the most important thing about any deadline that lies in the gulf between “no excuses” and inconsequentiality is understanding how important (or unimportant) that deadline really is.

Here’s the problem. We don’t do a real good job of determining where those deadlines exist within that continuum. And when you look closely — when you are honest with yourself — you will find that the majority of your deadlines lean heavily toward the “inconsequential” side of the curve. They just aren’t near as important as we think they are.

It seems that every deadline we establish puts the emphasis on “dead“ (get it done or there will be hell to pay) not on “line” (here is an imaginary point in time that can be moved). But when we step back and truly examine the situations, we see few deadlines are that important. Sure, there are some big ones: taking your pills on time; paying the IRS; showing up in court; showing up for your daughter’s wedding; showing up for your own wedding; paying your mortgage, your rent, your gas bill, your electric bill, your annual IIA dues… Yeah, there are some big deadlines/due dates/drop dead moments out there. But take a close look at the next three deadlines hanging over your head and ask yourself, “How important is this…really?” And the follow up question, “What is the worst that could happen?”

Now, I’m not endorsing procrastination; if something needs to get done or an important due date has been established, then it should get done. (And as the person who assumes he will be announced as the president of the procrastinators’ club just as soon as they get around to counting the votes — that is, if anyone got around to voting — it is rather ironic that I would make such a statement.) I’m simply saying that we can get ourselves in a useless tizzy over such matters to the point where we lose perspective regarding what is important.

In internal audit, how many of the deadlines that have been established are really that important? Once again, I’m not endorsing procrastination and putting off work. One of the most infuriating things I faced as a manager was missing truly important dates, including the ultimate miss, the date the audit was due. But we have to differentiate between a chronic problem (constantly missing dates to the point where they are called “Draft due dates;” yes, I actually heard this used) and a one-time or inconsequential concern.

Again, it is about priorities. Yes, the audit is a priority. Yes, the finishing of that audit is a priority. Yes, keeping promises to our clients is a priority.

But there are more important things in life: health, family, friends, happiness. And, if those are taking a back seat to our accomplishing of minor milestones and “work that is darned important,” then we need to step back, slap ourselves upside the head, and remind ourselves what is important.

A friend of mine once made one of the most profound statements about internal audit I’ve ever heard.

“We’re not curing cancer.”

Yes, our work is important. Yes, our profession is important. Yes, our promises are important. But there are lot of things out there that are more important. And we have to put it all in perspective.

I hope to get back into the swing of biweekly posts. And there’s a half-way decent chance it will happen.

But I make you two promises. One, I will not put out work just to put it out. Among other problems is that, if I were to start doing that, I would bore you, me, and anyone else who happened to stumble across this little enclave. And, while I don’t want to bore anyone else, I refuse to bore myself. Two, this is not the most important thing in my life. Important; yes. But not most important. And if something else comes up, then the priority of that event versus this blog will be balanced. And, if the blog loses, then, well, it loses.

And I hope every auditor looks at their work that same way. One, don’t produce just to produce; don’t bore anyone, particularly yourself. Two, if something else comes up, don’t feel tied to due dates that were established before the new information came to your attention, particularly if continuing to insist on the completion of an audit deadline, timescale, or due date runs up against family, health, and your life.

Refuse to focus on the little things of work while missing the big things of life.

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