Get tips on staying motivated, focused, and productive during the busy season from FreshBooks Accounting Partners.
Once the clock strikes Q1 (first quarter), tax season is dead ahead. Or, as accounting professionals call it, game time.
The accounting busy season is like the Super Bowl meets March Madness meets Boston Marathon. You need strategy, endurance, and the best advice you can get.
Speaking from their own experiences, here are tips from FreshBooks Accounting Partners on staying sharp, working smart, and finding motivation during the busy season.
Table of Contents
Plan Ahead and Start Early
Every athlete will tell you that success starts long before game day. That’s why the best plan is to have a plan, which includes getting everything you need in place as early as you can.
Most accounting professionals start tax season prep at year-end as they help clients wrap up one fiscal year and move on to the next. One of the best ways to make every tax filing process routine is to use checklists.
Setting boundaries with clients can feel kind of formal, but it’ll go a long way in helping with your time management. Having rules of engagement also makes for a healthier and more functional relationship for you and your clients.
Managing client expectations is a crucial part of collaborative accounting. It helps you avoid dreaded scope creep and starts the moment you onboard businesses and continues throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
During busy season, the last thing you need to do is add more work to your plate. Be clear and kind (but firm) with your clients about what’s expected. Let them know the best ways to work together and communicate your expectations clearly before, during, and after tax season.
Many accountants outline their planned tax season working hours, including when they’ll check incoming communications and answer questions.
Lashanda, a bookkeeper and FreshBooks Accounting Partner, stays on top of things by stating what her tax season work hours are. She sets additional boundaries for herself by only working on tax returns until a set time.
“I am only available to my clients from 9 to 5 on Mondays to Fridays,” says Lashanda. “I will only answer clients within those hours and will work on returns up until 9 p.m. It’s best to have a cut-off, or you will neglect other duties such as family, self-care, etc.”
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Building out your tech stack can help you cut down on how many hours you work in a week. FreshBooks Accounting Partners and the greater accounting community have plenty of tips on using a range of technology tools.
“I use ClickUp and Reclaim.ai to keep me on track and set habits for things that just need to happen, like time blocking around meetings and decompressing right after,” says Megan Justice, founder of Crayon Advisory.
Using accounting software like FreshBooks gives you and your clients a leg up with a central source of truth for business finances. Integrations like Tallyfor and Gusto are other tax season lifesavers. Tallyfor eliminates up to 90% of your manual data entry by automating book-to-tax reconciliation. Gusto tracks your payroll incomes and deductions, including payroll taxes, making tax preparation faster and easier.
Develop an effective accounting workflow to help you earn back precious time and keep your focus on higher-level tasks and advisory services.
Put First Things First
It’s called the accounting busy season for a reason. No matter how much planning and prep you do, chances are that you’ll be faced with distractions. Prioritizing the things that matter most is a great way to manage your time so you can avoid working more hours than you need to.
“When prioritizing the most important activities, I made a list of everything I do in a day,” said Cason Benham, CPA, and FreshBooks Accounting Partner. “Then I removed all nonessential activity that didn’t add value to my life. For example, instead of scrolling on social media, I go to the gym or play tennis.”
Get Advice From Trusted Peers
The ups and downs of the busy season rollercoaster can get a little lonely. But it doesn’t have to be! Reaching out to peers helps you connect, problem-solve, and, most importantly, know you’re not alone.
Accounting is not an easy job. Tax laws are some of the most complex legislation, and these regulations are constantly changing. Having a sounding board keeps you from working in a vacuum.
“There are some things that I just need to talk through with others,” said Rebecca Kittel, owner of Ledger Sense. “Otherwise, I can waste so much mental energy on what was really a five-minute task.”
You can search #TaxTwitter to get advice, voice frustrations, or share a few cheesy accounting jokes. Explore LinkedIn, FaceBook, Instagram, and other social media platforms to connect with your peers.
Joining professional organizations connects you with close-knit peer communities. The FreshBooks Accounting Community is a place where accounting professionals can connect online by sharing stories, asking questions, offering advice, and getting to know each other through fun discussion boards.
Prioritize Mental Health
During tax season, mental health and stress management are just as important as tackling your to-do list. When you burn out, no one wins. Not you, your family, your clients, your friends—not anyone. Make time for the activities that help clear your mind and maintain a sense of stability.
“I still make time to walk away from office work,” shares Rebecca Weingartner, founder of The Admin Group LLC. “It’s good to take opportunities to step away and connect with nature or other living beings. Whether it’s walking the dog or grabbing a coffee with a friend, a few minutes of ‘me time’ gives me the mental breaks I need.”
Find Your Balance
Whether it’s your first busy season or you’re a seasoned professional, working longer hours over the busy season can take its toll. Eventually, you may get to a point where you realize you need some extra help—from your team or even from someone outside the profession.
“For maintaining work-life balance, many years ago, I went from working 12-16+ hours a day to working around 8-9 hours a day,” said Cason. “I realized that I needed to surround myself with strategic partners (i.e., lawyers, CPAs, etc.) to outsource some of the work and then hire assistants to prepare the routine work that didn’t require advanced experience and technical knowledge. After implementing this change, I found an extra 5-6 hours in my day to spend on everything else that wasn’t work-related. Meanwhile, the business grew really well each year.”
Schedule a Break After the Busy Season
Give yourself time to rest after the busy season. Taking a vacation improves your health and helps you return more refreshed, mindful, and productive. It even increases your capacity to learn. When you’re back from your vacation, the post-tax season is also a good time to work on your professional development and earn CPE credits.
Get Ready to Do It All Again Next Year
Once you’ve made it through your busy season, conduct a mini-process audit. Evaluate your workload and identify any friction points that made it hard to get things done.
Set yourself up for a less stressful busy season by finding ways to address those pain points throughout the year. If you struggled to get clean data from your clients, then it might be worth looking at options for how to help them manage their books better throughout the year. Or, if time was your biggest enemy, it might be time to think about growing your firm and hiring more employees. Whatever solution you choose, you’ll be glad you did when the next busy season rolls around!