Whether you’re a tax preparation newbie or a seasoned tax professional, tax time will always present a challenge. True, it’s the time of year when you can rake in some serious money. However, the 16-hour workdays can make even an experienced CPA run screaming into the distance. When you add in Saturdays and Sundays, it’s easy to see why accountants see tax time as a blessing and a curse. To help you survive tax season without losing your mind, here are five tips that experienced accountants use to survive the busy season in one piece.
1. Get Ready
Review changes in tax law that will impact your clients. You don’t have to memorize every new credit, legal loophole and little-known deduction; just be aware of how these changes will affect the clients you serve. Stockpile everything you’ll need to work nonstop from January until April whether it’s office supplies, reference materials, healthy snacks or an espresso maker. Keep your calendar as clear as possible. Unless it’s something urgent that just can’t wait, do it before tax time starts or after tax time is over.
2. Prioritize Your Time
Lack of focus can have you all over the place without accomplishing a thing. A great way to stay on track is to work from a to-do list. Put high priority jobs at the top and low priority tasks at the bottom. In many cases, low priority items will take care of themselves. Complete the hardest tasks early in the day when you’re fresh and rested. Make tomorrow’s to-do list at the end of today. If anything changes overnight, you can reevaluate your priorities in the morning.
Ask clients to communicate with you via email, and then take a few minutes throughout the day to process the important ones and delete the rest. If you must talk to clients on the phone, call them just before lunch or just before 5:00 p.m. They will be focused on going to lunch or getting home, so they usually won’t keep you tied up on the phone.
Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish. Don’t overbook yourself. If you’re not sure how long a job will take, schedule a later deadline. If you finish early, your client will be impressed. Finally, if you run into something you can’t figure out, ask for help immediately instead of trying to work it out alone.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
Many experienced accountants suggest that taking short breaks throughout the day will keep your head clear and your perspective fresh. Mini breaks can relieve tension and give your eyes a rest. Spend five minutes getting a coffee refill and exchanging hellos with a coworker, go outside to smoke and meditate, or take a brisk walk around the block. These activities will give you time to regroup, assess how your day is going and make any necessary adjustments. Don’t skip meals. If you think you’re too busy go out and eat, at least have something nourishing like soup, salad or a sandwich delivered to your desk. It will keep your energy high and your blood sugar balanced.
4. Eliminate Distractions
It’s hard to concentrate on work when your mobile device is constantly alerting you to new emails, text messages, Facebook notifications, tweets and missed calls. Not only is this distracting and irritating, it can also break your concentration and cause you to make mistakes. Set aside 15 minutes at lunchtime and at the end of the day to check your smartphone. If you’re expecting an important communication, you can always leave the device turned on and nearby.
5. Reward Yourself
No matter how crazy tax time gets, most accountants report feeling a letdown when it’s over. You were needed and sought after every day for four months. Now, no one seems to need your expertise. Remind yourself that this is just temporary. In fact, many accounting professionals find this a great time to take a vacation. If you plan a holiday before tax time starts, you’ll have something to look forward to when you’re up to your armpits in forms and figures. Going on holiday right after tax season ends is a great way to decompress, replenish your energy and transition back into a normal life.
Sometimes tax season gets so crazy that you just have to laugh. No matter how well you plan, there will be times when it’s all too much. Don’t take it seriously. You will make mistakes, and there will be times when your clients are driving you crazy. Do your best every day, and remember that you are providing a valuable and professional service that helps others. Work hard, pray often and try not to kill anyone.
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