[IMGCAP(1)]I was recently in Manhattan during lunchtime and thought I would drop in at a CPA firm I did some consulting for to see if anyone was available to have a quick lunch with me.

It was around 12:45. If no one available, no harm done. I showed up (that counts as a “client contact”), would see a few people, and then would only be there 10 or so minutes.

Three of the four partners were in the office. Each was sitting at their own desk with the lunch they separately went down to buy and bring back to their office. They each ate alone.  Total lunchtime for each partner, including the round trip to buy the lunch, was about 22 minutes. I view this as a wasted opportunity.

They should have gone together to the sandwich/salad place where they bought their lunch and eaten there. Instead of the 22 minutes, they would have spent 40 to 45 minutes with the extra time talking about their practice.

They had plenty to talk about—staff, tax season progress, bottlenecks, clients, marketing, procedures not being followed, cash flow, overtime, turnaround time, quality of work, backlogs, extensions, problems and much more. Going out to lunch would have been much more productive than the 20 minutes they think they saved by eating at their desks. Of course, they might not like each other, so they prefer to each alone, but then they are even more foolish because they used their personal feelings to trump working on their business.

Lunch together out of the office provides a multifunction benefit. It offers a break to clear your head. Knowing you will leave the office for three quarters of an hour creates a deadline that could push you to get something done by then. You will have a meeting with your partners that I know from my own experience will help you generate ideas and have a valuable exchange of information. If for no other reason, then it will provide an opportunity to vent if necessary. Your stress level will be reduced, you might enjoy the interaction and you will make your business better and, accordingly, more profitable.

Like everything I suggest, I’ve done what I write about, and unless I said otherwise, it worked and made me more successful. This, as with anything new for someone hearing about it for the first time, requires effort to try it. Make the effort for a week. If it doesn’t work out, call me to discuss and let me see if I could help you (no charge!).

It's an old cliché, but as valid as ever: Work on your business, not in your business. The lunch break provides each partner about two hours a week of work on the business.

Don’t waste your lunch break.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner emeritus at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz (published by CPATrendlines) and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition” (published by the AICPA). Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.