Top 10 Ways We Survive Tax Season

At Alfano & Company we know that a hectic and stressful tax season is just a part of every year.  Each January the slow build of tax season insanity begins; by the beginning of March we are in full swing with epically large workloads, days with too few hours, and piles of paperwork and projects that seem to only ever grow.  How do we make it through?  What do we do to avoid burnout?

Below you’ll find our top ten tips.  While you may not face tax season, we all have times where we are at risk of burnout.  Hopefully you’ll find some of our advice helpful!

  1. Seeing (or at least knowing there is) the light at the end of the tunnel

One nice thing about tax season is that it has a firm and definitive end date (typically April 15th).  Knowing this and reminding ourselves that the madness is only temporary is very helpful, especially on days that feel particularly overwhelming.  For some of us, this may mean counting down the days until the relief of tax season will arrive in full glory on the deadline day (or the day following the deadline!).  For others (myself included), we’d rather not focus on the number of days left (knowing this means work will continue to intensify for that period of time) but on the vague notion that relief will be upon us as the snow melts and flowers begin to bloom.

  1. Taking well-timed breaks

One of the keys to avoiding burnout is making sure we give ourselves mental breaks.  By doing so we are kind to ourselves, our health, our coworkers, and our clients.  A well-timed break, typically in between projects, can help our minds relax (even for a brief moment) and recharge.  This mental time-out may include checking in with a coworker to commiserate or cheer them on, making a cup of coffee, stretching at our desk, or standing for a moment in the sun to catch some Vitamin D.  With mountains of seemingly never-ending work filling our inboxes it can often be hard to remember to give our brains a break, but forcing ourselves to take a short pause ends up invigorating us to keep going.

  1. Finding quiet times to work

While we love our clients and our co-workers there is nothing more valuable during tax season than a little quiet time.  This may mean coming in early, staying late, or coming in on a Sunday when the office is closed.  We benefit from focusing on our work a time when we can (without guilt!) let our calls go to voicemail or keep our e-mail closed.  (Don’t worry!  We’ll get back to you as soon as our quiet time is over!)  This time is especially valuable for working on challenging projects or when we feel we are falling behind. 

  1. Making our health a priority

When we are in the depths of tax season it can be hard to remember to focus on anything but our workload.  In order to survive, though, we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves.  This means making sure our water intake is adequate (thanks to water bottles and plenty of trips to the water cooler during our well-timed breaks), ensuring we get enough sleep (and hoping we aren’t awoken by nightmares of balance sheets that don’t add up!), and exercise regularly (even if that means jumping jacks while waiting for tax software to open or jogs to our colleague’s office).

  1. Prioritizing and updating our to-do lists

The policy in our office is that everyone should always have at least 7 projects on their to-do list.  During tax season this is certainly not a problem!  What can cause us to trip up, though, is if we don’t regularly revisit those lists to determine what needs our immediate attention and what can wait.  We also need to work hard to ensure we are updating our lists so that we do not let any task, even the smallest, fall through the cracks.  By regularly reviewing our to-do lists we keep ourselves on task, organized, and (usually) less stressed.

  1. Communicating clearly and regularly

An SOS doesn’t do anyone any good if it’s too low or too muffled to be heard.  Similarly, clear and continual communication is encouraged in our office, especially if we need to ask for help.  With the flow of tax season there is always a point where we each feel overwhelmed by what’s on our plate.  In order to help any one of us from drowning we have morning huddles where we each discuss our individual to-do lists, what’s on our schedules, and areas where we have concerns or may need assistance.  Communicating like this is never seen as a weakness – it is essential to surviving such a heavy workload.

  1. Avoiding distractions

Sometimes a distraction is inevitable – an urgent client concern or immediate need of a coworker may pull us away from the task at hand.  In general, though, we make it a rule to focus on what is in front of us rather than allowing outside forces to pull us in a million directions at once.  This means we only check our e-mails or answer phone calls while in between projects.  It isn’t fair to the client whose return we are working on or to ourselves to risk the mistakes that can happen when we begin a discussion that has nothing to do with the work in front of us. By steering clear of avoidable distractions we ensure higher quality of work, more efficiency, better focus, and less anxiety!

