Most certified public accountants, either tax preparers or audit personnel, begin each year with three months commonly known as “Busy Season.” To some, it may be “Tax Season.” To others, it may be “Great Season.”
No, I do not prescribe to the “Great Season” mentality. I’m not one to sugarcoat or try to use fancy words to make something what it is not. However, I thoroughly enjoy my busy seasons.
Most accountants who endure more than a couple of years in public practice like busy season too. For the amount of effort and time that it takes to survive a busy season, if someone didn’t like it, he wouldn’t stay to suffer another busy season each year.
My fourteenth busy season is about to begin. For many, busy season does not begin until early or mid February. However, for those of us who work with financial institutions, we begin on the first business day in January. After 13 busy seasons, I still love it.
Here are a few tips, tricks and practical ideas I’ve learned through my 14 busy seasons. Hopefully, you can implement one and help you survive, and even enjoy, your busy season.
1. Exercise – You know staying in shape is essential to good health. We’ve all been guilty of not exercising because we say we don’t have time. You know you’ve said it too. This excuse is used more during busy season because the extra hours you work. However, if you exercise during busy season, you’ll have more energy and be more productive.
I remember a few years ago I started working out using the P90X videos during the first week of January. If I wasn’t able to do a video because I was traveling or some other reason, I would run. With my schedule, I was doing all this at 10 p.m. or later. You might think I would be too tired by that point in the evening to work out. At first I was. Once I got going though, I looked forward to that release of tension each night. And, I was so tired afterwards, that I slept so much better.
2. Know your limits – You’ve heard stories of accountants or lawyers who bring sleeping bags to the office because of all the hours they work. That is crazy! You need your sleep. I used to try to work as late as possible every night. I wanted those charge hours.
What I eventually figured out though was that productivity decreased dramatically after about 12 hours of work. You can only work so much (even during busy season) before your brain starts to hurt. Your eyes blur and you can no longer concentrate.
This is one reason I work so many Saturdays throughout the entire year. I would rather work 10 or 11 hour days throughout the week and work a half-day on Saturday than work five 14 hour days each week. If I did that, I wouldn’t see my family and I would be less productive.
You have to learn your limits as to how long you can work. If someone “makes” you work past your limit, it’s okay to explain why you can’t do it. You can always make it up later.
3. Eat better foods – We try to trick our bodies into thinking they have more energy because of all the sugar and caffeine we ingest. That works for only a short period of time but will have lasting negative effects on our health.
During busy season, plan ahead and bring healthy snacks with you for non-meal times. I’d even limit those snacks to fruit in the morning and protein or vegetables in the afternoon. Then at meals, be reasonable. Don’t load yourself up with breads and sodas. You know what is healthy and you know how much better you feel when you eat that way. So just do it. Your body will thank you later.
4. Plan ahead – Not only should you plan ahead for food intake but you should plan for your weekly activities. Use your calendar in your email system and set appointments with yourself to accomplish certain tasks. Most importantly, set appointments for personal and family time. Busy season is temporary. Your family is permanent.
Create two forms of plans. First, plan each week in advance. Maybe take a Sunday evening and plan your activities for the coming week. Then, make a daily plan. Maybe you do that before you leave the office in the evening. I prefer to do them in the morning. Doing these two things will dramatically help with your productivity during busy season.
5. Turn off your email – Email was not designed to elicit immediate responses. Unfortunately, that is what it is turning into though. If you are like most people, you have to read an email as soon as you see the notification come through (you can turn off those too). Doing that just makes you lose focus on what you were doing.
If you feel really bad about turning off your email for extended periods of time, maybe you can check it each hour. Once you get used to that, then check it every two. Eventually, you’ll be able to check email after lunch and before you leave for the day. Two times is enough, even during busy season.
6. Stretch – Sitting at an ergonomically unfriendly desk and working on an ergonomically unfriendly laptop while sitting in an ergonomically unfriendly chair will add to your aches and pains. Get out of your chair often and stretch. Your muscles tighten up when sitting still for so long each day during busy season. That will lead to sore backs and necks, maybe even headaches.
Getting up to walk around is a good idea. Add some stretching into that routine will increase your productivity. One trick I use is to drink lots of water (or coffee but we all know what is better for you). The more you drink, the more often you need to get out of your chair to get a refill and to use the restroom. This will guarantee you get up frequently.
7. Talk with your spouse – Yes, I believe it is okay to talk with your spouse or significant other during the day. No, you shouldn’t be talking more than you are working. You do have a life (and work is part of it) and certain things need to be taken care of. Don’t feel guilty for taking a call from your spouse, even if it’s just to say hello.
Talking to my wife rejuvenates me. It gives me energy. It makes me smile. All of these side effects of talking with my wife for a couple of minutes during the day will lead to increased productivity. See if this works for you as well.
8. Set expectations – A successful busy season is one in which all engagements are completed timely and accurately. Timely is always the difficult one to achieve. There is so much going on and so many engagements to complete. Setting expectations with clients and co-workers is absolutely necessary to get a job out the door on time.
Find out from the client when the report, tax return, etc. is due. Ask about any presentations that are needed, i.e., board of directors, audit committee, finance committee, etc. Put those dates on your calendar and communicate them with your co-workers.
Ask your co-workers about their schedules and what their expectations are for their portions of the engagement. I’ve had several employees talk to me over the years about feeling like they were being pulled in several different directions by several partners. Each partner wanted his or her engagement completed first.
My response to those employees is to lay out your pending engagements and agree on priorities. If one engagement has to be moved in front of another, ask that partner to talk to the partner on the other engagement. In the end, all the work will get done. But it can’t get done at the same time.
9. Celebrate the successes – Celebrate when a report goes out the door. Let the entire team know the engagement got finished timely. Thank each team member for his or her participation.
Celebrations are usually short. Literally, you celebrate for five minutes and then start working on the next pending engagement. Although short, celebrating will help you recognize success. You will see progress.
10. Have fun – You got into public accounting for one of three reasons. Either you were good at it, enjoyed it or had no idea what accounting was. Regardless of the reason, you’re in it now. You might as well enjoy it.
It’s okay to have fun with your job. It’s even okay to love your job. The happier you are with your job and the more fun you have (while still being effective), the more your co-workers will enjoy their jobs. If nothing else, make it your unofficial title to be the “Stress Reduction Officer” of your office.
Those are 10 hacks to help you survive busy season. There is nothing new in the list but we all seem to forget about these and just focus on the hours we work during a busy season. You may work a lot of hours but you can still have a life. You can still have fun. You can still enjoy being an accountant.
Leave each day with a smile on your face and begin each day as if it was on purpose. You’ll survive this busy season and make it to the next.
As I’ve said for 14 years, busy season is never more than 12 months away! Yippee!