Practical Busy Season Advice, From Accounting Professionals

Get tips on staying motivated, focused, and productive during the busy season from FreshBooks Accounting Partners.

Two professional women sitting on a couch talking

Once the clock strikes Q1, 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 iconTable 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 to 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.

    This year-end checklist and comprehensive list of the tax information to request from clients will help you build a solid game plan before it’s crunch time.

    Set Boundaries

    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 your client and continues throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

    During busy season, the last thing you need is more work on 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 being clear about her tax season work hours. 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 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.

    Develop an effective accounting workflow to help you earn back precious time and keep your focus on higher-level tasks and advisory services. Using accounting software like FreshBooks gives you and your clients a leg up with a central source of truth for business finances. FreshBooks apps like Tallyfor and Gusto are other tax season lifesavers for you and your clients.

    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. For businesses with W2 employees, FreshBooks Payroll, powered by Gusto, was released in 2024 as an add-on to your FreshBooks subscription. Look for enhancements to FreshBooks Payroll, including processing payroll for contractors.

    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 to 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 5-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.

    Prioritize Mental Health

    During tax season, taking care of your 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

    FreshBooks certification for accounting professionals

    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 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!

    This post was updated in March 2024.

    Michelle Gold-Mire

    Written by Michelle Gold-Mire, Freelance Contributor

    Posted on March 10, 2023