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5 tips to lower your stress for tax season

Tax season can be extremely stressful if you aren’t truly prepared. I’ve been through at least 25 tax seasons and can tell you that I personally refuse to be stressed because of a deadline that every adult in America knows exists.

Over the years, I’ve met many tax pros who have told me stories of how overwhelmed they felt during tax season, so I would like to share five tips that help me keep a calm head and work as few Saturdays as possible.

Tip #1: Prepare your office

There’s nothing like coming to work, not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing, or not having the tools and supplies you need. Every year, I do three things to make sure I feel as ready as possible.

  1. Outline all the parts of your tax preparation process. I’m a big fan of workflow automation, but in order to do that, you need to know all the steps in your process. Every year, I take the time to walk through my process of accepting new and returning tax clients, from scheduling the initial consultation, to delivering the tax return and following up. I make appointments with myself to test out my software to see exactly where I can automate or improve the process. Eliminating kinks before they happen can help avoid a ton of stress, and automating the steps will actually give you time back for yourself or for new clients, if that’s your goal.
  2. Check your office inventory. Before the client rush, make sure you have enough paper and ink for your printers and copiers, as well as folders, stamps, paper clips, staples and whatever other office supplies you use in your firm.
  3. Raise your rates. I know some tax pros are stressed because they feel they are working long hours during tax season and not bringing home enough money to justify the extended hours. Most tell me that when they started out on their own, they undercharged (me included), ultimately leading to feeling frustrated and stuck. To avoid this feeling, raise your rates – and I mean not just by a dollar or two! Make it substantial – an amount that excites you to come to work in the morning. For example, one year I raised my rates 30%. While I lost two handfuls of clients, my profit that year was up 30%, I was less stressed and only worked three Saturdays that season. If you believe your rates are already competitive, increase them by 1% or 2%. However, since tax software and education costs rise every year, I also think you should get your clients in the habit of paying annual increases.

Tip #2: Prepare your home

Tax season usually means longer hours at the office, so you can almost guarantee that some of your household duties will get neglected. Put things into place now to ensure your home and family are still taken care of in your temporary absence.

  1. Automate your meals. In the past, I’ve eaten tons of fast food during season because my husband doesn’t cook, so if I don’t prepare meals for the week, it most likely means we will eat take out. What I started doing this year is shopping online for my groceries using Instacart, Peapod and Amazon Fresh. It’s so convenient!
  2. Use a laundry service. I have heard wonderful things about sending your clothes out to be laundered. Last year, I spent two full days after tax season washing about two month’s worth of clothes. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I’m eager to try a laundering service because all the people I know who use a service say you will never want to wash and fold your own clothes ever again!

Tip #3: Take care of you

It’s easy to ignore ourselves in order to benefit our clients, but in the long term, that is not sustainable. Studies have shown that when you are tired and stressed, you tend to make more mistakes. Not only do you run the risk of burnout, but it is more likely that you manifest stress-induced medical issues that could have you down for a few days or even in the hospital. Make yourself a priority by doing, at a minimum, the following:

  1. Add a daily appointment to your calendar with yourself that you must attend! I’m guilty of forgetting to eat lunch during tax season (who does that?), telling myself to get one more thing done and then I’ll eat. Next thing I know, it’s 5 p.m., I still haven’t eaten lunch and I have a nasty headache because my body didn’t get the fuel it needed to keep producing. Now, I have a scheduled block of time on my calendar during tax season to eat lunch. It’s set up as a busy time block, too, so no one else can schedule me during that time.
  2. Move your body. I also schedule time to work out at the gym. Diabetes runs in my family; last year, I knew I needed to get back in the gym so I could lose a few extra pounds to reduce my risk for this debilitating disease. I made my health a priority, and it’s all because I blocked off time on my calendar. I now work out, once a week with a trainer and twice weekly on my own.
  3. Drink your water. Rehydrate to maintain proper body function. That cup of coffee is great to get you going, but don’t forget about drinking the clear stuff throughout the day to help keep functioning.

Tip #4: Plan some fun

It’s hard to think about doing anything fun when you have tax returns sitting on your desk that need to be filed. However, the endorphins you feel by having a good time help recharge your batteries.

  1. Plan a date with your significant other and/or your children. Sunday in my house is a sacred day I spend with my husband, and we may even let the children and grandbabies hang with us. It’s the time we specifically dedicate to focus solely on our family.
  2. Plan a coffee date with a friend. Once a month, I have an appointment to have coffee or lunch with a friend. It’s a small commitment of time, but it gets me out of the office and gives me a boost of inspiration. You may not think you have time to do this, but it’s important to get out, even if it’s to share ideas and what’s working in your practice with a nearby colleague.
  3. Plan an outing. At least once a month, I go skating for a few hours with my family, and invite a bunch of friends and their children. Maybe you want to consider taking a cooking or pottery class? Do it!

Tip #5: Have something to look forward to doing

All of us are usually counting down the days until the end of tax season, so wouldn’t that countdown mean so much more if there were an actual reward waiting for you on April 16? I’ve already blocked that date off in my calendar with my annual spa day appointment. It’s my reward for another successful tax season and how I celebrate a job well done.

Or, consider taking your team out for a nice dinner on April 16 to give them a bonus check and the following day off. No matter what you decide, set your reward now so you can remind yourself that when this season is over, you are going to have something great waiting for you. That should help bring a smile to your face.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the Intuit® Tax Pro Center.

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