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