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8 Tips for Handling the Chaos of Tax Season

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The holiday season is over, which means everyone is back from vacation and tax season is officially here. What’s a busy tax professional to do?

Many tax pros would answer this question with a joke about locking themselves in their office, and telling their partner and kids to order pizza for dinner, but I think there’s a better way! Finding a balance between your work and the rest of your life is the key to handling the impending chaos.

With that in mind, here are eight tips for dealing with the chaos of busy season:

#1 – Set Boundaries. If you can only implement one of these strategies, have it be boundaries. When you use boundaries in a thoughtful way, they can help you arrange your day and shift your perspective in a way that will help you keep your sanity.

This may sound overwhelming, especially if you’ve never kept a boundary between your professional and personal lives, but here are a few things to try:

  • Use your calendar. Schedule “communication time” and only reply to emails and telephone calls during that time. The rest of the time, keep your email shut down and your phone ringer turned off.
  • Define what responsiveness means to you. I’m proud of being responsive to client needs, but I also define how I respond. I dislike the phone with the fire of a thousand suns, so I ask people to either email or text me for a quick response – all year long, not just during tax season. I also use an autoresponder on my email to let people know when I’m unavailable, even if it’s only for a few hours.
  • Go home. Decide what time you’re going to go home every night and then stick to it. Even if you have to work from home after dinner, you’ll get to see your family, get some exercise and rest your brain. If you work from home, turn off your computer, shut the door and don’t return until morning.
  • Be realistic. Know how much work you can realistically manage and let people know that if they miss your deadline, you will be filing an extension Saying no is hard, but it’s a skill you need to develop.

#2 – Create Mini Goals. At my previous house, I had a laundry chute. It was incredibly easy to drop clothes down it and forget about them … until I didn’t have any clean clothes and Mount St. Laundry emerged from the basement floor. If I’d taken the time to separate my laundry into lights and darks every day and committed to washing them when there was enough for a full load, I wouldn’t have had to keep mountaineering gear next to the ironing board.

All projects can be broken down into tasks, while larger projects can be broken into smaller projects. If you see tax season as one large project, you can break it down into smaller projects – such as filing a particular number of returns. When you hit your pre-defined milestones, you can treat yourself to something you love. Go to a movie, buy that book you’ve been wanting to read or have a date night with your partner.

If you’re able to break the marathon of tax season down into a series of sprints with regular breaks, you can make it more manageable.

#3 – Don’t Make Major Changes. I’m normally all about trying out new apps to improve my workflow and increase my practice’s efficiency, but I wait until after tax season to experiment. Your busiest time of the year is not the time to make any major changes.

I’ve got a lot of recommendations for this, including 6 Favorite Productivity Tools for Accountants and Tax Professionals, but seriously, wait until May at the earliest to implement any kind of change.

#4 – Outsource Errands. Busy season is the time to take advantage of time-saving services. Kroger’s clicklist, Whole Foods, Safeway and other major chains can shop for you; all you have to do is pick up the groceries. Even more convenient are Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh and PeachDish, all companies that will ship nutritious meals to your home with all the ingredients and clear cooking instructions, which brings me to my next recommendation ….

#5 – Eat Right and Drink Water. Take care of your body and commit to good eating habits. Pay attention to how much coffee you’re drinking and how many carbs you’re eating, and make an effort to eat more vegetables and protein. Pre-cut and packaged vegetables such as carrots and celery sticks are great to munch on. Bagged salad kits taste pretty good and take all of five minutes to prepare. When they’re in season, raspberries and blackberries are delicious, a good source of vitamin C and full of antioxidants.

I keep a mini fridge near my desk in my home office and keep it stocked with these kinds of foods so I don’t find myself in the kitchen eating the (delicious) Cheetos that are supposed to go in my kids lunches. And … don’t forget to drink enough water!

#6 – Exercise. The Mayo Clinic says that sitting is one of the biggest risk factors for a number of health concerns, so sitting at your desk for an extended period of time can really be harmful. Schedule the time to take a walk outside, get a standing desk or use an app to remind you to move your body. Some apps you might try include the following:

  • Stand Up! The Work Break Timer reminds you to get up and move around.
  • 1 Minute Desk Workout moves through 45 different movements every hour to keep you tension free, logs your movement and even creates a monthly graph.
  • Fitness at Work addresses 10 common health issues through exercise and is designed for office workers.
  • Most fitness trackers and smart watches also come with built-in movement reminders.

#7 – Communicate. When you’re working 14 hours a day on tax returns, communication can stop being a priority. This is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing: at this time of the year, effective communication should be one of your top priorities, whether you’re dealing with a client, partner, friend or one of your kids. Set clear expectations and use your words to tell those in your life what you need. If you can, schedule time to video chat with your kids on the nights you won’t be making it home for dinner.

Communicating can go a long way toward protecting your important relationships, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to tend to them. Schedule a virtual happy hour via Google Hangouts or Zoom with your tax and accounting friends so that you can trade some war stories and remind yourself that you’re not alone.

#8 – Have a Sense of Humor. Humor relieves stress and improves your outlook, so make time for it. Smile. Watch short YouTube videos of funny commercials or old Saturday Night Live clips, create a Pandora channel of your favorite comedian, or turn on your favorite dumb movie.

Surviving busy season whole and healthy requires good integration of your work and the rest of your life. That takes planning, a positive outlook and strong boundaries. Good luck! I’ll see you on the other side!

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center on Jan. 23, 2017, and was republished with updates on Feb. 8, 2018.

3 responses to “8 Tips for Handling the Chaos of Tax Season”

  1. I liked when you talked bout creating mini-goals when working on taxes. It makes sense that doing this can help you make sure you get the job done right and avoid too much stress. I can see how anyone looking for this would want to consult with a trusted professional and make sure they are properly certified to get the job done right the first time around.

  2. I like the recommendation to stay consistent with how you manage your finances and work. IT makes sense that this could be the best way to make tax season easy because you would have less to worry about. It’s something to remember when looking at hiring an accountant because they’d be able to help with the changes that were already made this year.