  1. Go Team!

Working together as a team is one of the most rewarding parts of handling a stressful tax season.  When everyone is engaged, supporting each other, working hard, and focusing on the common goal we can find tax season flying by with more causes for cheer than for headaches.  Teamwork involves lightening the load of our coworkers whenever we can, of course, but also celebrating successes and helping each other avoid or fix any bumps along the way.  Completing hundreds and hundreds of tax returns in less than three months is no easy feat, and it’s certainly one none of us could do alone!

  1. COFFEE

There are lots of stereotypes about accountants and tax season in general; there is one we can whole-heartedly stand behind.  For most of us, coffee is the fuel that propels us through the long days (and often nights and weekends) that make up tax season.  Whatever our drink of choice, please add an extra shot of espresso.

  1. Our understanding and appreciative clients

Clients like you are the key to making our tax season not only bearable, but successful.  We know that we are sometimes slower to respond during tax season.  We know that you may come into our office only to find our attention is divided between you and a few other clients.  We know sometimes we may unintentionally lift the veil and you may get a glimpse of how hectic tax season truly is.  And we know that you are understanding and loyal – and that’s what keeps us going!  Appreciation from clients – whether in the form of sincere thank yous, appreciative remarks, words of encouragement, or yummy treats – is what energizes us to finally reach the light at the end of our tax season tunnel.

It’s mid-March and you can be sure we are in the throes of tax season.  Know that we are working hard on your behalf and doing our best to take care of ourselves as well!

Realizing you have not sent in your 2017 tax information yet?!?  Feel free to upload your onto our secure portal or drop them off at our office.  If you have any questions contact our awesome administrative team at reception@alfanocpa.com.

Liana Haydin, EA

 

The Portal – Why You Should Choose It

Paper, portal, or both? If you’ve been a client of Alfano & Company for some time or even if you’ve just begun to benefit from our services, it’s likely that you’ve had to answer that question prior to receiving your completed tax returns. But really, what’s the best option?

What is the Portal?

Although it sounds like something taken straight out of a sci-fi film, it’s not a secret doorway leading to an alternate dimension. It’s actually much more useful than that!

In short, the Portal is a secure file sharing website which our clients can access through alfanocpa.com.  Our portal offers tax preparers and clients a convenient-secure way to view documents, transfer data (like forms and notices), and convey information with a file exchange feature. Once your tax return is completed we will uploaded it to the Portal. Clients can log in and view or download their tax returns 24/7!

http://video.tax.thomsonreuters.com/watch/ECjGTTswuqYZXjecEa1KJW

Why should you choose the Portal?

Many benefits come with choosing the Portal option, but here are just a few:

  • You can access the return as soon as it’s ready, instead of waiting until our office is open.
  • You can access the Portal from home or work, without needing to drive to our office.
  • If you need your tax return at a later date (for example, if you will be required to provide it to a bank for a mortgage) you don’t have to make copies of the only paper copy you received – you can simply print as many copies as you’d like from the Portal. Or send a secure copy to your banker.
  • Gone are the days you’d need to stop by our office to drop off your 8879! Now you can easily and quickly upload it to the file exchange section.
  • There is NO ADDITIONAL FEE! (If you select either the Paper or Both option there is an additional $25 fee due to the process of printing and assembling paper copies of each tax return.)

Undoubtedly you may hesitate at the idea of sending your tax and financial documents to some kind of cloud because there’s no guarantee your information will be safe. However, sending and receiving documents or tax returns through the portal is much safer than sending this information via email! You can be assured that “your information and data are secured in a network of data centers that are among the most advanced and secure in the world” (thomsonreuters.com).

Set up is easy too! If you’d like to start using the portal for your 2017 tax return, contact us! We’ll guide you through the simple process of setting up the portal and uploading your documents in no time!

Procrastinate No More!

