8 Tips for Handling the Chaos of Tax Season

The holiday season has passed, which means we’re all back from vacation and busy season has officially arrived. What’s a busy tax professional to do? Bar the door, then tell your spouse and kids that there’s plenty of cereal to last them until April 18. While many tax pros approach busy season with this attitude, I believe good work/life integration is the key to handling the chaos of busy season.

Here are eight strategies for handling the chaos of busy season:

#1 – Set Boundaries. Boundaries are my number one recommendation during busy season. Used properly, they can help you set up “no trespassing zones” and keep your sanity. While this may sound like a daunting task, especially if you’ve never used boundaries, try these tips:

  • Let your calendar be a boundary. Schedule “communication time” and respond only during that time. Don’t even look at the inbox, or check voicemails, until then.
  • Create your own definition of responsiveness. I pride myself on being responsive, but I also set boundaries on how I respond. I hate phone calls, so I ask people to text or email me for a quick response, in busy season and all year long. I also use my “out of office” reply to let people know when I’m unavailable, even if it is just for a few hours.
  • Go home. Set the time you are going home every night and commit to it. Even if you have to work later in the evening, you’ll get to see the family, stretch your legs and rest your brain. If you work from home, shut down your computer, close the door to your office and DO NOT go back in until morning.
  • Be realistic. Don’t take on more work than you can manage. Let people know you’ll be filing an extension when they get you their materials late. Say NO when you need to.

#2 – Create Mini Goals. Any big project has milestones. Break down your tax season into mini goals and reward yourself when you meet them. Each time you file “X” number of returns, do something you love. Buy yourself flowers, go to a movie or call a friend. By breaking down tax season into bite-sized projects, you can make it more manageable. I call this the Mount St. Laundry dilemma. I used to have a laundry chute at my old house where I dropped the clothes down and they disappeared … until you headed down to the basement and see that overwhelming pile of hip-high dirty clothes. Remember, it’s easier to manage laundry – and your goals – once you break out the whites, darks and reds.

#3 – Don’t Change. While I’m normally all about improving workflow and using apps to increase efficiency, busy season is not the time to take on a major change in the way you work. Wait until the summer to start changing the way your office works. I’ve got a lot of recommendations for this, including my recent article, 6 Favorite Productivity Tools for Accountants and Tax Professionals, but honestly, wait until May. I’d say June, but I think you should spend that month at the beach … or golfing.

#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. And, perhaps even more convenient, Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh and PeachDish will ship complete meals to your door with 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. Watch the caffeine and carbs, and eat veggies and protein. Baby carrots and celery sticks are great to munch on, and every grocery store has them precut and packaged to make it easier for you to consume them. Raspberries and blackberries are a good source of Vitamin C and full of antioxidants. I have a mini fridge next to my desk in my basement and keep it stocked with healthy stuff like this, so that I don’t wander up to the kitchen and end up eating the Cheetos I bought for my kids’ lunches.

#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 rotates through 45 different movements every hour to keep you tension free, logs your movement and even graphs it at the end of the month.
  • Fitness at Work focuses on addressing 10 common health issues through exercise and is designed for office workers.

#7 – Communicate. When you’re head down working 14-hour days, it can be hard to remember to communicate. Make effective communication a priority, whether you’re dealing with a colleague, spouse or kid. Set expectations and let people know what you need. Schedule time to FaceTime with your kids, especially if you aren’t going to make 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, or create a Pandora channel of your favorite comedian.

Happily surviving busy season is all about good work/life integration. That requires planning, a positive attitude and good 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.