Do you have control over your time? Or does time seem to elude and control you? It’s time to take control! Our personal and business lives are impacted every day by the way we manage our time, but do we actually take active steps to stop procrastinating and produce more?
Here are five tips from Inc.com that we love and want to share:

1. Work 10 minutes. Then break for 2 minutes. 5 times in a Row.

You will find you are better able to focus during these spurts of concentrated work. The link shows that more breaks will contribute to better health both mental and physical. This will make you a better more productive employee. Bring on the coffee breaks!

2. Hold Yourself Accountable.

If you waste time, don’t make excuses; learn from your misuse of time. For every hour that you procrastinate, donate $5 to a charity. Good for the charity, not so good for you.

3. Deadlines!

Create deadlines for the tasks that you really don’t want to do. Don’t make the deadline too far off either. Push yourself to not put the task off any longer with a little self-induced pressure.

4. Don’t Defeat Yourself!

Okay, so this morning was a wash. You were completely off task. Don’t throw in the towel! Start over in the afternoon. Focus! You got this!

5. Mini to Do List.

You know those 15 minute intervals during the day where you’re waiting for your next appointment? Replace catching up on the latest instagram trifles with a mini to-do list of tasks that you can accomplish in short amounts of time. This will keep you productive and moving forward throughout your day.

Take control of your time. Through application of the 5 aforementioned tips, watch your productivity soar. Feel in control and a lot less stress! We’re sure you like the sound of this.

Alfano & Company

Did You Hire The Right Bookkeeper?

Imagine this scenario: you currently use a bookkeeper you love, who seems knowledgeable and who provides regular reports to you and financial statements to your CPA for the preparation of your tax return. To the best of your knowledge, everything is great.

A few years into business your tax return is randomly selected for audit. You feel you have little to fear as the tax return filed by your CPA lines up perfectly with the reports from your bookkeeper. After all, you hired two professionals you feel you can trust!

However, as your CPA begins reviewing the details of your books in order to represent you in the audit, it becomes apparent that the job your bookkeeper has done is far from thorough and perhaps not even all that accurate. Your CPA informs you that this audit may end with your business paying thousands of dollars in penalties and interest.

How did this happen? Maybe your bookkeeper failed to ask you the right questions, or perhaps their pleasantness or professional demeanor masked inadequate experience. In any case, it seems your bookkeeper did not know enough about your industry or the ever changing tax code, and now it’s costing you money.

You may think that this example is extreme, but over the last 26 years we have found ourselves representing some of our clients under these circumstances in audit situations. Often, a closer look at their books has revealed major errors which were not readily apparent on year end reports and without access to their accounting software.

Finding the right bookkeeper can be a challenge for a business owner. This is especially true since many bookkeepers (even some with years of experience) have only limited tax knowledge. The large majority of these bookkeepers tend to focus on the details of the business at the expense of the big picture.

This means there are many bookkeeping services which seem to do an excellent job but, in reality, open up their clients to potential problems with the IRS or other taxing authorities.

It is with this insight that Alfano & Company LLC offers clients all-in-one accounting services from bill pay to bookkeeping to payroll to tax preparation. A business owner who works with one of our in-house bookkeepers will enjoy the following benefits:

  • Their books are triple checked by qualified tax professionals
  • Potential problems are identified and handled before they become costly
  • Reports and financial statements are demystified
  • Prepared for a worry free tax season
  • Thorough planning, including answers to questions such as:
    • How can I improve my cash flow?
    • How can I increase my profit margin?
    • Should I incorporate?
    • What marketing strategy should I pursue?
    • How much will it really cost me to hire employees?
    • How is my business really doing?

 

If you have struggled to find qualified, reliable bookkeepers to produce thorough, accurate, and detailed books or if you would like to experience the peace of mind of knowing your books are being maintained by true professionals then we should talk – you deserve better.   E-mail us at reconciled@alfanocpa.com to schedule a complementary consultation.

If you have confidence in your current bookkeeper but are unsure as to how to truly assess the quality of their work, we can help!  E-mail us at reconciled@alfanocpa.com and we can discuss scheduling an in-depth review of your books.

You have enough to think about – having the right bookkeeper on your side can ensure that the numbers don’t drive you crazy!

Liana Haydin, EA